The Alternative Funding Discussion

Yesterday Radio NZ aired a panel discussion Len Brown, our Patrick Reynolds and David Shand – who was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates. The discussion was focused on the issue that is likely to occupy a lot of space for the next six months or so, alternative transport funding.

or listen here

In the past we have been critical of the giant wishlist the council have been aiming for. Since then and as Patrick states in the piece, Auckland Transport has actually done a decent job of cutting it must of the crap projects. That’s left us with a much more realistic list of what’s needed however the big issue that remains is the same process doesn’t seem to have occurred at the NZTA who are plowing on with many very expensive motorway projects. A more realistic view of what motorway projects we actually need – i.e. having a proper discussion about projects like the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – is needed. While I don’t think we can completely remove the funding gap, such a process and changing the way we think about funding transport on Auckland could reduce the gap significantly which might in turn change what funding options are best.

Over the next few weeks and months it’s an issue we’ll look at in much more detail along with some proposals of our own.

2014 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

In this fourth post reviewing the 2014 I’ll look at the topics not already covered.

Central Government Election

2014 was dominated – either directly or indirectly by the central government elections which is not surprising considering how much impact the government has on transport and urban policy. In the end National had a fairly comfortable win which means not much change from a political point of view although as mentioned in Tuesdays post, they have now committed more money to cycling which is helpful.

New Transport Minister

Related to the election, Prime Minister John Key reshuffled his cabinet around and we now have a new Minister of Transport in Simon Bridges. We are hoping to be able to meet Simon and will keep trying in 2015. So far there seems little sign of a change in position between him and his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, although he has taken a notable liking to the idea of self-driving cars.

Government Policy Statement

The Government Policy Statement – which dominates transport planning and spending in the country – was released and showed little change on its predecessors. It will still see the majority of money for transport spend on new and improved state highways of which most of that is earmarked for the hand-picked RoNS projects.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

Council Long Term Plan

Next year the council must sign off a new 10 year budget – the Long Term Plan – and the mayor’s proposal emerged this year. It’s had a few minor changes by the council but effectively sees rates increases capped at 3.5%. One of the hardest hit areas from this has been transport which has had funding slashed. This has left us in a sticky mess where the funding available enables means many key projects – such as interchanges that are fundamental to enable key changes such as the new bus network are unfunded.

Tied in with this has been a separate stream of work looking at alternative funding methods to plug a funding gap previously identified and looking closely at options of tolling motorways or additional rates. The utterly terrible situation with the basic transport package very much seems like a way to force Aucklander’s to agree to additional funding rather than addressing the elephant in the room of the insane state highway spending by the government. The LTP goes out to consultation in a few weeks and it will likely dominate a lot of discussion in the first half of this year.

Great International Visitors

  • This year we’ve had some great visitors as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations talks. This includes
  • Janette Sadik Kahn
  • The Brunrlett’s
  • Brent Toderian (again)
  • Professor Peter Newman
  • Gordon Price (again)
  • and many others.

Special Housing Areas

During 2014 two new tranches of Special Housing Areas were announced considerably increasing the number across Auckland. These are the areas where the Unitary Plan rules come into effect immediately and the council uses a fast tracked consenting process. Despite them all there has been little progress on actually building houses in most of them and it seems a lot of developers who pushed to receive SHA status did so just for some capital gains.

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

Auckland Construction Boom

In 2014 it seems like the Auckland construction scene burst back to life after a few quiet years with a huge number of projects announced. These were primarily residential projects such as apartments. The biggest of the lot is likely to be the NDG Auckland Centre for which a 209m high tower is proposed on the empty site bordering Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. The tower and retail podium will link directly into the Aotea station on the CRL

NDG Centre 1

Stuart’s 100

Earlier this year our friend and urban designer Stuart Houghton set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. We have been running these throughout the second half of the year – with some still to go. There have been some fantastic ideas and conversations that have resulted from this work. Thanks Stuart for your contributions to making Auckland better.

