*** 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.
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.
I live in a parallel transport universe. A universe where zombies make uninformed statements about Auckland’s transport issues, which are subsequently published by well-meaning but clueless mainstream media. The zombies’ strategy is to hypnotise people with absurdity and then proceed to eat a few parts of their brains, after which their haplessly brainless victims stumble out into the world spouting transport nonsense.
Yesterday threw up two delicious brain-eating examples.
The first came courtesy of this rather interesting hour-long series of interview on RadioLive. First off the mark was Patrick (cue Irish accent), who took 10 minutes to deconstruct a few of the myths about Auckland’s transport problems in somewhat humorous fashion.
Hot on Patrick’s dainty little high heels was an almost comical, but unfortunately serious, interview with Simon Lambourne, who apparently is the transport spokesperson from the AA (OMG he gets paid?). In response to a question about whether hovercrafts were the solution to Auckland’s transport problems, Simon replied by saying:
“Yeah well I think this person’s actually onto something. If you look at public transport in Auckland, and we desperately need to look at investing more in public transport than we already do, there’s a lot of attention on buses and trains, but hardly anything on actual ferries. Now if you look at somewhere like Sydney, where they really unleash the potential of their harbour through a great ferry network …”
Let’s follow Simon’s advice and “look” at Sydney’s public transport system. A quick internet search reveals the following (approximate) annual public transport patronage statistics by mode:
- Ferry ~13 million p.a.
- Bus ~200 million p.a.
- Rail ~250 million p.a.
Has Sydney really “unleashed the potential of their harbour through a great ferry network”? Perhaps – if you consider a ferry network that carries approximately 2% of total annual public transport patronage as being “unleashed” (NB: Ferries currently carry about 5% of Auckland’s PT patronage). But this has not been achieved without monumental investment in bus and rail, the very same type of investment that Lambourne is lamenting.
That “boom” you just heard was Simon Lambourne blowing up his own credibility. Seriously though, someone needs to tell Simon that it does not matter how reasonable you try and sound when you’re talking about public transport; if you’re working from blatantly incorrect information then you will always be, well, conspicuously wrong.
Now don’t get me wrong, I quite like ferries. In terms of overall deliciousness they rank just below chocolate ice-cream and puppies. Mmm … delicious.
But as previously discussed in this post, the potential of ferries in Auckland has largely already been tapped; there simply aren’t many craggy peninsulas like Devonport left. In other places where they have been considered, such as Te Atatu, the general conclusion (for good reason) is that ferries will struggle to compete with cars and buses in terms of speed and accessibility and therefor would be an expensive way to grow PT patronage.
And even putting these physical realities to one side does not alter the fact that the maximum potential share of total travel demands that could possibly be met by ferries is really, really small in the scheme of a large city like Auckland. So please don’t let Simon (or Cameron Brewer or Phil Twyford) eat your brain: Ferries are not going to solve Auckland’s transport problems (as the evidence from Sydney demonstrates).
Yesterday was the transport zombie gift that kept on giving. Another example came by way of this op-ed entitled “Strategic car parks part of gridlock solution“. The op-ed itself is not too bad, at least compared to Simon’s effort. The author (Neil Binnie) starts off by making the following claim (emphasis added):
Traffic congestion in Auckland is chronic and deteriorating fast. The comments that follow relate to the North Shore and the Northern Busway but the principles may be applied across the city. One issue that has had little promotion is park and ride.
Little promotion? Well, my 2 seconds of internet searching threw up this AT website, which identifies P&R sites across Auckland. These can be summarised as follows:
- Northern Busway – 1,100 car-parks
- Southern line – ~1,000 car-parks
- Western line – 300 car-parks
- And various ferry P&R sites.
We’ve also discussed P&R at length in this earlier post. One such ferry P&R is at Devonport, which is illustrated below. Here we see some of the most valuable land in New Zealand being occupied solely for P&R. How is this not a scandal? And how can an article on P&R not even mention the value of land?
Let’s look at the example of the Northern Busway in more detail. Here we have 1,100 P&R car-parks. Now if we assume that all these car-parks are occupied by cars that carry 1.2 people each, then these P&R spaces might be expected to generate approximately 1,100 x 1.2 x 2 = 2,750 boardings per day (2.5 boardings per car-park).
