I initially started writing this post with the intention of posting it last week however it was put on hold as a result of the Green Party policy targeting kids walking and cycling to school.
In just over 6 months is next general election. At a national level transport is an oddity in that it’s not normally a big talking point – with the possible exception of those who read this blog – instead the focus is usually on the big three of the Economy, Education and Health. It’s an oddity as transport policy can have massive impacts on those three issues along with many others. This is because transport isn’t a direct objective but is an enabler for other outcomes, and that is why it is also so important to get right. While I expect some minor changes in some areas, overall I suspect we aren’t going to see any major changes in transport policy from the main parties. Many people probably have a good idea of each party stands for but with this post I thought I would highlight what the transport policy of the parties that achieved over 5% in the 2011 election.
National’s transport policy at the last election was really just a continuation of what they had been doing for the three years prior to that. There were a number of issues that they highlight as wanting to do however the one given the most attention was clearly Keep building better roads. That part of the policy said they would:
Invest $12 Billion over 10 years in State Highway construction.
Complete construction on:
Christchurch’s Southern Motorway Stage 1.
The Ngaruawahia and Te Rapa sections of the Waikato Expressway.
The Tauranga Eastern link.
Construct New Zealand’s largest-ever roading project, the Waterview Connection on Auckland’s Western Ring Route, including two three-laned tunnels bored under Avondale.
Start construction on:
The Christchurch Western Bypass and the Southern Motorway Stage 2.
The Basin Reserve Flyover and the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway on the Wellington Northern Corridor.
The Cambridge and Rangiriri sections of the Waikato Expressway.
Design and consent the Transmission Gully section of Wellington’s Northern Corridor (construction due to start in 2015/16).
Finalise the design and consenting of the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the Puhoi to Wellsford RONS, and prepare for a construction start in 2014/15.
Construct replacement Waitaki River bridges on State Highway 82 at Kurow.
Evaluate four new RONS projects for development following final completion of the first three RONS projects (Victoria Park, Waterview, and Tauranga Eastern Link):
State Highway 29 between Hamilton and Tauranga.
State Highway 1 between Cambridge and Tirau.
Further development of the Hawke’s Bay Expressway.
State Highway 1 North and South of the current Christchurch motorway projects.
Continue to develop key regional roading projects that will enhance productivity and economic growth, including the Rotorua Eastern Arterial and the Waiwakaiho Bridge in New Plymouth.
Improve the resilience of key inter-regional freight routes like Mt Messenger on State Highway 3, and the Manawatu Gorge.
The most interesting (and concerning) of these points was the additional four RoNS projects. I don’t know if the NZTA has done any work on them internally but I’m certainly not aware of any public discussion of them. Part of the reason these may not have happened is that the government are having enough problems funding the current RoNS work and so anything extra is being left for the time being. This coming election I suspect we will see the policy largely unchanged however there will definitely be an increased focus on the fast tracked Auckland projects they announced in June last year. They will undoubtedly claim a lot of credit for electrification and other PT improvements (expect to see a lot of shots of politicians wanting to associate themselves with the new trains). Of course discussion of the CRL will feature somewhat however I suspect that before the election we might see the government agree to Len Brown’s $250m kick start suggestion.
As you would expect Labours’ policy (6.2MB file) was more friendly to public transport including supporting paying for half of the CRL which would have been done by opting for an Operation Lifesaver approach to the Puhoi to Wellsford road although other than that there were no specifics given as to what would be done. There seemed to be quite a bit of talk around reducing emissions and working to shift more freight to rail. One difference to National was in sea freight where they promised to develop a national port strategy.
In addition to Puhoi to Wellsford which was mentioned earlier, when it came to roads Labour opposed the four new RoNS projects that National talked about but more specifically mentioned a few other projects including that:
Labour will investigate and prioritise improvements to the “East-West Corridor” proposal in Auckland between East Tamaki at State Highway I and Onehunga at State Highway 20.
Labour prefers the original Western Link Road plan, not the four-lane Kapiti Expressway as has now been approved and will fund it 100%
Labour will also continue to support the Transmission Gully project but only so long as it meets reasonable cost-benefit criteria.
Labour will ensure the funding for local roads is not further undermined by the excessive focus on Roads of National Significance.
Labour will promote the introduction of a nationwide infrastructure to recharge electric vehicles.
Labour will investigate the appropriate use of mechanisms including tolling, PPPs and road pricing, ie. congestion charging.