Day_1

Blog

Lastly it’s been another fantastic year for the blog with more and more people reading it, something we really appreciate. I’d also like to thanks my fellow bloggers and everyone else who has helped contribute this year. All up including this post there we’ve published 908 posts, had over 33,100 comments. According to Google Analytics we’ve had over 900,000 visitors and have serve up over 1.7 million page views which is up about 20% on 2013. In total 65% of our readers are from Auckland and 82% are from NZ.

I hope you all have a great 2015.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can expect for 2015 plus a few predictions

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

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The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

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BRITOMART_9

Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

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Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

NEW LYNN_9 2

Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

NEW LYNN_1666

All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

MIT_4113

Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

HOBSON BAY_3329

The 2015-2025 Government Policy Statement Confirmed

Simon Bridges has released the final version of the 2015/16 – 2024/25 Government Policy Statement (GPS) following on from the draft version earlier this year. The GPS is effectively the top dog when it comes to transport funding and policy as in the words of the minister:

The Government Policy Statement on land transport (the GPS) sets out the Government’s strategic and policy goals for land transport, as well as the funding direction necessary to achieve them. It guides not only an investment of $3.4 to $4.4 billion per annum from central government, but around $1.0 billion a year from local government.

The GPSs relationship to other key planning documents is shown below.

2015 GPS - Document heirachy

Very little has changed from the draft version we saw with the Ministry of Transport saying some of the changes are:

  • The upper ranges of funding available for public transport have increased, so up to $115 million more will be available for public transport projects between 2015/16 and 2024/25. This takes the potential spending on public transport to a total of $4.585 billion.
  • The objectives set down in the final GPS 2015 have been amended to ensure they are clearer and more well-defined. A new ‘efficiency’ objective has been added, while the ‘demand’ objective has been clarified so it refers to access to social and economic opportunities.
  • A definition of major metropolitan areas (reflecting the Statistics New Zealand definition) has been added, clarifying those areas which are eligible for funding under the Regional Improvements activity class.
  • The Auckland Transport Package (announced by the Government in 2013), Accelerated Regional Roading Package (announced in August 2014) and the Urban Cycleways Package (announced in September 2014) have been referenced throughout GPS 2015. While funding for these will be provided in addition to funding for activity classes, the packages will be considered and undertaken in a way consistent with other projects funded under the GPS.
  • The role that technology and innovation can play in managing network access and capacity has been reflected throughout the document, including the new crosscutting reporting line which will ensure technology investments (and the returns on these investments) will be transparently recorded.

In other words there’s been some tweaking around the edges but no significant change. That means there is still some massive hypocrisy and double standards contained within the document. As a quick example, while noting that vehicle travel has basically flat-lined and will “remain more muted than in previous economic cycles“, the maximum possible funding for state highways increases by 4%. By comparison almost all talk in the document about improving PT services comes with the caveat of “if justified by demand“. Simplified you could say PT investment has to justify its existence but road investment doesn’t.

Related, the maximum possible funding for PT increases by 3.5% per annum and the MoT say “This rate of increase reflects current and projected patronage growth“. Of course that level of projected patronage growth only exists because of the level of funding being made available limiting services. If Auckland Transport had more funding they could roll out the new network much faster and of course by doing so we would see stronger patronage growth much sooner.

One of the key things about the GPS is the funding ranges it sets. These funding ranges are meant to give the NZTA some (small) amount of flexibility when setting the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which sets out the projects that are likely to be funded. The NZTA could theoretically use the maximum funding ranges in some categories at the expense of others however overall the exact amounts selected tends to be closer to the midpoint between the upper and lower figures.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Range

And using the mid-point between the two figures, this graph highlights where the money is going over the next decade.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

In terms of the maximum extra $115m possible for PT, for the next three years the difference between the draft and the final version over the next 4 years are compared to the draft are just $5 million in 2016/17 and $10 million in 2017/18.

In addition to the table above the GPS also lists the funding outside of the categories above, in other words money the government is paying directly for transport projects such as the governments $100m Urban Cycleway funding that they announced in the lead up to the election. One of the things that’s odd about that particular funding stream is it seems to be broken up into state highways and local roads elements which is something that hadn’t been mentioned before.

GPS 2015-2025 Other Funding

Overall the direction of transport policy has changed little since 2008/09 and the focus remains on building massive state highway projects – most with low value outcomes – while the areas of the transport system that are seeing the most growth get ignored.