At last count the Northern Busway was carrying something like 2.25 million people per year, which is an average of 187,500 people per month or 6,160 per day (it’s likely to be much higher on weekdays). So on the average weekday P&R is able to contribute, at most, 45% (2,750/6,160) of the patronage on the Northern Express. Don’t forget, however, that the NEX is only about one-third of the bus services using the busway. When we consider all the other services using the busway, and their likely patronage, then P&R would seem to generate ~20% of total bus patronage in the corridor.
P&R is not even close to being the most important mode of access.
That’s not all, however. One of the often-overlooked issues with P&R is the degree to which it diverts existing PT passengers. When the Northern Busway, first opened, for example, surveys showed that approximately half of the people using the P&R had previously been catching a local bus from their street. Why is this relevant? Well, it indicates that approximately half of the people using P&R were not new to the PT system. That in turn means that half of the P&R provided on the Northern Busway did not contribute to a net increase in PT patronage.
None of this is mentioned in the article, which prefers to argue that “Passenger numbers on the Northern Expressway [sic] have plateaued because parking options are exhausted.“ The article also ignores that just over a year ago Auckland Transport spent $5.5 million to expand the Albany P&R by 550 spaces. Expanding park and ride in many locations is enormously expensive, because land is expensive. So the question Auckland Transport must try to answer is: Where is it cost-effective to do so? Places like Constellation and Albany generally are not cost effective. Silverdale maybe.
Despite all of these omissions the article then finishes with the following comment:
We are told to use shuttle busses rather than parking at a bus station or dropping family off. In practice the buses are so infrequent that it is not an option. For example, there is a bus every half hour from Albany bus station to Torbay shops. .
A bus every half an hour? That to me sounds like an argument for increasing the frequency of bus connections to busway stations, which indeed is what the draft RPTP has proposed to do. Again, these proposals, their potential costs (the proposed network is broadly cost neutral), and their subsequent effects on PT patronage (and the demand for P&R) does not even warrant a mention in the article.
Some of you may think that likening these people to “brain-eating zombies” is a little harsh on my part. Perhaps.
On the other hand, the people responsible for these pearls of wisdom, namely Simon Lambourne and Neil Binnie, have had the temerity to approach mainstream media offering their personal opinions on potential solutions to Auckland’s transport issues; opinions which can be shown to be demonstrably incorrect, or at least highly uninformed, with just 2 seconds of internet research. That, I’d suggest, is deserving of a lampooning.
It’s nothing personal, but I think it’s important to point out that these zombies don’t know what they’re talking about. Simon definitely should know better – after all he’s paid to know stuff about transport.
Of course ferries and P&R should be part of Auckland’s integrated transport system, but they’re relatively small parts – with the potential to contribute, at a guess, a maximum of 10-15% of total public transport patronage. The bulk of Auckland’s patronage will still occur the way it always has – walk-up passengers to bus and rail services It is these people that we need to focus on – they’re the bulk of our passengers and will be for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, the solutions to Auckland’s public transport issues are quite simple. We just need to 1) build the CRL so we can run higher train frequencies across the whole network; 2) establish a more legible, connected, high-frequency bus network ; and 3) implement a simple and “fair” integrated fare system. These three initiatives will provide quite a lot of “pull”. There’s also a need for a few policy reforms, such as the removal of minimum parking requirements, although these initiatives can bubble quietly along in the background providing a gradual “push” for people to drive less and use alternatives more.
I’m convinced that if we focus on implementing these initiatives, and ignore the noisy zombies with all their absurd ideas about how Auckland would somehow be saved if the city was awash with ferries or P&R or whatever, then we will get quite far, quite fast. We just need to stay the course and get the basics right. I realise that’s not a particularly glamorous message, but I think it’s the right one.
The transport network exists for two reasons to move around people and freight. On this blog we tend to focus on the former with one of the biggest benefits of public transport being that it allows for us to move a lot more people at any one time than we can with cars alone. One of the aspects that is crucial to making public transport work well is infrastructure that allows PT vehicles to not be affected by congestion. This obviously means the rail network, the busway the ferries and also includes roads with bus lanes on them.
