Last night the Campaign for Better Transport ran a meeting of transport spokespeople from five different parties, asking them two key questions:
- How they think the government’s $3 billion a year contribution to transport should generally be split across the different modes.
- What their party will do specifically for transport matters in Auckland over the next three years.
There was a pretty good response from the political parties, although it was a shame that Steven Joyce didn’t turn up and we ended up with David Bennett instead. For some strange reason Steven Joyce doesn’t seem to be the Campaign for Better Transport’s biggest fan. The speakers were:
- David Bennett, MP (National)
- Shane Jones, MP (Labour)
- Gareth Hughes, MP (Greens)
- Don Brash (ACT)
- Colin Craig (Converatives)
Don Brash spoke first, and pretty much devoted his entire time to arguing for road pricing. This wasn’t necessarily too much of a surprise, given ACT’s ideological bent and I must say I was reasonably impressed by his knowledge on the topic – referring to examples in Sweden, Singapore and the typical London case. He made the point that if we ran airports and air-travel like we run land-based travel, we’d have huge queues for peak times planes and nobody on planes at others times – strangely similar to what we have for land transport. There wasn’t too much about whether road pricing should be used as a revenue generation mechanism or a demand management mechanism (I’m guessing largely the latter), and also not much said about whether it should lead investment in alternatives or whether it would follow that investment – I’m guessing the former. While he didn’t say much about what plans the ACT party might have for transport in Auckland in terms of new projects, I guess the feeling is that if we price roads properly we might not need new projects.
Gareth Hughes from the Greens was unsurprisingly very comprehensive in his answers on both the questions raised. He pointed out that the Green Party has been pushing for better public transport and a more sustainable approach to transport for a very long time, although he welcomed Labour’s shift over the past few years. He was scathing of National’s spending on the various Roads of National Significance, not just the usual whipping boy of the holiday highway but also other projects with dodgy cost-benefit ratios like Transmission Gully. While the Green Party launches their transport policy this coming Monday, Gareth gave us a few insights that the Greens want to push for a 60% government contribution to the City Rail Link, they would make walking and cycling a much greater priority (pushing for 100% NZTA funding over the next few years) as well as making significant baseline increases to the PT operating funding budget. All up, he certainly seemed to have the most detailed grasp of transport matters out of all the candidates.
Colin Craig rambled on a bit about all sorts of things, noting that he was standing in the Rodney electorate so felt compelled to support the Puhoi-Wellsford road even if it wasn’t quite clear whether he personally thought it was a good idea or not. He talked quite a bit about utilising New Zealand’s ability to innovate and suggested that we should look a bit outside the square for transport solutions. My overall impression was that his knowledge of transport policy was fairly basic, but I guess that’s not particularly surprising as he’s the leader of that party rather than their transport spokesperson (if they indeed have one). In general he came across as a fairly friendly character.
Shane Jones outlined key aspects of the Labour Party’s transport policy, which obviously include shifting $1.2 billion from the Puhoi-Wellsford funding pool and putting it into paying for approximately half the City Rail Link. Interestingly, he noted that this had caused him some grief amongst his Northland supporters and seemed to have been quite a challenging decision for the Labour Party to make (clearly some residue from the roads-centric days gone past). He also talked about Labour wanting to make better use of coastal shipping and the ports, as well as using rail freight to a much greater extent. For some reason he still can’t help himself from calling PT “public sector transport”.
Finally, David Bennett probably felt a little bit like a sacrificial lamb being required to talk at such a meeting and he certainly came across as being quite nervous for much of it. He talked a lot about all the roads the government has been building over the past few years and all the roads they want to build over the next few years – while making some relatively brief mentions about improvements to public transport at the same time. Probably the most interesting argument he made was in response to Labour’s funding decision for the City Rail Link, where he pointed out the potential for some misalignment between the timing of Puhoi to Wellsford and the timing of the City Rail Link – saying that much of the big funding requirement for the motorway would not be for many more years whereas Auckland Council want to advance the CRL almost immediately. Personally I don’t think this is much of an issue as Puhoi-Wellsford was proposed for completion by 2022 while the CRL has always been seriously proposed for completion by 2021.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the question and answer section, so it would be interesting for those who did stay to add in if anything interesting was raised.