So a bit of a mixed bag there. Perhaps the overall thinking is summed up well by this statement which sits under the PT section
Labour will examine ways to maintain and increase the overall transport spend beyond the National Land Transport Fund to develop our public transport systems so that they are a credible and attractive transport option.
That sounds quite a bit like what we’re seeing in Auckland with Len (which I guess is unsurprising) where with the exception of a few of the RoNS projects, the focus is on working out how to raise more money to pay for everything rather than cut low performing projects.
This election I suspect we will see some more of the same. We know Labour have already said they are backing the CRL and would pay for half of it including Len’s proposed early start. I also suspect they will end up copping the Greens walking and cycling to school policy.
Of course we already know one of the Greens policies with the announcement last week although there is obviously more to come. As many would expect, the policy focused around reducing investment in roads and investing more in alternatives like PT, Walking and Cycling and shifting freight to rail and shipping. In Auckland they said they would:
invest 60% ($1.44 billion) to fast track the CRL
spend $500 million to build north-west and south-east busways
provide $30 million per year to fund walking and cycling in the region including across the harbour bridge.
The greens actually seem to keep their transport policy up to date (or have done so recently) meaning we don’t really have to speculate much. Here is the vision they are aiming for.
New Zealand has a sustainable transport system that supports liveable, people-friendly towns and cities, and enables the movement of people and goods locally, regionally and nationally at least social, environmental and financial cost.
People of all ages and abilities have access to safe, reliable and convenient transport.
Traffic on roads and roading is reduced as other modes of transport are preferred. Road traffic is predominantly low or zero-emission vehicles.
Public transport in urban and rural areas is widely available and extensively used.
Walking and cycling are a popular transport choice, facilitated by a nationwide web of safe and attractive cycle and walkways.
Transport infrastructure provides access to provincial areas and supports regional development.
The link above also contains a number of very specific policy points should you be interested.
New Zealand First
The NZ First transport policy relates almost exclusively to the movement of freight whether it be by road, rail or sea. In fact there isn’t even a single mention of public transport or commuters in the policy and there’s only one mention of building a cycle network which comes with the caveat of “where appropriate”.
With his history, I’m not even going to bother trying to predict what kind of policy Winston Peters might come up with this time.
So there’s my brief look at the transport policies of the main parties at the last election. Overall this year I don’t expect we will see too much different in the various positions compared to the last election with perhaps the biggest difference being National and whether or not they support an early start to the CRL. I’m guessing that will largely depending on what the polling is looking like
Local body elections are now less than 5 months away. It is probably worth saying right from the start that as part of any commentary on the elections, the blog will do its best to remain neutral only judging candidates based on the policies or statements that they have made. Personally I don’t actually have any political preferences and am happy to praise or criticise anyone from any part of the political spectrum.
While Maurice Williamson has clearly been considering his options, so far the only confirmed candidate for mayor from the right of the political spectrum has been John Palino. His main reason for entering the race seems to be due to his opposition to the Unitary Plan. However unlike some of our councillors and local board members who oppose the plan, at least John is suggesting an alternative and that alternative is what I am looking at with this post. This is from his website.
A Solution for Our Mass Growth
There are many ways to manage the massive growth that is happening in Auckland. We shouldn’t believe that there is only one possiblity. We need to listen to the public at what will best fit Auckland and benefit the people living here today.
One plan that does tick all the boxes would be to develop the industrial and commercial area of Manukau City as the new modern most livable city in the world. We have the opportunity to develop the city from ground level. Modern design of apartments, town houses, terrace houses, offices, schools, medical facilities, galleries, museums, sporting fields, new business, industry and importantly, a well designed public transportation system.
Ticking All The Boxes
A Modern and Smart City Design
Major Transport Hub
Long Term Financing
Small Business Growth
Growth in Surrounding Communities
Leveling the Auckland House Prices
Reduce Crime and Poverty
Redirect Traffic Growth
Manukau is the most ideal location for the New Modern Auckland City. It is near the Airport and all major highways and public transit routes. It is in close proximity to Hamilton for future transport development. We can build the most desirable, smart and affordable city in the world, while the existing residential communities of Auckland still grow, but with the involvement of those communities.
Manukau will now create an opportunity for new business, restaurants, cafes, shops, lawyers, accountants, doctors, office complexes, agencies, travel orientated industries and entertainment in a city of smart growth. This not only offers our growing population a place to live, but a place to start up businesses and create jobs. In the current Auckland Plan there is very little room for job growth as it doesn’t allow enough room for business growth amongst its extreme intensification. We need to be very concerned!
