Agreeing with Joyce

Last week Finance Minister Steven Joyce gave a speech to Massey University and Auckland Chamber of Commerce about the economy and this year’s budget. There were some notable elements related to transport in it worth highlighting, especially those in relation to demand management.

The demand management part of the speech came after a decent amount of chest puffing and back slapping over all the major transport projects underway in Auckland including motorway projects, local road projects and the CRL.

However as this work comes to fruition over the next five years, Auckland as a city is going to come up against a hard constraint, and that’s one of geography.

There is no getting away from the fact that central Auckland is built on a narrow isthmus which makes it hard to get around – and the available land transport corridors are rapidly being used.

So beyond the current building programme we are going to have to look at demand management to reduce the reliance on the road corridors, in favour of buses, trains and ferries.

That was one of the conclusions of the joint Government/Auckland Council ATAP process last year.

To have this being acknowledged by Joyce is hugely positive given many of the comments he’s delivered over the years about transport issues in Auckland, especially during his time as Transport Minister. Quite how he’ll act on it could be another thing entirely though and so we’ll need to wait to see if as Finance Minister he delivers any money for PT projects.

If in the future we were to look back on what ATAP achieved, getting the government to finally acknowledge that we can’t just rely on more roads in Auckland will surely be near the top of the list.

Another big outcome from ATAP was the general acknowledgement between government and the council on the need for demand management, including the use of road pricing to achieve that. One positive of ATAP was that it assessed the need for road pricing outside the need to raise additional revenue to pay for infrastructure but even so, it found that just in the next decade alone an additional $400 million per year is needed.

The Government is developing a work programme to look at demand management tools including electronic road tolling in the medium to long term.

But to be clear, we see this primarily as a way to make the roading system work better – and not as a revenue raising exercise.

And today, I can confirm the Government’s position is:

First, we would expect that any road pricing initiative on existing motorways and highways would predominantly be a replacement for petrol taxes and road user charges not in addition to them.

We’ve suggested for many years that if introduced, road pricing should initially done so in a revenue neutral manner by replacing existing rates and/or taxes. While some would pay more and some less than they do today, the idea is that overall revenue gathered remains about the same which would help improve acceptance of any road pricing scheme. So in this case too it feels we’re roughly aligned with Joyce. This isn’t to say there still shouldn’t fuel taxes though, we still want to encourage moves to more fuel efficient vehicles after all.

The next part to note relates to his response to Mayor Phil Goff who had been pushing for a regional fuel tax.

And second, I stress that we are not interested in introducing a regional fuel tax. I have reiterated to Mayor Goff this morning that we do not see regional fuel taxes as part of the Government’s mix for transport in Auckland because they are administratively difficult, prone to leakage and cost-spreading, and blur the accountabilities between central and local government.

However we are keen to have a more detailed discussion about demand management tools, and explore further options for longer term funding for new infrastructure, including the use of private finance for certain projects, such as Penlink for example. Mayor Goff and I have agreed to work together on those.

Finally something to disagree on, I honestly can’t see how regional fuel taxes would be administratively difficult. I’m sure fuel companies know how much they sell at each of their stations and how many people are realistically going to drive outside the Auckland to get fuel. With the exception of a few people, most would probably spend more on the fuel to get out of the Auckland region than they’d save on petrol prices. Fuel taxes certainly may be a raising additional revenue in the short term till other solutions are put in place – and remember ATAP suggests we need to raise $400 million extra each and every year on top of what we’re already spending.

This announcement disappointed Mayor Phil Goff who claimed that without a new funding source, rates would need to rise by 16% – although that also includes covering for the special transport levy which we (and the AA) feel should be retained.

The last comment quoted above is concerning though, Penlink has long been proposed as a toll road but the problem with it has always been that tolls would only cover a small fraction of the costs. Waiving the PPP phrase around doesn’t suddenly make it more viable, in fact it is likely less so as PPPs require significant contracting work by agencies and are ultimately just a private loan which ratepaters would be paying back.

Time for a national rapid transit discussion

An article from the Bay of Plenty Times highlights one of the challenges facing mini-Auckland Tauranga

Rush-hour congestion on one of Tauranga’s busiest roads is returning to levels not seen since the second Harbour Bridge opened eight years ago.