The latest media release from the Campaign for Better Transport discusses the role that transport could play in the upcoming election, as well as reminding everyone about the meeting of transport spokespeople this coming Thursday:
The Campaign for Better Transport is picking transport to be a major issue in the forthcoming election. The organisation is hosting a public meeting where the main political parties will be given the opportunity to explain what they intend to do over the next three years to improve transport, particularly in Auckland.
Spokesperson Cameron Pitches says he hopes the meeting will cover wide range of transport issues, but a key role of central Government is administering the $2.8bn annual fuel tax revenue in a “sensible and realistic” manner.
“Current Goverment policy limits just 0.8% of that revenue stream for public transport infrastructure projects. We think that the huge growth in numbers of people using buses and rail in Auckland in recent years justifies a bigger percentage than this,” says Mr Pitches.
Pitches describes the meeting as a unique opportunity for the public to show their support for intiatives such as the CBD rail link and more immediate alternatives to the costly $1.7bn toll road between Puhoi and Wellsford.
“It is our view that in Auckland the CBD rail link is absolutely vital to the continued growth in rail patronage. Other options such as a bus tunnel won’t overcome this, especially given electrification will make commuting by rail even more popular than currently.”
The meeting is to be held on Thursday 10th November, 7:00pm at the Ellen Melville Hall, Freyberg Place in central Auckland.
Confirmed speakers for the public meeting include:
- David Bennett, MP (National)
- Shane Jones, MP (Labour)
- Gareth Hughes, MP (Greens)
- Don Brash (ACT)
- Colin Craig (Conservatives)
Each speaker will be given 10 minutes to explain their party’s stance on all modes of transport and issues that affect the Auckland region in particular. Audience members will be invited to ask questions after all speakers have presented their policies.
The meeting is open to all members of the public, however as space is limited free tickets should be obtained through http://bettertransportnov11.eventbrite.com/ to guarantee a seat.
In the past I’ve generally thought that transport wasn’t much of an election issue (at least not for general elections, it certainly is for local government elections), but this time – especially with the parties so polarised over key projects like the City Rail Link, I’m not so sure.
Labour’s announcement on the weekend that they would provide $1.2 billion to help construct the City Rail Link was credible because they have a source for the funding: redirecting the money from the Puhoi-Wellsford project which is often termed the “holiday highway”. The January 2010 project summary statement noted the following ‘forecast outturn cost’ for the Puhoi-Wellsford road:
The final costs of the RoNS corridor will include future years escalation (normally three percent) due to increases in input costs largely following national economic inflationary pressures. The actual amount of escalation attributed to individual projects depends on the time frame for the construction. If a project is constructed earlier than predicted then the amount of escalation would be lower. Equally if construction is later than predicted the cost of escalation would be higher. However, at a RoNS corridor level the individual project effects are less marked. Thus the forecast outturn cost of the RoNS corridor would be $1.69 billion with a confidence range of $1.53 billion to $2.04 billion.
So our best cost-estimate for the project is around $1.7 billion, meaning that Labour’s policy of redirecting $1.2 billion onto the City Rail Link is not only easily possible, but also leaves around $500 million to spare. Usefully, a key part of the announcement on the weekend effectively picks up on a piece of work that I did along with the Campaign for Better Transport back in 2010 – to come up with a more cost-effective alternative to the “holiday highway”: something we called Operation Lifesaver.