Flyover Fund: Wellington Auction Tonight

The Architectural Centre’s Auction for the Anti- Basin Flyover Fund takes place tonight at  7:30pm St Joseph’s Church, 42 Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington.

The auction is happening because NZTA are still trying to force this pointless and expensively hideous structure on little Wellington despite losing the case for it at the Board of Inquriry. More millions of our  tax dollars on QCs…

Here is the catalogue of donated works.

There is a great range and something for all tastes, I have donated a print of my 1988 portrait of Ralph Hotere [selenium toned silver gelatine print], because I know which side he would be on:

Ralph Hotere

Here’s a short description of my experience of meeting Ralph for the first time on the visit that I made the portrait:

In winter 1988 I had the opportunity to visit Ralph Hotere at Careys Bay near Port Chalmers for a few days and make this portrait of him. It was an extremely rich experience, he had a way of offering things in a simultaneously casual and formal way; looking back I can see now how lucky I was, although at the time I was principally concerned about whether I was ever going to get a chance to take the portrait.
I got to hang out at his house; major works by his own hand and others, including McCahon, stacked deep against the walls, and down at the pub, which back then was a seriously quotidian operation, focussed on serving the fishermen from the boats that tied up across the road. Ralph cleaned up all-comers on the pool table. The pub seemed to never close. Both buildings were freezing.
We drove around in one of his lovingly maintained old Jaguars, up to the cemetery on he hill where he said there was a headstone McCahon had painted I should see, and, where he suddenly turned to me and asked, almost accusingly; ‘got your camera?’ He clearly had decided this was where he wanted to be photographed, he then arranged himself apparently casually but in fact quite deliberately. He gave me the shot.
He also took me to a studio he kept in the stables of a Victorian estate up on Observation Point, overlooking the port. He spoke of the great sculptural qualities of the straddle cranes working below. He was at that time fighting to save the headland from the port company’s land eating expansion plans.
Thinking of an appropriate image to donate to this auction I immediately thought of Ralph: he often found himself at odds with the plans of powerful public institutions. And not because of a resistance to change or progress, but because so often those plans resulted in brutally clumsy outcomes developed through poor processes. In particular those that discount long lasting negative effects on people and place. So it is with this proposal.

 

The City Unbound

The current Metro Magazine has has an article by me on Auckland, its new urban nature, and surprise!: Why we need a change in transport infrastructure investment to unlock its true value.

Most here won’t be unfamiliar with the arguments but the discipline of writing for print and the general reader called for a rethink of the arguments and evidence. Also the photos aren’t bad either:

Metro- The City Unbound_800

Coincidentally I came across this brilliantly accessible piece by NSW transport academic Michelle Zeibots on the relationship between different urban transport systems and their outcomes for city efficiency:

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

Emphasis added. This supports my assertion that the biggest winners from the new uptake in ridership on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network are truck and car users.

This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.

Yet parts of the highway complex in NSW are now talking about ‘solving congestion’ by building a third road crossing instead: required because of the traffic to be generated by the massive $11billion and more WestConnex project, proving, if ever proof were needed, that all motorways lead to are more motorways. And missed opportunities to invest in higher speeds on all modes through the spatial efficiency of Rapid Transit systems.

This paradoxical phenomenon is understood under various names as this Wiki page shows [Hat Tip to Nick], but perhaps this is as helpful for the average citizen as the Duckworth Lewis system is to the average cricket fan. Which is why I so like the way Zeibots has simplified it in the Sydney Morning Herald article above.

Anyway go out and grab a copy of the new Metro with the Jafa flavoured cover to see my version:

Metro cover_800

MoT acknowledge changing trends and future funding issues

Last week the Briefings to government ministers (BIM) were published. I’ve already looked at what the Ministry of Transport (MoT) and NZTA have said about transport in Auckland and so in this post I’m going to look at some of the other points mentioned in the documents. In particular what they say about long term trends and funding issues.