Predictions made in 2006 that Hewletts Rd would be congested within 15 to 20 years of the completion of the $225 million Harbour Link project have come true almost twice as fast as expected.

Tauranga City Council transport manager Martin Parkes said it was safe to say that traffic had increased to the point where travel time delays were probably back to pre-second harbour bridge levels.

“The investment lasted about eight years,” he said.

The original prediction for 15 to 20 years was based on little change in people’s travel habits.

The last line in particular represents one of the primary issues we have with transport planning in New Zealand, we like to build stuff and pretending that it won’t have any effect on behaviour towards how and when people travel. This is also echoed by politicians who love to claim that the next project will solve the problems of congestion and deliver driving nirvana. This was also evident in the article:

The MP for Tauranga and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the congestion at peak times along Hewletts Rd would be reduced once the new link road between Baypark and Bayfair was completed. It would remove the pinch point at the roundabout with Girven Rd and keep a more constant flow of traffic along Maunganui Rd.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman and former Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said he drove Hewletts Rd nearly every day and found it particularly bad in the morning. It freed up once traffic got past Totara St and was moving towards the bridge.

He recalled the plan floated in the early 2000s to build an expressway around the other side of the airport once Hewletts Rd reached capacity again.

Mr Crosby said four laning SH29 from Maungatapu Bridge to Barkes Corner would take some of the stress off Hewletts Rd although it would always be busy.

Time and again see that perhaps most accurate adage when it comes to transport planning is that what you feed grows and importantly that applies to roads as much as any other modes of transport.

It’s another of Crosby’s comments, along with those from the NZTA and Tauranga Council’s transport department that were perhaps more enlightening and the real reason for this post.

“There is a big conversation coming up about public transport and that is not a quick fix.”

In Auckland, the discussion about public transport (and active modes) has come a long way in the last decade or so. It is now to the point that through ATAP, we have both the council and the government agreeing that we need to be expanding our nascent rapid transit network. This is also known in ATAP as the Strategic Public Transport Network and for good reason, these the routes where high quality, dedicated infrastructure is expected to be provided to act in the same fashion as the motorways do for the wider road network.

But outside of Auckland the discussion about rapid transit or strategic PT networks simply doesn’t seem to exist and seems to be a recipe for repeating the mistakes of Auckland – a place that much of the rest of the country seems desperate to not be. The closest exception to this is of course Wellington with its legacy rail network but even there, talk of even basic PT improvements seems to have died on the vine. Even in Christchurch there has been a deafening silence on any kind of future rapid transit network.

Now the first response some may give is that other places in NZ are simply too small for rapid transit networks, Auckland’s size and growth massively eclipses all other cities in NZ and is expected to continue doing so. By comparison, Tauranga has just 128k people, about the size of some of the larger local boards in Auckland. But while they may be smaller cities, it doesn’t mean they’re not growing.

Again taking Tauranga as an example, most of its urban development is in two linear corridors, to the southwest of the city centre and along Papamoa Beach, seemingly perfect some RTN routes

The concern I have is that by avoiding the conversation now, it will only make it harder and even more expensive to build anything to an RTN standard in the future, potentially stopping it from happening all together. All of this isn’t to say we should go on a massive RTN building spree around the country but that we should at least be looking to reserve some corridors to make them easier to develop in the future. Future growth could even be focused around this infrastructure.

So, a national discussion on strategic public transport networks, what do you think? Who (agencies and cities) do you think should be involved?

 

 

As an aside, this comes just days after Auckland’s new Councillor for Rodney, Greg Sayers, claimed the city should take a leaf out of Tauranga’s book.

I represent the fastest-growing ward on the Auckland Council, Rodney, which is also the largest in area. My constituents, compared with other wards, don’t ask for much but when they do, it is out of necessity, not out of some whim.

Rodney’s growth is frustrated by the dysfunction of the Super City. Meanwhile, places like Tauranga have bounded ahead.