Operation Lifesaver was initially presented to the Transport and Urban Development committee of the former Auckland Regional Council, to help inform their submission on the Puhoi-Wellsford project. It was generally fairly well received, particularly the focus on safety. You can read the whole document here. The summary is outlined below: As you might be able to guess by its name, the purpose of “Operation Lifesaver” was not just to find a cheaper solution to the full Puhoi-Wellsford motorway, but to come up with some safety improvements in particular that could be implemented a heck of a lot faster than constructing the full motorway. This is because the current road is extremely dangerous – this slide comes from our presentation to the ARC (figures from the NZTA business case document): With the Puhoi-Warkworth section not due for completion until 2019 and the Warkworth-Wellsford section until 2022 (likely to be even later now due to geotechnical difficulties) we worked out that around 50 more people would die, based on trends since 2000, before the full motorway was opened. That was a pretty shocking number and drove a lot of the thought behind trying to come up with a solution that could be implemented a lot sooner than the full-blown motorway.
With a lot of helpful input from an NZTA Official Information Act response, we put together two options for more immediate upgrades to state highway one between Puhoi and Wellsford: largely safety improvements as well as a Warkworth bypass.
Of course we are not transport economists or engineers so there was a bit of guess work in the assessment of costs and the assessment of cost-effectiveness, but this was done fairly conservatively on a “what proportion of the full project’s safety/time-savings/vehicle costs etc. benefit are we likely to get from this” approach. It would be interesting to get a bit more expert analysis of the idea – particularly now that Labour have effectively committed $320 million to State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford. I suspect that what we could get for that price might fall somewhere between the two proposals, as things are always a bit more expensive than you thought.
It’s important to keep in mind, when looking at policies to “abandon the holiday highway” and “do Operation Lifesaver instead”, that Operation Lifesaver is a fairly extensive proposal – particularly if you have $320 million to play with. Many of the congestion issues faced by this road are caused by Warkworth and would be solved by a bypass. Many of the safety issues could also be fixed much more quickly and efficiently if we don’t have to wait 10-20 years for the full motorway to go through.
One argument made for the Puhoi-Wellsford road is its ability to help Northland’s economy – perhaps in a way that Operation Lifesaver can’t (if we set aside the relative costs of the options for now). While I can’t really see how savings 7-10 minutes off a trip between two Auckland towns will revolutionise Northland’s economy (and a Warkworth bypass would generate much of this time saving anyway), I think the last word on the issue of economic development should go to a 2008 report commissioned by NZTA into the upgrade (just before it was nominated as a RoNS): In short, while there would be some economic effect, it would be pretty minor. Certainly not worth spending $1.7 billion on when there are better alternatives around.
The general election is now less than a month away, and unsurprisingly things are starting to heat up. One event that you won’t want to miss is being put on by the Campaign for Better Transport:
The Campaign for Better Transport has invited the main political parties in the forthcoming general election to tell us their vision for the future of transport in Auckland. Confirmed speakers for the public meeting include:
David Bennett, MP (National)
Shane Jones, MP (Labour)
Gareth Hughes, MP (Greens)
Don Brash (ACT)
The event is being held on Thursday 10th November, 7:00pm at the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, Freyberg Place, Auckland Central.
Space is strictly limited – reserve your place by getting your free ticket from http://bettertransportnov11.eventbrite.com/
Each speaker will be given 10 minutes to explain their party’s stance on all modes of transport and issues that affect the Auckland region in particular.
We are requesting each speaker address the following two issues within their speech:
1. What does your party believe to be the best way to allocate centrally-held funds to different transport modes (road/rail/sea/active) and why.
2. What does your party propose to do over the next three years to improve transport in Auckland?
It should be a great night! Again space is limited and you will need a ticket to get in. Go to http://bettertransportnov11.eventbrite.com/ to secure your ticket now.
It’s a pity that Steven Joyce didn’t want to come along and speak, but it should certainly be a great opportunity to see what the different parties have to say about those two questions (perhaps particularly the second one), and also in response to any questions from the floor.