From this and his other comments it seems like his plan is to leave the rest of Auckland as it is and simply put all of the intensification and development down south. So let’s look at some of the challenges that would have to be addressed for such a thing to work and I’m primarily going to put aside the issue of housing in this post.
The existing CBD sits fairly nicely in the middle of the urban part of the region. That is of course no coincidence as that is effectively where the city started and from where it spread out from. If the city had of been started in Manukau then it would likely have spread out from there. The primary reason the CBD started where it did was simply because of its access to the harbour. The harbour is also a reason why I can’t see any suggestion of moving the CBD really taking hold. Almost all urban development and regeneration that is occurring around the world is happening in areas with close access to water in the form of rivers or harbours. Manukau simply doesn’t have this and while that alone wouldn’t be enough to stop such a move, other factors would be.
Opponents of projects like the CRL love to quote that the CBD only contains around 12% of jobs. However as we have talked about before, it is really the entire city centre that should be considered, not just the area bounded by the moat of motorways. Doing so pushes the percentage of jobs up to over 20%. Sure it still doesn’t sound a lot but the total number of jobs dwarfs any other area in Auckland as the map below shows.
Employment concentrations in the regions (thousands)
Further there is still a lot of places where growth to occur within the city centre. As a start another 10,000-15,000 jobs are expected to go in just the Wynyard Quarter alone. These numbers also don’t count the tens of thousands of students from the universities and other learning institutions that are located in the centre of the city. By comparison the entire Manukau commercial area has around 25,000 jobs at the moment. The Auckland Plan envisions employment in the region will grow by around 275,000 job over 30 years.
The point is that even if you left the city centre as it is now, for Manukau to even come close to rivalling the city centre for employment it would need to increase in size by well over 500% and it would need to take almost half of all of the regional employment growth over that same time. I’m no expert but that would surely take some fairly strong and potentially draconian measures to implement, especially seeing as the area doesn’t have the physical benefits that places like the existing city centre have. Further the existing city centre has one other massive advantage, it’s central location gives it access to a much wider pool of potential employees. Developing Manukau as the future CBD would have massive impacts for people who currently live in North, West and Central Auckland.
Everyone seems to agree that a city centre flooded by cars is not a good thing but some people will obviously still choose to drive. One advantage that Manukau has it that it isn’t surrounded on three sides by a motorway, but it is on two sides. From the motorway network there are effectively four connections to Manukau – On SH1 there is Te Irirangi Dr and Redoubt Rd/Gt South Rd and on SH20 there is Cavendish Dr and Manukau Station Rd.
Now a motorway lane can handle about 2,000 vehicles per hour so if we are lucky we might be able to get 8,000 vehicles per hour from them. There are also local roads that can be used to access the area but most of them also interact with the motorway ramps at some point so overall road capacity might not be that much more. Let’s be generous though and say that overall road capacity is 15,000 vehicles per hour. Over the two hour peak that would equate to say 30,000 vehicles which is similar to what our existing CBD has. There would of course need to be a hell of a lot of car parking buildings to handle all of these cars but for the purposes of this we will just have to assume they exist somewhere.
That still leaves us needing to get tens of thousands of people into the area by other methods. As we know rail has the most capacity and luckily the rail network has recently been extended to Manukau. But the station is a terminus, just like Britomart however it is worse as it only has two tracks and it doesn’t appear to have been designed in a way that would allow it to be extended in the future. With such a station we would probably be lucky to get 6 trains per hour terminating at the station and assuming each one was full, that is only around 9000 people that could reach the area by rail during the two hour peak. Of course there would also be buses from many places around the region and they would definitely serve to reduce road capacity (so the 15,000 mentioned above would come down).
Either way this is well short of what we would need meaning any serious proposal to make Manukau the main CBD is going to need a lot of transport investment. We would also need a lot of transport investment all around the region if we want to make it practical for people in the North, West and central areas to have decent access. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if sorting out the transport aspects alone ended up costing more than what is proposed as needed for the existing CBD.
In summary I just don’t think that it is practical to make Manukau the main CBD in Auckland. The amount of investment needed from the council, government and private industry is likely to be far greater than what it would cost to fix the issues that exist with the existing CBD. There also isn’t likely to be a great deal of desire from many large firms to shift there over the existing CBD. Manukau is and will continue to be a very important regional centre and is likely to see a lot of growth as more development happens in the south however I can’t see it coming even close to half total size of the existing central city area. A lot of people often site Sydney with Paramatta as an example however even then it is worth remembering that the central city is expected to continue to dominate city wide employment.