We have talked quite a bit about the importance of bus lanes and the need for more of them and the great thing is with a bit of political will and in many cases, just some green paint, we could have a PT network that is able to move huge numbers of people, completely free of congestion. A completed cycle network would also greatly improve things.
While we do need a vastly improved public transport system, not everyone or everything is able to use it. Freight is of course one massive area that simply couldn’t be shifted onto an alternative network to get around the city (with the exception of some of the freight to or from ports). We are also repeatedly told about how important it is for freight to be able to move around the city and country. This has even been listed as one of the key reasons behind the RoNS projects. While anyone who reads this blog will know that I certainly don’t support all of the projects, I do agree that making it easy to move freight around is vitally important. In Auckland many our local roads actually carry a higher amount of freight than those RoNS projects.
The big problem for freight in Auckland seems to be that it tends to get caught up in congestion caused by huge numbers of private vehicles with only one person in them. Worse is that even with over $20 billion of new roads over the next 30 years, congestion is still forecast to get worse. The traditional way of alleviating congestion has been to widen or add new roads but as the city continues to develop, that only gets harder and more expensive to do. That is one of the key reasons why it is so important that we don’t just look at massive expensive projects as the only solution to traffic problems but that we also look to make better use of the roads we already have.
In my mind the improved rail network and our bus infrastructure help us do this and therefore enabling many more people to be moved around the city but there doesn’t seem to be much talk about similar solutions when it comes to freight movements. So perhaps what we need to be considering is adding dedicated truck lanes to some of the key freight routes like the motorways. The idea would work exactly the same way as bus lanes do in that trucks would be able to use these lanes to avoid traffic congestion. Doing so would then allow for freight to be able to be moved around the region much easier and it also removes one of the key arguments for continued widening of our roads.
It would leave us with three distinct networks, a PT network able to move huge volumes of people at any given time free of congestion, a freight network that is able to move large amounts of freight at any given time and a general purpose roading network for private cars but that is likely to suffer from congestion.
Now Auckland Transport do actually propose doing this in their Integrated Transport Programme but other than a brief mention of doing just what I’m suggesting above however there doesn’t seem to be any firm details. What’s more it only they only propose considering freight lanes on arterial roads, not motorways.
So what do you think, should we be putting freight lanes in?
This is a guest post from reader NCD
The above graph is a cumulative series for two causes of death in New Zealand 1921 to 2012. Can you guess what the data series for the blue and green lines are?
One of the challenges we face as a society is responding well to events that happen repeatedly as a series of smaller events that added together result in a major crisis. In contrast we respond dramatically to an event that concentrates the trauma into a short time span. The green line is earthquake deaths, the blue line is road traffic accident (RTA) deaths.
- Total deaths from earthquakes in New Zealand since 1921: 464
- Total deaths from traffic accidents since 1921: 37542 (at the end of 2012, although it seems that someone left the meter running).
You’re roughly 100 times more likely to be killed in a RTA than in an earthquake.
I wonder if our minister of Earthquakes and Traffic accidents, having a foot in each camp as it were, has ever paused to consider that he’s presiding over a much bigger disaster than Christchurch, but that hardly anyone’s noticed.
The 2 world wars are a bit different to an earthquake, in that there’s human causation. So we have sentiments like “never again” and “lest we forget” attached, the implication being that we mustn’t let such terror happen again. Total New Zealanders killed in the two world wars: around 28500 – several thousand less than have been killed in RTAs over the last century.
Over the next decades we’ll spend billions of dollars strengthening buildings for an earthquake that will likely kill dozens or hundreds. And while we’re willing to throw considerable sums at road safety, the sentiment is not the same. One gets the feeling that in spite of the rhetoric RTAs are considered by politicians as more like collateral damage- a necessary cost of doing something more important.
We have a lot to thank the airline industry for, not least an approach to safety that leads to astounding stats like this for 2011:
- USA large commercial airline deaths: zero
- For comparison, USA RTA deaths: 32,367 (You can see why a bar chart here wouldn’t be particularly useful!)
By the way, those airline safety stats weren’t a fluke: they were repeated in 2010 and 2012 and Q1 2013.