Tomorrow I’m giving a presentation to the Auckland Council Transport Committee, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport, about bus priority measures in Auckland – why they’re necessary and where priorities to improve them should be. The presentation is somewhat in response to a lot of opposition to bus lanes that emerged at the last transport committee meeting – particularly from some of the North Shore Local Boards, as well as Councillor George Wood and (perhaps most determinedly) the Orakei Local Board.
Some of the presentation, which you can read here from page 6 onwards, was formulated out of a couple of my recent blog posts – and the feedback in comments from those blog posts was really useful in putting it together.
I won’t run through the entire presentation in this blog post, but just comment on a few of the key slides. The first is obviously looking at the big picture and thinking about the massive role that buses have to play in boosting Auckland’s public transport patronage over the next decade, if we’re to get anywhere close to the aspirational goals the Mayor and Council has set: As you can see, even with fairly optimistic patronage forecasts for rail and ferries, in order to boost total patronage by the kind of levels desired, we will have to make catching the bus a lot more attractive and get a lot more people choosing to take the bus.
Indeed, if you look at Auckland’s past patronage trends, what happens to bus patronage has an enormous effect on whether our total patronage goes up or down: After discussing some bus priority success stories (like the Northern Busway and Dominion Road), the presentation moves on to summarising the key reasons why improving bus priority is a good idea: Perhaps the key reason is the last one: that it’s cheap and fast to do. I have long said that the single thing Auckland could do to increase its public transport patronage the most over the next couple of years, at relatively low cost, would be to significantly expand its bus lane network. It’s worth remember though that bus priority measures do not begin and end with bus lanes: you can also have buses communicating with traffic lights to ensure they get the green, you can get stop boxes at intersections to help buses get a head start on other vehicles, or you can go right the way up to providing infrastructure like the Northern Busway.
Some priority routes for improvements are suggested: a few in the suburbs but particularly in the city centre as that’s where bus numbers are highest and the amount of delay from having no bus lanes is most acute:
As I said earlier, improving bus priority is not just about bus lanes, but also about improving signals so they give priority to buses, as well as identifying choke points for bus routes and eliminating them. So a few suggestions are provided in that respect: It will be interesting to see how things go tomorrow. If you want to come and see, the meeting is in the Reception Lounge of the Town Hall from 2pm onwards.
An article in today’s Sunday Star Times looks at the possible repercussions of NZTA’s decision (forced upon them by the upcoming government policy statement) to cut the funding assistance rate for public transport around the country. The results are potentially pretty ugly:
The government will cut up to $17 million from its public transport budget for the 2011-12 financial year.
Further costings compiled by Green Party transport spokesman Gareth Hughes estimate that figure could balloon up to $87m over the next decade.
Hughes said the big losers would be the growing number of public transport users, warning that local councils would have to either hike up prices, or cut the number of services they offered.
“The burden is squarely being placed on the shoulders of rate-payers and public transport users.
“The government is reducing the financial assistance rates to councils. This means that regional councils will have to find more money to run the same bus and train services.
Further detail on the funding shortfall was provided in the agenda to Auckland Council’s Transport Committee meeting earlier this month. The main changes are outlined in the table below: The big ones are the first two – the reduction in funding assistance for PT operations and infrastructure funding. In terms of the operations side, at least the GPS is proposing a general increase for this sector over the next 10 years (although that’s largely gobbled up by KiwiRail increasing its track-access fees enormously). For PT infrastructure, the proposed GPS proposes a horrific cut, from spending over $100 million in the 2009/2010 year to a spending range of between $20m and $60m for the next three years. It seems that NZTA have decided that the best way to manage the reduced funding levels is to ‘spread around the money’ to a greater number of projects by offering a reduced percentage of subsidy. This means that regional councils and PT users will need to pick up the slack if they want to continue funding public transport at the same level as now – let alone respond to increasing patronage by further improving the infrastructure and service provision levels.