While I have often complained about transport not being in the top of people’s minds when voting in nationwide elections, yet so many decisions are made by central government – the flip side of this (and unfortunately it seems that we do get the worst of both worlds) is seeing the transport debate becoming more and more partisan. For some reason, in New Zealand it would seem as though the political right tends to support roads-first transport policies; while the political left is more friendly towards public transport. There are some fairly obvious ideological reasons behind this: the individualised nature of auto-focused transport may appeal ideologically to those who lean to the right, while the more ‘collective’ nature of public transport can appeal to those on the left. Public transport also usually requires a level of subsidy, which further puts off those to the right of the political debate.
What’s strange though is how centre-right governments overseas often take a very different viewpoint of public transport – even of rail, which seems to be a particular dislike of centre-right politicians here in New Zealand. For example, just a few days ago we saw the Conservative Government in the UK approve the £30 billion+ High Speed 2 rail scheme, even in times of significant economic troubles. And, reading through the press release and reasoning behind the decision, it’s a far cry from our government’s approval of electrification – which seemed to be a very reluctant “oh we’d better continue this because we reluctantly promised to do so before the 2008 election”. Here are some sections of the UK government’s position on High Speed 2:
I have decided Britain should embark upon the most significant transport infrastructure project since the building of the motorways by supporting the development and delivery of a new national high speed rail network. By following in the footsteps of the 19th century railway pioneers, the Government is signalling its commitment to providing 21st century infrastructure and connections – laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable economic growth.
High Speed 2 (HS2) is a scheme to deliver hugely enhanced rail capacity and connectivity between Britain’s major conurbations. It is the largest transport infrastructure investment in the UK for a generation, and, with the exception of High Speed 1 (HS1), is the first major new railway line since the Victorian era.
The HS2 Y network will provide direct, high capacity, high speed links between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, with intermediate stations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire. There will also be direct links to Heathrow Airport and to the Continent via the HS1 line. It will form a foundation for a potentially wider high speed network in years to come.
A recognition that rail is the way of the future, and not (as I sometimes sense the attitude towards it in NZ is), some relic of the 19th century. The benefits of the project are well understood by the government, and clearly articulated. No Ministry of Transport hatchet job here:
HS2 will be built in two phases to ensure that the benefits of high speed rail are realised at the earliest possible opportunity. The line from London to the West Midlands and the connection to HS1 are expected to open in 2026, followed, in 2032-33, by the onward legs to Manchester and Leeds and the connection to Heathrow. The capital cost at 2011 prices of building the complete Y network is £32.7 billion. At present values, it will generate benefits of up to £47 billion and fare revenues of up to £34 billion over a 60-year period.
The benefits of HS2 will extend beyond the network itself; links to current lines will enable direct trains to run to cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh and, with long-distance services transferring to the new network, space will be freed up for new commuter, regional and freight services on other lines, opening up new opportunities for Britain’s existing railways. Links to key urban transport networks, such as Crossrail, will help to spread the benefits further still.
There’s also some clear recognition of the project’s environmental benefits:
HS2 is entirely consistent with the Government’s objectives for carbon emissions. Electrified rail is a comparatively low-carbon mode of transport, especially with the continued decarbonisation of the grid. Speed increases power consumption, but also makes HS2 more attractive to those currently flying or driving. The faster journeys on HS2 – Edinburgh and Glasgow will be just 3.5 hours from London – could transfer around 4.5 million journeys per year who might otherwise have travelled by air and 9 million from the roads. HS2 will also create more rail capacity on existing conventional speed lines for freight – removing lorries from our busy trunk roads. HS2 is therefore an important part of transport’s low-carbon future.
I can’t quite imagine those words coming out of Steven Joyce or Gerry Brownlee’s mouth.
Another example is the Victorian State Government elections of 2010, where the centre-right Coalition was generally found to have better transport policies than the incumbent Labor government – which (apparently) played a significant role in their victory. Here’s what the politically independent Public Transport Users Association said about the respective policies heading into the election:
With public transport the big issue for many voters, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has given its verdict on the transport policies of the parties going into the State Election, with the Greens coming out on top, followed by the Coalition.
PTUA President Daniel Bowen said that packed trains, slow trams, and infrequent buses had voters looking to all political parties for a solution to Melbourne and Victoria’s transport woes.
And he said the Green and Coalition promises for reform through an independent public transport authority were crucial in their party policies receiving the best marks.