Auckland and Tauranga is a Tale of Two Cities. While Auckland is still dithering about a second harbour crossing, Tauranga’s built two. While Tauranga upgraded rail and built a motorway to make its port thrive, Auckland wants to kill its port and the connecting infrastructure.

Tauranga now has the country’s busiest port, while conversely Auckland’s lack of investment has created a property bubble and traffic bottlenecks.

It’s worth noting that Sayers gets some fairly basic facts outrageously wrong, this includes that over the last decade, the Upper Harbour and Waitemata local board areas have each grown more strongly than Rodney each and every year, both in actual terms and as a percentage (the Upper Harbour LB even started with fewer people but now has more). He also doesn’t seem to realise that Auckland has grown more than Tauranga’s entire population in just 3 years -which as of 30 June 2016 was 128,200.

RIP Eastern Motorway

In ATAP (the Auckland Transport Alignment Project) one of the ideas that was investigated was the reincarnation of the Eastern Motorway, this time called the Eastern Strategic Corridor. It came about as a result of a push by the NZCID (now just called Infrastructure New Zealand) in their report titled “Transport Solutions for a Growing City“. We covered it back in May last year and it had some useful things about the need for better public transport, smarter road pricing, and alignment of transport & land use etc.

Most interestingly the NZCID commented on the AWHC in its report, remarking that as it stands provides low value for money, and that it needs an Eastern Alignment connecting to an Eastern Corridor to fully leverage the advantage it could provide.

“The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing performs the worst economically, delivering a BCR of 0.4.” – Page 31

“A unique advantage of the Eastern Corridor transport solution is the ability to leverage the potential of the largest ever infrastructure project in New Zealand: a $5 billion Waitemata Harbour tunnel. The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is throttled at both its northern and southern termination points, constraining its potential. It cannot connect new businesses and communities and it cannot lift the opportunities for the region, as its predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has done. Consequently, it cannot deliver economic and social benefits consistent with its high cost and these limitations are highlighted by conventional cost benefit analysis which shows a return of 40 cents for every dollar invested.” – Page 63

In response the ATAP team commissioned a report by AECOM called the Eastern Strategic Corridor Assessment and the report says some very interesting things. They looked at two different options – also shown on the map below:

  1. a motorway option connecting to an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at the intersection of Mill/Murphys Roads, and
  2. an expressway option connecting an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at Allen’s Road.

ATAP Eastern Highway Corridor Proposals

Whilst the motorway options performed better than the expressway option due to reaching further south adding to the catchment, the report found that the corridor did very little to reduce congestion across the network.

“Congestion across the network exhibits only minor changes as illustrated by Figure 16 and Figure 17 below. Apart from the Motorway option in the AM peak, which shows a decrease of 1.3%; there is less than a one percent decrease in hours spent in severe congestion which is defined as LOS E or worse for all other scenarios.” – Page 11

The real kicker though, comes when they estimated the cost for each option and the AWHC. The expressway option came in at a whopping $10.89b with the Motorway option higher again at $11.26b. The (BCR) Benefit Cost Ratio for the expressway option was just 0.2, and the motorway not much better at 0.4. I am not a fan of making conclusions solely on the BCR due to limitations in the way we model it, however the seriously low BCR is concerning.

What’s worse is that elements in the BCR such as travel time savings are likely overstated

“As can be seen from table 6 above, preliminary BCR’s both options as modeled present poor value for money coming in well below 1.0, meaning that the NPV benefits do not outweigh the investment costs. The Motorway option has substantially higher benefits than the expressway, particularly as would be expected in travel time savings. However it must be noted that the tunnel components for the Motorway option has been modeled as a 100kph posted speed limit. To date, road tunnels in New Zealand have only been posted at 80kph generally as a compromise between safety requirements and cost. As such a modeled posted speed limit of 100kph may not be achievable in practice and the travel time savings, and attraction of the route may be overstated in this test.” – Page 16

They also suggest that further investigation is likely to reduce the BCR on balance rather than increase it

“The motorway would require the acquisition of land to construct 15.5 km of road and 8 intersections/interchanges. Given the above it is unlikely that further more detailed development of the eastern corridor and refinement of costings would improve the BCR. On balance if seems more likely that if would result in a lower value.” – Page 18

Whilst they found the route provided resilience for the transport network, it does very little to address congestion and the high capital costs outweighs any benefit. Still, they advised keeping the existing eastern corridor designation until Smarter Pricing and the western alignment for AWHC is agreed.