What’s perhaps most frustrating is that PT infrastructure (and other things cut like transport planning and road safety community programmes) are a relatively small part of NZTA’s funding pool. In other words, huge cuts to them won’t actually free up much money at all for other areas – like building more motorways. This is a point picked up by Cameron Pitches of the Campaign for Better Transport, who is quoted further on in the article:
Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches backed Hughes’ comments.
“We hope the government isn’t going to be too severe on the public transport spend. But we know they are cutting back on the infrastructure spend. At the moment, the national road transport fund, which is a petrol tax and road-user charges, is $2.8 billion a year.
“Of that, 1.8% is spent on public transport infrastructure. But the government is seeking to cut that back to 0.7%. What the government says is, with public transport, the ratepayers are going to have to pay it [almost] entirely themselves.”
Oh how I wish a politician would ask Steven Joyce in parliament what the logic is behind cutting PT funding and massively expanding state highways funding when PT use is booming and state highway traffic growth is static. I suppose it makes sense if you don’t like this trend and want it reversed – by choking off funding, forcing fares up and forcing service cuts.
The Campaign for Better Transport is having its annual general meeting this evening. Here are the details:
We are delighted to confirm that Auckland Councillor Mike Lee will be speaking on the transport challenges facing Auckland right now at our Annual General Meeting. There will be time to ask Cr Lee any questions you may have.
Tuesday 12th July, 7:30pm
Grey Lynn Community Centre, 510 Richmond Rd.
The rest of the Agenda is fairly light so that we can have an informal chat over some refreshments.
The CBT have had some pretty big transport wins over the years – with the reopening of the Onehunga Line and the upcoming opening of the Wynyard tram loop being two obvious examples – so come along, join up and there should be some good opportunities to have transport discussions.
Alon Levy’s Pedestrian Observations blog has a fascinating post on the two group of ‘transit advocates’ in the USA, which he splits into the ‘technicals’ and the ‘politicals’. Here’s how he describes the two groups:
Politicals are the people who tend to trust the transit authorities, support a general expansion of all rail transit projects, and believe the primary problem is defeating oil-funded anti-transit lobbies. Technicals are the people who tend to distrust what the authorities say, and prefer their own analysis or that of technically-minded activists; they support transit but are skeptical about many projects, and treat agency inertia and turf wars as the primary obstacles for transit revival.
From reading through the many thousands of comments on this blog, as well as contributions to other places where transport is discussed – such as the Campaign for Better Transport forum – I think it’s fair to say that the division is quite universal. Of course, that’s not to say that technicals don’t talk about ‘big picture’ issues and the politicals aren’t at all interested in the details. Levy’s post discusses this matter in more detail:
Despite the name, being technical does not mean ignoring politics, or supporting technocracy. On the contrary, the primary impetus for the technicals, mistrust of transit and government authorities, is often bundled with mistrust of engineering standards, and with preference for practices that have worked abroad (European commenters on American blogs almost invariably side with the technicals). The difference is that the political battle lines we draw are less about mode wars and more about the interests of agencies versus those of riders, how broader political ideas affect transit and cities, or just plain corruption and incompetence.
Conversely, being political does not mean ignoring everything other than the effort to get projects built. Although the politicals are less picky about what projects to support (Bruce McF once referred to the position that only true high-speed rail be funded, rather than medium-speed lines such as the since-canceled 110 mph Ohio Hub plan, as another form of HSR denialism), they often do care about alignment and regulatory choices. For example, opposition to security theater on trains is universal. The difference is that they subsume them into the main political fight, treating them as less important issues, or just believe that truly incompetent decisions such as airline-style security will not happen. Insofar as the government’s statements on train security send mixed signals, they may be right; on the other hand, the FRA’s self-reforms are half-baked.
In a recent comment, Stu Donovan did a pretty good job at explaining one way that the distinction could be interpreted:
No, questions over funding should be answered by politically engaged citizens and their democratically elected representatives. In contrast, the job of transport people like us is to have an opinion on the best way to spend transport dollars once they have been decided as part of the political process.