“The Greens scored an A, and have an aggressive agenda to upgrade public transport, with a Public Transport Authority being central to better managing and planning the network. The vision of frequent public transport across Melbourne is welcome, and would provide more residents with a genuine alternative to car travel.”
Of the two major parties, Mr Bowen said the Coalition had come out with a stronger set of policies than Labor, and scored a B.
“The Coalition has a number of positive policies, underpinned by a pledge to buy 40 additional trains, and introduce a Public Transport Development Authority to provide central management and planning.
“While we have concerns over the Coalition’s push for the east-west cross-city road tunnel, the pledge of feasibility studies for rail to Doncaster, the Airport and Rowville, as well as level crossing eliminations are very welcome.”
Mr Bowen said that Labor were promising some worthwhile upgrades, ultimately they fell short of what is needed, scoring a C. “Labor seems to have no overall vision for a fast, frequent, connected network across Melbourne and Victoria, and have ignored community calls for a shakeup of the management of public transport, which has scores of organisations involved but nobody taking responsibility for such essentials as making sure buses meet trains.”
Mr Bowen said that despite Labor deservedly trumpeting Smartbus as a success story, it was disappointing that they had not pledging any new Smartbus routes. Labor also lost points for continuing to push the destructive North-East freeway link.
I am rather struggling to understand why New Zealand has to be so different from what is happening elsewhere in the world – where we see centre-right governments that really value public transport and genuinely want to see it improved (rather than having to be dragged kicking and screaming into any steps in the right direction). There doesn’t seem to be any particularly logical reason why the Conservative Party in the UK would value public transport investment so much, while our National Party seems instinctively suspicious that the whole thing is a communist plot.
But perhaps more important than speculating on why this is such a problem in New Zealand, we should start looking for ways in which we can change this. How can we sell the benefits of a smarter and more balanced transport policy to the political right? How can we reassure them that spending on public transport isn’t flushing money down the toilet? How can we enlighten them to understand the benefits of a well functioning rail network, so they’re actually pushing for improvements – rather than always being the skeptical ones sitting on the hand-brake? I know that readers and commenters on this blog come from right across the political spectrum, and I know many people with right-leaning tendencies who agree with the general thrust of posts on this blog – but something’s missing here. Some connection isn’t being made and I really feel that, as a country, we will probably only really start to make long-term structural changes to the nature of our transport system – so it’s more balanced, sustainable and sensible – when we can shift the debate away from being so partisan.
Trying to get my head around whether 2011 was a good year or not such a good year for advocates of a more balanced transport system like myself, is a bit of a challenge. There were a number of good things which happened, but at the same time there were also a number of steps backward. Here’s my brief summary of the year.
The February 22 earthquake in Christchurch obviously stands out as the whole country’s biggest event of the year, but seemed to have a remarkably little impact on the transport discussion here in Auckland. The government passed over a golden opportunity to back down over Puhoi-Wellsford (or at least downgrade it to something more sensible at a time when the whole country would have understood such a move), while Auckland Council sensibly pointed out that it would be many more years before serious money for the City Rail Link project was required. Behind the scenes, it was becoming fairly clear that officials reviewing the business case for the CRL were unlikely to come to agreement on the project’s merits.
In March the Auckland Unleashed discussion document was released, outlining the Council’s vision – at a broad-bush level – for Auckland over the next 30 years. We saw a great video of Len Brown’s rail vision for Auckland, but once again this positivity was tempered by the government’s feedback on the document (weirdly released before the discussion document) that pushed for more sprawl and more roads. Following hot on the heels of all that spatial plan discussion, we finally saw some progress on the implementation of a smartcard ticketing system in Auckland, with the launch of HOP. Unfortunately the complexity of the deal done between Auckland Transport, Thales, Snapper, NZ Bus, NZTA and so forth meant that the launch was generally met more by confusion than celebration.
From the optimism of those early months (earthquakes aside), the middle months of the year were a little more depressing – although the superb patronage stats throughout the year tempered this disappointment. The 2012 Government Policy Statement for Land Transport Funding turned out to be even stupider and more roads-obsessed than its 2009 predecessor, proposing additional RoNS that were so crazy they didn’t even end up being adopted into National’s election transport policy. But perhaps the biggest disappointment of those middle months was the review of the City Rail Link project, with the narrow-minded thinking of Ministry of Transport officials ignoring matters as fundamental as the bus and car capacity of the CBD when assessing the merits of the project. It was not a great year for the MoT, who also managed to forget to record the spending of around $180 million.