Now compare the (very helpful) fixation we have with the battery in a Boeing 787 that has yet to cause a crash, with our willingness to let cars travel in a way where we know they will frequently crash and kill. One might say that the airline industry has a bit of a Bob Newhart approach to safety. If it’s dangerous you just stop it.
The issue is increasingly on the radar for public health research and initiatives. In fact 2011-2020 is WHO’s Decade of Action for Road Safety. Worldwide we get the equivalent of a holocaust death toll every 5 or so years.
As for the economic cost of RTAs, NZTA has come up with some figures (because you can’t really get excited about a crisis until you put a dollar value on it, right?). Currently they’re estimating about $4 million per fatality. Including injury we’re at $3.70 billion dollars per year .
$37 billion dollars a decade. That’s quite an economic benefit you’ve got to produce by driving before you countered the cost of the damage done, let alone actually added to the positive side of the ledger (and don’t get me started on the pollution that isn’t counted!). Should we frame the debate differently by investigating the huge costs of inaction?
Once again, the Christchurch earthquake provides an interesting comparison: the scale of the trauma has caused us to re-evaluate the way we do things in New Zealand. Although there is huge economic cost in compliance with new standards, we (The Property Council excluded) accept this is needed, and we’re prepared to take the hit.
As for air transport, if we were having 300 commercial airline deaths per year, it would be all planes grounded with no protest brooked as to the economic cost of such action.
Behind the numbers and dollars we shouldn’t forget that there’s a society with disability, loss, loneliness and pain- measure that NZTA!
Given our current fatality rate, in the next hundred years we’re still on track to kill 20,000 to 30,000 New Zealanders. Which alternative universe are our politicians occupying where this is acceptable?
Before we have a debate about solutions (there’s another post for that), it might be worth considering if we need a different approach to the problem- one that allows for drastic action, one that challenges the core assumptions on which current acceptance of the status quo is based.
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?
Two more days this week have shown just how vulnerable our transport network is because of the lack of viable alternatives.
There was chaos on Auckland’s roads once again on Wednesday. Unlike the major incident a month or so ago on the Newmarket Viaduct, this time there appears to have been number of factors that combined together to cause massive problems for motorists. While there was talk about the bomb scare, personally I think the impact on traffic from would have been fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things seeing as Queen St has so few vehicles on it these days. Other factors like the horrendous weather and people trying to get away for an extra-long weekend are likely to have had a much bigger impact. However while the events that triggered the chaos might be different than what caused issues just over a month ago, the cause is the same, there are simply too many cars on the roads. Roads can only handle so much traffic before even the slightest incident can cause chaos and it feels like our roads are that level now.
So if our road network is already straining under the weight of cars it really makes you question how people can predict that traffic volumes will continue to grow substantially. Yet that is exactly what our transport models predict is going to happen. Even with the best case scenario of City Rail Link as well as improved bus infrastructure, our models predict that by 2041 the number of peopled moved by private vehicles in and around the city centre will increase by over 20%. The improved bus infrastructure will take further space away for private vehicles, which means those extra vehicles will be even more concentrated on some roads.
Of course as we know there are some serious issues with the modelling however even if just half that increase in traffic were to eventuate, what would happen to our roads. How will that change people’s perceptions of driving vs catching a bus or train? Despite what our models say, how realistic is it for us to substantially increase the number of cars that are able to around? Will we start seeing these massive congestion incidents turn from a being one or two times a month to a daily occurrence?
Unfortunately yesterday there was another incident, this time on the southern motorway where tragically someone lost their life. This naturally led to a lot of congestion as the motorway needed to be closed so that an investigation could take place.
As mentioned at the start, our transport system is extremely vulnerable to these issues. Building more and more motorways and wider local roads aren’t going to magically solve issues. Nor are tweaking traffic lights like suggested by John Roughan this morning in the herald (although at least he admitted that another harbour crossing isn’t needed). These measures will just allow people to reach the end of the congestion traffic queue faster. Properly investing in alternatives is the only real option we have that can give people some certainty to their travel times. Lets also not forget that these both occurred during school holidays, a time when there is usually a lot less traffic on the roads.