Now of course there will be some overlap between the politically engaged citizens and the transport professionals, but it’s important to remind oneself of which hat you are wearing at any particular time. I think it’s entirely appropriate for me to advocate for increased public transport funding (as a citizen) and more spending on buses (as a professional).
I’m not entirely sure whether I would classify this blog as being purely a political or technical blog. At times, in my support of big picture policy issues, like the large rail projects or funding decisions, I am probably highly political – disregarding the details of whether Airport Rail would actually be a cost-effective project for now. On other matters, such as reducing the complexity and thereby improving the cost-effectiveness of the bus network, perhaps I’m a bit more technical.
After all, I think public transport advocates (both here and in the USA) need both sides of this argument. We need to passionately argue big picture political issues – to get public transport’s benefits more widely recognised, to ensure better alignment between transport and land-use planning and to ensure funding and policy-making decisions give us the more balanced transport outcomes that are so desperately needed. Yet we also need to ensure, once those big picture decisions are made, that they translate through to the best possible outcome. We need to be sceptical of how public transport money is spent, not only to ensure that we make the most of the limited amount of money thrown our way, but also to ensure that politicians making the big decisions see that spending money on PT is ‘sensible’ and cost-effective.
Auckland Transport has impressed me in quite a few ways since they formed in November last year. They responded quickly to a cyclist’s death on Tamaki Drive to remove parking spaces, they seem to have a (long overdue) renewed focus on improving Auckland’s bus system and they’ve been fairly responsive to my requests for information – such as the questions I posed to CEO David Warburton that I got answered a couple of weeks back. It has also been good to see the board papers for Auckland Transport (well, some of them) posted online and the meetings made available to the general public.
But a few things about the way they operate indicate to me that the secretive culture of ARTA has not quite yet been disposed of. And the responses to a few enquiries made in recent times still leaves a lot to be desired. If we start with the openness and accountability, while it has been good to see some of the board papers published online, there are still strange gaps and in some respects it feels as though we’ve even gone backwards in terms of openness since the days of ARTA.
As an example, let’s have a look at the agenda for Auckland Transport’s December board meeting. There was an open session and a closed session. The agenda for the two are shown below:
Some of the items in the closed agenda made sense. Staffing matters are probably not generally for public consumption while discussion on the RFP for legal services is also legitimately something to be discussed behind closed doors. But many of the other parts of the closed session just seem like they should be open to the general public.
Why shouldn’t we know what progress is happening on rail to the airport? Why shouldn’t we know what options are being looked at to close the rail funding gap? Why shouldn’t we know where integrated ticketing (AIFS) is at or what the “Public Transport Operating Model” is? Surely something should be in the open agenda unless there’s a mighty good reason for it not to be. I’m of a mind to make a LGOIMA request for all those documents and see what can be reasonably withheld and what should be released.
The second thing about the above agenda is that not everything in the open agenda has even made it onto the Auckland Transport website. There are a number of items which have been provided: the draft statement of intent, the Chief Executive’s report, the financial report and the 100 day plan. But why is the Business Report (item ten) missing? If it’s anything like ARTA’s old monthly business reports, the business report is actually the really interesting one: with patronage figures, updates on infrastructure works and updates on service changes. The last time we heard anything about public transport patronage was in the September 2010 ARTA monthly report: over four months ago! Originally I thought this was an oversight, but a number of requests to Auckland Transport for the document have come to nothing so I suspect they’re deliberately not making that report public – even though it was in the Open Agenda. Another thing to add to my LGOIMA request I suppose.
So it still seems that Auckland Transport is struggling a bit to be open and accountable. I’ve certainly cut them a bit of slack over the past few months as things got ‘up and running’, but I think by now they should have systems in place to be able to make public as much information as possible, while keeping secret what really does need to be kept private.