“However we also recommend that corridor protection for the eastern alignment should be maintained until such time as the ATAP Government agencies commit to both the additional western alignment of AWHC and the use of the smarter road charging approach being developed within ATAP.” – Page 18

So, the NZCID is saying the western alignment of AWHC provides very low value for money and the AECOM report shows that leveraging any advantage of a new eastern corridor also results in low value for money, as the BCR is 0.2-0.4. The eastern corridor didn’t make it through in to ATAP but some serious questions need be raised regarding the viability of AWHC given even the infrastructure lobby don’t think it’s a good idea.

The Eastern Motorway: killed socially/politically in 2004 and academically in 2016.

2016 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

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

Unitary Plan

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

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

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

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

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

TFUG

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

ATAP

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

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

ATAP Indicative Interventions

New Council

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

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

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

Blog

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

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

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

2016 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

This is Part 3 of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at Roads. You can also see:

Here’s my summary

ATAP

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been a huge feature of the year and while not strictly road related, I’ll include it in this summary. Importantly, despite I think asking many of the wrong questions and focusing too much on the modelling, it largely came out with the right answers. For example, it highlights

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Below is the proposed strategic road network for the next 30 years. As you can see most of this is already in place now.

Waterview/Western Ring Route

Near the end of 2015 the tunnelling was completed at Waterview over the course of 2016 the work has focused on fitting those tunnels out and completing all of the other aspects of the project, including the ventilation buildings and mitigation projects.

In September we revealed the NZTA had some new traffic modelling predicting the opening of the new connection to create havoc and that they were planning to emergency widen a number of surrounding motorways and local roads in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested.

The tunnels are due to open in April, which is later than I thought it would be but I also wonder if that’s related to getting the emergency widening completed first.

In May the NZTA officially opened rebuilt Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd interchanges as part of the wider Western Ring Route (WRR) project. Both were over budget and Lincoln Rd was three years later than originally stated (and that was even after moving one leg of the interchange to another project). In October the NZTA also celebrated the completion of the St Lukes interchange, with the Pohutukawa still intact.

In July work started on the next stage of the WRR, to widen the motorway between Lincoln Rd and Westgate. A section of motorway that might need to be rebuilt again in just a few years to add a north-western busway – something the government agreed (through ATAP) that was needed within a decade. We have heard rumours though that the NZTA engineers are changing their designs for the Royal Rd and Huhuhuru Rd bridges to accommodate a busway after they were told they might be responsible for delivering it.

Northern Corridor

Related to the WRR, just a few weeks ago the NZTA applied for consent for the Northern Corridor which will turn the section of SH18 east of Albany Hwy into a full motorway and provide a direct connection to SH1 (northbound). Importantly it also includes the extension of the Northern Busway. That process will be concluded in 2017 and previous indications from the NZTA suggested construction would start in 2018.

East-West Link

The East-West Link loomed larger in 2016 as the project marched on, culminating in the NZTA applying for consent a few weeks ago, at the same time as the Northern Corridor. The NZTA is almost certainly going to face a much bigger fight to get this project over the line though as it also faces significant community opposition, especially to plans to effectively cut off the port area with a motorway and swallow large packets of land for various roads

In June we revealed documents from the NZTA showing the cost had ballooned from $600 million to potentially over $1.8 billion, more expensive than the Waterview Tunnels ($1.4b). Yet from what we can tell the economic assessment is still based on earlier cost estimates. The documents also revealed some of main risks identified for the consenting of the project, with designs at the time putting the roads completely on newly reclaimed land.

Some of those risks have been mitigated a bit over the year as the latest plans place the road mostly back on current land with most of the reclamation planned to be for more extensive mitigation.

Puhoi to Warkworth

While on the topic of big State Highway Projects, the NZTA announced in November they had awarded the contract for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. Presumably construction will start in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Auckland Transport consents for Mega Projects

Auckland Transport got consent for two of it’s mega road projects, both expected to cost north of $300 million.