Perhaps the most significant aspect in the BIM from the MoT is that they are finally starting to acknowledge the transport world is changing. That demographics are shifting and people are starting to think and use transport differently to the trends that have persisted for around 60 years. Of course these are the same issues we regularly talk about and previously the ministry seem to have taken “it’s a blip” approach the the real world results. As such it was a pleasant surprise to finally see such an acknowledgement from them.

The MoT have split the changes into three areas:

  • A growing and ageing population
  • Uncertain demand for personal travel
  • New technologies driving improvements in safety, efficiency, and environmental outcomes

A growing and ageing population

Along with the talking about the huge population growth expected in Auckland the briefing notes this important point about the biggest demographic group in most western countries.

By 2036, the number of people in New Zealand aged 65 and over is forecast to double to 1.2 million. The ageing population is more pronounced outside of the major urban areas and international data suggests that individuals halve their vehicle kilometres travelled when they retire. This is likely to radically change transport demands in the regions and reduce the revenue base available to maintain the transport network and meet social expectations for levels of service.

Our large older generations halving their car travel would have a massive impact on the demand for new roads in particular. As that happens the demand for Super Gold cards is going to soar. The next section almost had me falling of my seat when I first read it.

 Uncertain demand for personal travel

Around 96 percent of personal travel in New Zealand occurs in private vehicles. Historically, the total distance travelled by private vehicles has increased consistently over time. This consistent growth has been driven by an increase in population and the number of vehicles in the fleet, and an increase in the distance travelled on a per capita basis. However, as shown in figure 2 below, this growth has stalled in recent years.

The average distance travelled per-person in light passenger vehicles has fallen by around 8 percent, from a peak of about 7,600km in 2004, to around 7,000km in 2013. The total distance travelled over the same period has increased marginally (from 39.3 billion kilometres in 2004 to 40.4 billion kilometres in 2013) as a result of population growth. This trend is not unique to New Zealand – it has been observed in a number of developed countries.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - Travel Demand

There is some debate as to whether this trend is the result of economic factors or a more structural shift in attitudes towards personal transportation. The fact that this trend emerged before the onset of the global financial crisis gives cause to believe that social, behavioural and lifestyle factors (such as the proliferation of smart phones, social media, online shopping and video conferencing) may also be having an influence. A related trend is a reduction in the number of driver licences being issued. In particular, fewer young people are choosing to drive. This suggests that in some groups, the perceived merit of car ownership and use may be declining.

Strong population growth means that overall demand for transport across all modes will continue to increase. Motor vehicles are and will continue to be the predominant mode of transportation in New Zealand for the foreseeable future. However, the rate of growth in motor vehicle travel seen in the twentieth century is unlikely to continue. An ageing population, rising fuel prices, increasing urbanisation, improved mobility and accessibility options, growing health and environmental concerns, and changing consumer preferences all appear to be contributing to reduced per-capita travel in motor vehicles and an increase in demand for alternative transport options

To me this is a huge admission from the MoT and I guess they could only go on so long ignoring the data that was in front of them. I really hope this means we can start to have a more rational discussion about our transport future along with an acknowledgement that we can also shape that future, especially in our urban areas. The last section touches on this future a little however it once again shows the ministry (and we’ve seen it repeated by the Minister) seem to think driverless cars are going to magically change everything.

New technologies driving improvements in safety, efficiency, and environmental outcomes

Technology is everywhere, and it is changing the way we live our lives. It is changing how and when we communicate with each other, whether we travel to purchase goods or have the goods come to us, and where we work. It is changing the demands that we, as a society, place on the transport system and our need for it.

Modern transport systems are becoming increasingly reliant on technology, with increasing levels of automation delivering improvements in safety and efficiency. In the long-term, the use of fully autonomous or driverless vehicles has the potential to revolutionise the transport system. In the more immediate term, the increased availability and reducing cost of information technology will offer improvements in efficiency, safety, and social experience. Technology will play an increasingly important role in helping to improve service levels while managing costs.

Moving on, the long term future of the current funding model is raised and it’s clear the MoT is concerned about the future funding stream for transport. Here are some high level predictions for what the MoT say we may see.