In terms of responsiveness, my good friend Cam Pitches, convenor of the Campaign for Better Transport, has been having some seriously bad problems with getting responses to a couple of complaints he has made. These are outlined further on the CBT website, but let me quote the most recent one:
This morning the 024 8:00am service didn’t show. I phoned Max (09 3666 400) and gave them the details. I also let them know that the service was also late yesterday. The pleasant call centre rep on the line took all the details to “pass on to the operator”. She asked if I would like feedback on my complaint. I said yes (Well, of course! I don’t want the bus to be late tomorrow and I want to know that the operator is aware of the problem and is doing something about it.). So I gave my number and just before I hung up the call centre rep told me someone will be back to me in ten days. I thought I had misheard, but yes, the turnaround time for responses is ten days. I’m guessing that is ten working days as well.
In my view this is nowhere near enough to incentivise customers to provide feedback. It’s pathetic in fact. Professionally I’ve worked for a number of different businesses. Turnaound times are typically around four hours at most. Why shouldn’t the Maxx complaints system be any different?
I’m not suggesting that a complete solution be developed in four hours, just that an acknowledgement (and ideally a reference number) be given in a timely manner.
Auckland Transport have had their “honeymoon” – I would recommend they really focus on getting down to business now and ensure they are responsive, open and accountable.
As I briefly noted in my previous post, I helped make a presentation on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport at today’s meeting of the Auckland Council Transport Committee. The presentation can be read in its entirety here, and a powerpoint presentation of what I showed the Transport Committee (which is a summary) can be read here. Here’s the executive summary of the report:
The Campaign for Better Transport considers that Auckland’s transport plans and strategies have a missing element: something to link together the high-level strategic documents and the day-to-day list of projects to be investigated, consented and built. This five year transport plan seeks to fill that gap, providing a projects-based analysis of what transport improvements should be undertaken between now and 2016.
The plan seeks to be realistic in terms of funding constraints, and ‘gives effect to’ the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS).
Major roading projects that are underway, or soon to begin, will largely be completed during this period. This includes projects such as the Victoria Park Tunnel, the Newmarket Viaduct replacement and completing the Western Ring Route. Subsequent to these projects, the plan considers Auckland’s motorway network to be complete. Further roading upgrades are likely to focus on improving arterial routes: particularly for freight and public transport, as outlined in the RLTS.
The RLTS lists a number of major rail projects to be undertaken within the next 30 years. This plan considers that the first of these projects, the CBD rail tunnel, must begin construction by 2016: in accordance with the RLTS’s desire for the project to be completed by 2021, or earlier if the project is to be completed within the timeframe sought by the mayor. For other major rail projects, the focus for the next five years should be on securing designations, undertaking full investigations and preparing business cases for each project.
The plan considers that, in terms of implementation, much of the focus within the next five years should be directed at improving the bus network. Approximately 80% of public transport trips in Auckland are by the bus, while bus improvements can often be made at a fraction of the price of other projects. The plan outlines that the Quality Transit Network (QTN) should be completed by 2016, and the bus network generally improved and simplified to make catching the bus more convenient, faster and easier to understand. Implementing integrated ticketing with free transfers is an essential element of this process.
The plan also focuses on improvements to walking and cycling, in particular completion of significant parts of the regional cycle network by 2016. Pedestrian improvements to the CBD are proposed, as is greater integration between land-use and transport planning: which is likely to be a challenge in the new council structure.
A number of “quick wins” are suggested and the plan also looks at what the Transport Committee’s contribution to the Auckland spatial plan might be.
Overall, the plan provides a sound, but at the same time visionary, approach to improving Auckland’s transport system between now and 2016. It maps out what is likely to be necessary in order to start implementing the RLTS. The plan represents a fundamental shift away from focusing on road-building to a more balance transport policy between road-building and public transport improvements. This follows through on the same fundamental shift being detailed in the RLTS.