Mill Rd

Penlink

They’ve also applied for consent for the Lincoln Rd upgrade which could cost more than $100 million.

Surprisingly little has been heard about AMETI this year. AT were meant to be applying for consent for the Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga but nothing has been made public yet.

 

Speed limits

In November the government announced a new speed limit guide which when in place would allow for some specific roads to have a 110km/h speed limit but also make it easier for local authorities to have lower speed limits in urban areas which would be welcome.

Road Toll

And despite the talk of safety, the road toll continues to defy the trends of the last few decades, increasing again over the last few years, as the graph below shows (to the end of October)

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus mainly on non transport stuff.

2016 – A Year in Review Part 1 – PT

As the year rapidly draws to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred. Because there’s so much to cover, I’ll be splitting this up over multiple posts, starting with public transport.

It’s been a huge year for public transport. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught in the day to day details which makes it easy to forget that a lot of really positive things happened in 2016. So, here’s my summary.

City Rail Link

We started the year with the great news that the government had come to their senses, agreeing the main part of the project should start as soon as possible, not be delayed till sometime after 2020 like they had previously said. This was primarily due to two things, we were continuing to see stellar ridership growth following electrification, well ahead of what was projected and with Auckland in a building boom with $billions planned to be spent, developers wanted certainty around the project.

While some of the earliest signs the project was underway began at the end of 2015, in June the project officially exploded into action in a ceremony outside Britomart.

In September the government and council signed an agreement that would see them share the costs of the project equally.

The project is now hard to miss in the city centre with works in full swing from Britomart through to Wellesley St. One of the first big pieces of work is to move a water main out of the way along Albert St and that has involved digging some deep shafts to enable a small tunnel boring machine to dig and install a new pipe. Auckland Transport kindly gave us a tour of the sites in October. On Albert St the project is now hard to miss with large parts of it closed to traffic and a huge piling machine busy at work.

In just a few weeks another milestone will be reached as passengers will start using the new, temporary entrance that has been built at the back of the CPO building to enable the CRL tunnels to be dug under the CPO.

 

Not everything has been great though. From what we’ve seen so far, Auckland Transport’s plans for the streets being re-instated after the CRL is completed have been a disappointment, especially so on Victoria St. In fact more than that they appear to be trying to actively undermine the Council’s publicly consulted City Centre Master Plan by removing key pedestrian space so a few more car lanes can be squeezed in. This is obviously something we’ll be following very closely in 2017.

Simplified Fares

August finally saw the introduction of Simplified Fares, another of the key steps in bringing public transport in Auckland up to a more modern standard. It introduced fare zones instead of stages and meaning people can transfer between multiple buses and trains and only pay one fare for their journey rather than how many buses or trains they used. This also had the advantage of reducing fares for many trips.

AT have also started work to integrate ferries into the system.

New Network and Otahuhu Station

The new bus network in South Auckland was another of the big puzzle pieces to slot into place, finally rolling out at the end of October

At the same time as the new bus network, the impressive new Otahuhu Station opened which is a key interchange on the network.

Also tied to the new network, the bus station at Manukau got underway in 2016

Progress on rolling out the new network to other parts of Auckland has progressed too. West Auckland is confirmed to roll out in the middle of next year while AT are currently assessing tenders for Central, East and North.

Double Decker rollout

A big feature of this year has been the roll out of double deckers on many routes. They are now almost exclusively used on Northern Express services and have rolled out to other routes too, such as Mt Eden Rd and the 881 from Albany to Newmarket. In 2017 we should see at least Onewa Rd added to this list.

Government agreement on Strategic PT network

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was a big feature of the year, especially after the final report was released in September. I’ll talk about that more in a separate post but one particularly good point in relation to PT was that we now have agreement between the government and council on a future rapid transit network. While there are still finer details to be resolved such as exact modes and routes, it’s good to finally have the need for this agreed at a high level.

Ridership

Use of the PT network has seen solid growth over the year and the big star of that has been the Rapid Transit Network (busway and Rail) which has primarily driven that growth. Usage on the RTN in the 12 months to the end of November grew by a staggering 22.2% over the 12 months to November 2015.