In the next ten years:

  • The historic link between the rate of economic growth and the level of demand for transport will continue to weaken. We will achieve economic growth without an equivalent increase in transport demand.
  • As our population becomes more concentrated in urban areas, local councils with stagnating or declining populations and low growth prospects will find it increasingly difficult to meet the cost of maintaining their existing networks.

In 20-30 years:

  • Gradual improvements in the fuel efficiency of cars will slowly erode the effectiveness and fairness of Fuel Excise Duty as a means of collecting revenue from transport users.
  • Solutions to congestion in cities are likely to become increasingly expensive. This could increase the tension between cities’ and regions under a national funding system.
  • Greater demand for public transport and active modes could put pressure on the National Land Transport Fund, which is collected from motorists.

The first point about the weakening link economic growth and transport demand is something we’ve highlighted a long time ago. This is quite important as the Roads of National Significance are largely based on the idea they will improve the economy. The last point is also an odd one as we know that investing in PT infrastructure can really help bring down operating costs while also boosting revenue due to more customers using the services.

The briefing says impacts of changing trends could have these impacts on the government.

  • We will need to answer difficult questions around the amount that should be collected from transport users, what it can (or can’t) be used for, and how it should be distributed around the country.
  • As expenditure rises and the amount collected from motorists at the pump decreases, regular increases in fuel taxes will be required. This could prompt changes to the way we collect revenue from transport users.
  • Measures to contain costs and transition towards a more sustainable expenditure path will be challenging, particularly for transport providers that are accustomed to continuous improvements to network standards.
  • The government should expect increasing pressure for more funding from both larger cities (especially Auckland), which are struggling to pay for the investments required as a result of population growth; and smaller regional centres, which are facing rising costs with fewer rate-payers to fund them.

There are some serious issues in there and it seems the third one could be aimed at large infrastructure builders hoping for continuous large projects like currently seems to be happening. The current set of projects are already putting large pressure on the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and this is highlighted in this graphic below where expenditure is greater than the revenue being generated.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - NLTF

Lastly it’s interesting to see the current transport spend in the context of New Zealand’s history. It’s currently at 1.3% of GDP which is the highest level it’s been for decades and well above the OECD average of around 1%.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - Historical Spend

Overall it’s good to finally see some sense starting to come through from the Ministry but the question is, will the government listen?

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.

The macroeconomics of transport – and should it influence NZ’s investment priorities?

In this recent post John explored some of the links between transport and economic growth.

In this post I wanted to expand on some interesting macroeconomic issues related to transport investment. These issues have been rolling around in my head for some time and John’s post prompted me to stay up late writing a blog post. But before I begin I want to openly acknowledge that 1) these issues are complex and 2) like always, I pretend to have all the answers.

Nevertheless I think the issues are worth raising and debating.

First, let’s carefully define some terms so we can create a shared sense of understanding, rather than having to slash and stumble our way through a jungle of jargon and prejudice.

When I say “economics” I am referring to the social science which concerns itself with understanding people’s values based on how they allocate their scarce means, such as time. Some people simply refer to economics as “the science of scarcity”. Others prefer the “dismal science”, either way I think you get it. If you don’t, then the cartoon below should help (source).

Features-SMH

Now, what is the difference between micro and macro economics?

Wikipedia describes microeconomics thusly (source):

“Microeconomics … is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of individuals and small impacting organizations in making decisions on the allocation of limited resources (see scarcity).[1] Typically, it applies to markets where goods or services are bought and sold. Microeconomics examines how these decisions and behaviors affect the supply and demand for goods and services, which determines prices, and how prices, in turn, determine the quantity supplied and quantity demanded of goods and services.

Generally, we evaluate transport projects on a microeconomic basis.

That is, we analyse the impacts of transport investment by considering how it affects individuals, or in some instances firms. The only “trick” is that in many cases the impacts of transport investment are “non-monetary”, in the sense that we are analysing things that are not openly traded in a market in response to supply/demand. Travel-time is an example of a non-monetary good. When faced with non-monetary goods, transport economists must impute values from other data, e.g. wage rates and/or surveys. Where the microeconomic benefits of a transport investment exceeds its costs, then we typically consider it to be economically worthwhile (source).