The plan is summarised in the powerpoint slide below:
While a lot of focus is (rightly) on the big rail projects, I have long thought that it’s important we don’t forget about ‘quick win’ projects. In particular, a lot of effort needs to go into improving Auckland’s bus system. If we hope to achieve 100 million public transport trips by 2016, then even with big rail improvements around 80 million of those trips will need to be on the bus – up from around 47 million at the moment.
Of course, funding is always the biggest question when it comes to any transport plan. Nothing ever happens if there’s no money available to make it happen. The general approach taken by this plan is that we roughly spend enough on transport, we just need to be smarter about what we’re spending that money on. This is outlined in the slide below: Unless rail capital projects have access to funding by NZTA, I think that it’s very unlikely we’re going to see important advances on the big rail projects. So one thing that I implored – through this plan – the Transport Committee to really focus on is finding a solution to this illogical situation. From the feedback received earlier today when I presented the plan, I am hopeful that the rail funding issue will be explored further and given a high priority for resolution.
Turning to the details of the plan, these are best found on pages 7 to 12 of the main report, but to summarise the plan goes through road, public transport and walking/cycling/liveability improvements and identifies which projects should fall into each of the following three categories:
- Projects that will either be completed or will be under construction by 2016.
- Projects that should be fully designated and ‘ready to go’ by 2016
- Projects that should be investigated throughout the 2011-2016 time period.
With the completion of the Waterview Connection project in around 2015/2016, Auckland’s motorway network will essentially be complete – so the plan sees few additional “new roads” projects extending beyond this period. As per the recommendations of the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the focus is likely to be on prioritising freight traffic for the economic benefits that will bring, and prioritising public transport so that we can use our existing roads more efficiently.
While I am certainly a big public transport supporter, it is not just for this reason why I think it will no longer be possible to build more roads to cater for Auckland’s future population growth. Rather, as Auckland is largely ‘built-out’ and any roading projects for construction are becoming extremely expensive ($2 billion Waterview Connection + SH16 Widening, $400 million Victoria Park Tunnel etc.) it’s simply unlikely to be economically feasible to build many more roads in Auckland in the future.
Turning to public transport, the plan has a clear distinction between bus and rail: with much of the ‘implementation’ focus being on improving the bus network while we ensure all the background work is done to ensure that the big rail projects are ‘ready to go’ when either the funding is available or when the project is necessary and economically viable. Here’s the slide about improving the bus system: The beauty about many of these improvements is that they’re very cheap to implement and can create significant benefits. Simplifying the bus system might actually save money; realigning routes to become feeder services to the rail network will certainly save money as route duplication is eliminated. Solving bus congestion in the CBD might also save money, especially if it involves providing additional bus priority measures to help get buses into and out of the CBD faster. The problem with improving the bus network is not money, it’s about willingness to take a few risks and make a few changes, and perhaps most especially it’s about having the courage to take on the bus operators: who certainly seem to be far more of the problem than they are the solution.
A significant part of the plan is also a renewed focus on making better transport decisions to enhance the liveability of Auckland. These are outlined in the slide below: Interestingly, the proposal to turn Hobson and Nelson streets into two way boulevards: rather than the massive one-way motorways they are at the moment, got a lot of support from councillors on the Transport Committee. Further information on how that might be done can be read here and here. There was also some support for the idea of lowering speed limits on non-arterial local streets.
The plan proposes some “quick wins” – ideas for improvements to be made that are unlikely to cost too much or take too long to achieve: All up, I thought the presentation went fairly well and that the Transport Committee received it quite well too. The whole plan is to be forwarded to Auckland Transport for their information and comment, while on the NZTA/rail funding issue, the council is to prepare a bit more background information and I think it’s fairly likely the issue will be raised with NZTA and the Minister of Transport.
The next step is probably to revise, fine-tune and update the plan a bit, and then present it to the board of Auckland Transport in the New Year. So suggestions are certainly welcome in terms of ideas about how this plan could be further improved.