As mentioned at the start of the post, the stellar growth on the rail network was one of the reasons the government had to change their position to support the CRL. That growth has continued this year and as of now there will have been over 18 million trips during the last 12 months. This is well ahead of where it needed to be for the silly target the government set in 2013 and that the Ministry of Transport once said it was unlikely we would achieve.

Conclusion

These are of course only some of the big changes and discussions we’ve had over the year and many of them are likely to continue to be discussed over 2017 but on the whole, I think it’s been a pretty good year for PT in Auckland. We’ve definitely made many more steps forward than we have back.

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus on walking and cycling

ATAP Indicative Projects Costings

In September the Final Report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released and we’ve talked about it a lot since then. It focused on strategic recommendations following multiple rounds of modelling of packages of projects and with & without Smarter Pricing. The Final Indicative Package can be seen on the map below, however please note these are indicative and may change as each project goes through the necessary business cases.

ATAP Indicative Interventions

The ATAP report found that in the first decade alone, there’s a $400 million funding gap and while the aggregate costings where available, the estimated cost for each project where not. So, I decided to OIA that very information & thankfully the NZTA were happy to oblige, giving us this information in a very nice format which you can see below.

Please note the projects are indicative and subject to the regular business cases, the costings are preliminary estimates for example the ATAP team did not receive the information regarding updated CRL costings until after the Report had been finalised, the costings are also not inflation adjusted which is why some in the third decade in particular look cheaper than previous estimates you may have seen.

ATAP Projects Estimates

ATAP Project Costs Page 1

ATAP Project Costs Page 2

Rail Development Programme

Rail Development Programme

I wont go into to much regarding the information, as this is best done in a series of follow up posts on ATAP, but some things to note are

  1. A (Road Only) Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is $3.7b but will be much more with inflation.
  2. They budget $585.3m of level crossing removals.
  3. There is over $4b in state highway widening projects (Does not include East West Link & AWHC), those projects bring it up to over $9B.
  4. $784m to four track Westfield-Papakura.
  5. $503.7m for Isthmus Mass Transit is budgeted in the first decade meaning only $622.5m needs to be accelerated to make it a first decade project.
  6. Mass Transit between Wynyard Quarter – Takapuna is budgeted at $1.8b.

What do you think of the costs and what stands out to you?

AA’s ATAP Funding Survey

The AA have released the results of a survey of their members about how to pay Auckland’s future transport needs, and we agree with their position.

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) looked at Auckland’s future transport needs and found that for the first decade alone, around $23.7 billion is needed but that based on current trends and assumptions, only $19.8 billion would be spent. That’s a shortfall of about $400 million per year. Even more would need to be spent in each of the following two decades the project assessed.

In the long term, road pricing will likely be a useful tool to both manage demand and to raise revenue to help pay for transport but it is expected that could take a decade or more to develop. As such we’ll need to do something in the interim. The ATAP report suggests that additional funding could be provided either by increasing the amount available from current sources, such as the government investing more, or from new funding tools. The report also has this recommendation on funding.

We recommend the Government and Auckland Council work together to consider options and agree on an approach to address the funding gap by mid-2017, to inform statutory funding documents.

But in all the discussions about funding, there’s been a small bit of fine print that is often missed, it has been assumed the current Interim Transport Levy would stop like intended in mid-2018.

That brings us back to the AA and their survey which has looked at their members thoughts on the outcome of ATAP and on funding options. They sent the survey to 20,000 Auckland members and had 1091 responses, the demographic breakdown of which is below. As you can see responses mainly came from older members but this may reflect the AA’s membership being older. Also, it doesn’t appear that the age breakdowns add up to 100%.

aa-atap-funding-survey-demographics

When asked how they feel about Auckland’s current transport system in its ability to meet Auckland’s needs, 61% said it was terrible (20%) or poor (41%). Just 7% said it was good or fantastic. That result isn’t all too surprising though as most people tend to think things could always be better.