MicroEconomics

In contrast, Wikipedia defines macroeconomics in the following terms (source):

Macroeconomics … is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole, rather than individual markets. This includes national, regional, and global economies. With microeconomics, macroeconomics is one of the two most general fields in economics. Macroeconomists study aggregated indicators such as GDP, unemployment rates, and price indexes to understand how the whole economy functions. Macroeconomists develop models that explain the relationship between such factors as national income, output, consumption, unemployment, inflation, savings, investment, international trade and international finance.

Personally, I’m an avid microeconomist. As regular commentator mwfic astutely  noted in John’s post:

One of the weaknesses of GDP is that it misses out any measure of quality of the items we buy or the utility we get from those items. I could sell two cars and walk everywhere and even at a pinch ride on a bus and it might lift GDP ever so slightly. But GDP wouldn’t include how annoyed I would be walking in the rain and standing wondering if the bus will actually turn up and then having to stand up and get thrown around, or sit squashed against a stranger while the driver does his best to give me motion sickness. Yes cars cost me money and so does the petrol but I spend that money happily because I get back a benefit that outweighs the cost.

Notwithstanding my personal preference for analysing people rather than arbitrary aggregations of people (“economies”), I do consider that macroeconomics makes an important and useful contribution to public policy decisions. Indeed, “it’s the economy stupid”.

More specifically, macroeconomic indicators can tell us a lot of useful things about microeconomic decisions. High inflation, for example, will tend to cause interest rates to be higher than they would be otherwise. This in turn will tend to skew individual decisions to those investments that deliver short-term returns. As an aside, this is one reason why I believe that people who are “Green” should strongly support monetary policy settings that are likely to contribute to lower long-run inflation (and lower interest rates). Environmentalists and monetarists unite!

The links between macro and micro economics don’t end with interest rates and inflation; there are a number of other aggregate economic indicators, such as exchange rates, unemployment rates, and tax levels which impact on the decisions that individuals make on a day-to-day basis.

So microeconomics and macroeconomics are ultimately linked; they differ primarily in the level of aggregation. My theory of aggregation is illustrated below (source).

explicit

But how is all this relevant to transport investment?

The reason it matters is because there seems to be two (inter-related) macroeconomic channels that are plausibly affected by transport investment: 1) the size of the domestic economy and 2) the demand for labour.

First, in terms of the size domestic economy, John’s post shows that all other (microeconomic) factors being equal, New Zealand would be better off with greater uptake of non-car transport modes, because this would reduce the need to import fuel and vehicles. In turn our GDP per capita would likely be higher, simply because more of what we spent on the latter is likely to be spent locally.

Second, in terms of the demand for labour, different types of transport investment have different levels of labour input. Generally most studies I have read (such as this one) find that investment in local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport requires greater labour input than the same investment in highways. It’s fairly easy to understand why: The former require more workers, whereas the latter require more machinery. Hence, shifts in our transport investment towards local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport is likely to increase the demand for labour, reduce under-employment, and ultimately strengthen the government’s fiscal position.

The key caveat on all this is “all other factors being equal”, especially in this case the microeconomic value of transport investment. That is, we are not arbitrarily interested in a so-called “make work” scheme. What we are observing, however, is that different transport investments do have different impacts on the labour market and indeed the size of the domestic economy.

So where does this leave us? Well in my mind, we should continue to evaluate the merits of transport investment primarily within a microeconomic framework. However, where two different transport investments have the same microeconomic value, i.e. they have identical benefit-cost ratios, then why would we not consider their macroeconomic effects as a way of breaking the tie?

This would likely mean that investment in local roads, walking/cycling, and public transport was prioritised ahead of investment in highways, especially during times of underemployment. At times of low underemployment and/or high inflation, we could similarly favour transport investments that don’t employ many people and thereby don’t divert our human resources away from more productive endeavours. Or we could spend less on transport overall, and instead bank the money for times when interest rates are lower. This is less about “stimulus spending” and more about saving money when prices are high (e.g. cost of capital, wage inflation), and spending it when prices are low. In some ways this is simply matching investment levels to prices, in much the same way as anyone in the private sector would.

But these are all just half-baked ideas; I’d be keen to hear other people’s ideas. Assuming someone read past the first few sentences? Time is, after all, the scarcest resource of them all … ;).