They then asked for respondents thoughts based on this map. What’s notable about it is that it only shows the first decade projects, which is fair enough as the full map is quite confusing but also because many of the big road projects in ATAP are front loaded into the first decade while many of the key PT projects are in the second and third decade. See if you can spot the error with the map.

aa-atap-funding-survey-project-map-2

Asked for their thoughts on this plan and 37% said it looked good or fantastic while 42% said it looked ok. That’s a lot better but not great and it would be interesting to see how people would react and what they would want prioritised if they saw proposed strategic PT network.

The survey then asked about how to close the funding gap with the following options

  1. Delay or cancel some of the projects
  2. ‘Find’ the money by reprioritising expenditure
  3. Raise more money from Aucklanders/all New Zealanders

A slight majority (53%) thought Option 1 should be, or would be open to it being part of the overall solution.

Those two measures soared to 69% when asked about option 2. The AA say they asked respondents what portion of funding should Auckland get from the Government with the median response being 40%. This was also after explaining the size of Auckland’s population, GDP, vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) and the expected size of the coming population growth

aa-atap-funding-survey-funding-options

The third option of just raising more money was also positively supported with 58% saying yes or maybe to it. But the AA drilled deeper on this question, asking for options on another three options:

  1. Auckland property rates increase (if you rent, assume an equivalent increase in your rent)
  2. a regional fuel tax
  3. a motorway user toll

For option 1, 69% said they were opposed and of those that were prepared to pay more via rates, the median amount they’d be willing to contribute was $100.

Option 2 was better supported with 51% saying yes or maybe to the idea of a fuel tax with just 5c per litre being the amount respondents were prepared to look at paying.

The trend continued with Option 3 and 61% said yes or maybe to the idea of motorway tolling. This is interesting as ATAP talks about road pricing across the entire road network, not just a motorway toll. Even so, AA say the median amount people were prepared was $2 per trip. That motorway tolling came out on top suggests attitudes towards the idea are rapidly changing over this issue rapidly, all the more reason to get on with it.

Next the AA asked for thoughts on the Council’s Interim Transport Levy which was brought in as a way to bolster transport funding. As mentioned, the levy was only ever meant to be a temporary 3-year fund but as I suggested the other day, it seems a bit silly to replace it given we still need to find an extra $400 million a year and the levy would help in making a nice dent in that figure. It seems the survey members mostly agree and 67% said they’d be comfortable without grudgingly accept keeping it.

Lastly, they asked about selling assets and as you can see below, this was much more of a mixed bag.

aa-atap-funding-survey-assett-sales

All up some fairly interesting and useful results, particularly as it feels like the support for road pricing has been increasing over the last few years.

The AA, like us feel that the interim transport levy should be retained. It’s in place now and has a comparatively high level of support compared to some of the other options.

Mr Irvine says the beauty of continuing the transport levy is that, without changing anything, we would generate about $175 million of investment each year.

“That’s a big chunk of Auckland’s share of the funding gap, and we want Council to have a good look at what other options exist to make up the rest.”

What do you think of the AA’s survey and the results from it?

Funding Strategic Transport

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

atap-future-strategic-pt-network

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

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

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

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

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

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

atap-future-strategic-road-network

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

2014-road-lengths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voting for Transit

While much of the world is in a state of disbelief over the result of the US election, there was some positive news to come out of it too. In many areas a range of transit projects/initiatives were also ballot. In total, there were 48 local or statewide measures and 33 (69%) passed, even though many required increases in taxes to pay for them and some required 2/3rds of voter support. The Transport Politic has a list of many of them and their outcomes while CityLab highlights three of the biggest.

Los Angeles 

With nearly 70 percent voting yes on Measure M, Los Angeles County is set to see a dramatic transit transformation over the coming decades with a permanent half-cent sales tax hike. The plan will rake in some $121 billion for proposed and ongoing projects such as a rail connection to LAX and a subway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass. Long-disconnected neighborhoods in the region’s southeastern reaches are also slated for rail and bus-rapid transit connections. The tax increase will also pay for badly needed sidewalk upkeep, pothole repairs, new bike lanes, and bike-share stations, as well as a clutch of greenways.

los-angeles-metrorail-comparison

Image from LA Curbed

Seattle

Also clearing the ballot box was Sound Transit 3, an ambitious light-rail jump-start that promises to become one of the largest transit projects in American history. The plan is to more than double the Seattle region’s light rail system, with 62 miles of new track and 37 stations built over 25 years. It will also install three BRT lines and a chain of park-and-ride stations across urban Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties by 2041. The plan, which would be paid for by sustained increases in sales, motor vehicle, and property taxes (to the estimated tune of $169 per adult per year), is slated put the area’s rail system in the same weight class as San Francisco’s and Washington, D.C.’s, as the Ringer recently reported.

seattle-st3-map

Seattle ST3 plan

Atlanta

Atlanta voters overwhelmingly passed a .4 percent sales tax increase that would raise $300 million over five years for transportation improvements, with projects including the completion of the city’s BeltLine loop of green trails, 15 “complete streets” projects, a bike-share scale-up, and significant sidewalk improvements. Meanwhile, a separate half-penny sales tax increase will generate $2.5 billion over the next 40 years, allowing the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority to make “major investments in transit infrastructure, including introducing high-capacity rail improvements, building new infill rail stations within the city, purchasing new buses, adding more frequent service, and introducing new bus routes,” according to the city.

The high capacity rail improvements includes extensions their existing heavy rail network and 7 light rail routes.

 

The downside for many of the measures is they are also dependent on federal funding and with the Republicans hostile towards transit investment, they ultimately may not ever happen.

All of this got me thinking about what the outcome would be if Aucklanders got to vote directly on transport plans. It could be argued that we already vote on transport but we only do so indirectly. In central government elections transport is normally considered just a minor issue behind the likes of health, education, the economy and welfare, even though transport can influence outcomes from each of those areas. Transport is much more of a local issue and while it usually garners a much larger mindshare than at a national level, it is also competing against other topics too, such as rates and housing.

In the end, voting at both central and local level is very indirect. For example, Phil Goff stood on a platform of light rail down Dominion Rd but just because he’s been elected it doesn’t mean it will ever actually happen as the project is captive to a plethora of political and technical hurdles. How would voters in Auckland respond if they had a more direct say on transport plans in Auckland.

The recent Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is a big step in getting the government and council in alignment on transport in Auckland but it takes very much a “the experts know best” approach that relies heavily on transport modelling. It was the antithesis of the public having a say. The ATAP modelling relies heavily on assumptions, value judgements and historical trends, and it has been frequently made clear that the outputs are incredibly flawed. That ATAP ended up proposing some substantial transit investment, albeit it not soon enough in my view, is more a reflection of how out of balance our transport system already is than the process working.

atap-future-strategic-pt-network

Perhaps one of the issues with ATAP, and many other transport plans, is that they start from the wrong place. They are treated as a technical solution to a technical problem rather than first working out and agreeing what the vision is for how we want our city to look and feel and then working back from there. This can include deliberately ignoring plans that have already done the work of deciding the vision element. In ATAP the word vision isn’t mentioned once and the only mention of the council’s 30-year vision, the ‘Auckland Plan’, is that the council will need to update it with the outcome of ATAP. I think this happens as vision is a harder thing to define and measure than technical aspects. Added to that I suspect many of the bureaucrats either don’t have a vision or are too scared to be seen as imposing one

This is something that happens at many levels and is the same kind of thinking that leads to stupid ideas such as trying to squeeze up footpaths and the CRL entrance on Victoria St that will be used by 10’s of thousands of people every day, just so that an extra traffic lane can be added. This of course completely ignores the agreed vision for the city centre.

I’m not quite sure how you’d do it but what outcome would ATAP have delivered if the wider public had a greater say in the vision they want for Auckland or even just on some of the value judgement made by officials.

As we know from ATAP, Auckland has a transport funding shortfall of around $400 million annually. While some of that might disappear if the value judgements were different, a lot of it would still be needed, even if for a different set of projects. The public having a say on whether they agree with the proposed plan and how to pay for it might be a good idea if nothing else than to build confidence that the plan is right. The only thing though is it would need to be about the entire transport plan, not just raising money just to pay for transit while road spending goes unquestioned – like in many of those ballots in the US.