 

 

Help Defend the Flyover Decision

From the Architectural Centre in Wellington:

The NZTA flyover and recent appeal

The NZTA have proposed building a flyover adjacent to New Zealand’s historic Basin Reserve.  There are several complex aspects to the issue, but the basic chronology is:

  1. The Minister for the Environment established a Board of Inquiry in mid-2013 to decide if a flyover should be built by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) adjacent to the Basin Reserve cricket ground.  The flyover is part of the government’s planned country-wide Roads of National Significance.
  2. The Board decided that the flyover should not be built.  This was the result of a 72 day long hearing.  The Final Decision is at: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Final_Report_and_Decision/Pages/default.aspx(and there is a brief summary of issues attached).  There were a number of non-profit community groups who opposed the flyover, and we worked together collaboratively to ensure alternative views were presented at the hearing.
  3. NZTA have appealed to the High Court asking for the decision to be overturned.  The agency has also questioned a number of matters of law including issues to do with the evalution of urban design, heritage, and alternative options to the flyover.

Wellington is not a city of flyovers, and this proposal would place a flyover within a sensitive heritage site in our city, which includes an area of small nineteenth and early twentieth-century houses which would be dwarfed by the size of the 320m long concrete flyover, and become the dominant view for people living in Ellice St.  The flyover would also block the view down the Kent/Cambridge Terrace boulevard, as well as obscuring views of the historic Basin Reserve cricket ground.  We believe that a concrete structure of this large size, in this position, is not appropriate for this part of the city, which includes Government House, and the National War Memorial Park.

In addition to opposing the flyover, we believe that it is important that the alternative view to that of the NZTA is properly represented at the appeal hearing.

This means that we are off to the High Court.

It is no secret that the parties opposing the flyover have limited financial resources, and that the lack of an opposing voice in these proceedings will mean that not all of the relevant arguments will be put before the High Court.  We consider it to be important for this to be a properly democratic process, which means that views from both sides of the argument need to be heard.  It is for all of these reasons that the Architectural Centre will be a party to the appeal, and for these reasons we are asking for your support.

If you are supportive and would like to help there are a number of things that you can do.

  1. Spread the word.  Circulate this email to anyone who you think would be keen to help.
  2. We’re holding a charity auction at 5.30-7.30pm Wed 3 December at Regional Wines and Spirits (15 Ellice St, by the Basin Reserve, Wellington)and are asking architects/artists/authors/designers/film-makers/poets etc. to donate drawings/paintings/designs/sculpture/poems/manuscripts/autographed books/film/anything – so if you can donate something that would be fabulous, and if you can encourage others to donate something that would be grand too. An auction poster is attached.

If you can donate something to be auctioned, please email us at arch@architecture.org and/or post it to the Architectural Centre, P.O. Box 24-178, Manners St, Wellington, or deliver it to Cranko Architects, 81 Harbour View Rd (M-F 8am-6pm), and include your name, email etc.  Additional information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/2014/11/01/architects-draw-charity-auction/

  1. Join the Architectural Centre.  Information is at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/.  More information about us is at: http://architecture.org.nz/
  2. Donate any amount you can.  Our bank account details for internet banking are included on the membership form at: http://architecture.org.nz/memberships/
  3. Come to the charity auction… it would be lovely to see you there.

We really appreciate that there are many, many worthy causes that are likely to be taking up your time, energy and money, so we completely understand if you are too stretched to support this one with your time and/or money too.  But if this is the case, your moral support and circulating this email to others, will be hugely appreciated by us.

nga mihi nui

Christine McCarthy, Victoria Willocks and Duncan Harding

on behalf of the Architectural Centre

The Architectural Centre is the most venerable advocacy group for better urban form in New Zealand. Formed in Wellington in 1946 by idealistic young architects and planners [including my parents] with aims of improving our built environment. The Manifesto includes clauses such as “Architecture must facilitate better living” and “Good architecture is elegant environmentalism.”  A very good history of the Centre, Vertical Living, has just been published by AUP. Here is the full manifesto:

Architectural-Centre-Manifesto