On a brighter note, the actual implementation of the HOP card went smoother than most (including myself) had expected. Bus loading times declined dramatically thanks to the speed of tagging on (although I still get annoyed at the cash-paying idiots who block the whole entranceway – any chance of some signage NZ Bus?) On a personal note, June was a pretty epic month with baby Adele arriving five weeks earlier than anticipated, leading to a couple of weeks of very regular travel to the hospital.
August saw the introduction of the Outer Link bus, as well as significance reconfiguration of all Western Bays services. Although further tweaks have been necessary (and probably will continue to be necessary in the future), overall the changes were very positive and have led to an increase in patronage exceeding what was forecast. After that, all eyes turned to the Rugby World Cup, which began on that fateful day of September 9th.
The transport chaos of RWC opening night was very unfortunate, but told us some very insightful things. As suspected, the CCO model of delivering many of council’s services through separate agencies did mean that they became siloed and didn’t talk to each other over matters as simple as the number of people expected to attend opening night. The highly fractured structure of running public transport in Auckland meant that everyone could point the finger at everyone else, whilst avoiding responsibility for that happened. But more positively, we also saw (and hopefully didn’t put off forever) an unprecedented willingness of Aucklanders to use public transport. There were over 140,000 rail trips around Auckland on September 9th, there probably could have been over 200,000 if we had the system to cope with them. I don’t think we’ve seen too much long-term damage from that evening, but perhaps we might see some long-term benefit with the realisation that it very much is Auckland’s public transport system that lets us down in our quest to become a truly world-class city.
During, and just after, the RWC, we saw draft versions of a number of really important documents that will help guide Auckland’s future. These included, the Draft Auckland Plan, the City Centre Master Plan, the Waterfront Plan and an Economic Development Strategy. I put together a fairly detailed submission on the Auckland Plan, and overall many thousands of submissions were received by the Council. Final decisions on these plans will be made in the first few months of next year.
In September we also found out one of the best pieces of transport news for the year – that we would get 57 electric trains rather than the originally proposed 35. The excellent work by Auckland Transport to secure this deal probably hasn’t been given the praise it deserves, especially as many tens of millions of dollars were squeezed out of the government as their contribution to the additional trains. It was also very welcome to learn that the trains are going to look damn nice too.
After the RWC was finished, the election rolled around pretty quickly. While the overall result wasn’t particularly positive, as it seems we will see more of the same from central government, there were some interesting outcomes. We will have our first transport planner MP, in the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter, Labour’s new leader David Shearer has been a long-time supporter of public transport in Auckland, while Phil Twyford becoming labour’s transport spokerperson should also lead to a greater focus on Auckland transport issues. In the interests of fairness, we should give new transport minister Gerry Brownlee a chance before passing final judgment on him.
So overall it has been a pretty damn busy year when it comes to Auckland transport issues. As I noted at the start of this post, there have been a number of steps forward but also a number of steps backwards. 2012 should hopefully see the resolution of a number of these issues: a finalisation of the spatial plan, hopefully some agreed way forward on the merits of the City Rail Link, the proper implementation of integrated ticketing and many more interesting things.
I’m just hoping for a slightly less crazy year than this one.
I discussed yesterday that early signs are not looking particularly great for public transport, as the government continues to plough ahead with its road-centric transport policies. Something else which is quite interesting is to start thinking about which MPs will be playing the crucial roles on transport matters in parliament.
Over the past three years Steven Joyce has been Minister of Transport, with Nathan Guy being his deputy for most of that time. Rumoursare abound that Joyce will take over being Minister of Economic Development. Whether that means he will give up any of his current roles (Minister of Communications, Transport and Tertiary Education) remains to be seen, but I’m guessing that he’ll probably keep transport. Being Minister of Transport must be about the best job in government, as you have your own revenue generating machine (being the National Land Transport Fund) which is automatically assigned to be spent on transport. You don’t need the OK from the finance minister to spend a bit more on this particular pet project, you don’t need to worry about having your budget eaten away by demands for tax cuts, the health budget or whatever. I also think that Joyce has become so personally involved in the transport portfolio over the past three years that he’s really struggle to let it go.
For Labour, Darren Hughes and then Shane Jones proved relatively ineffectual in scoring significant ‘hits’ on Joyce over the past three years. Jones managed to co-ordinate what was a pretty damn good transport policy in the end, but in parliament often seemed to leave it to Phil Twyford, David Shearer or Jacinda Ardern to ask the hard questions. Who ends up getting the transport portfolio is likely to depend on who leads the Labour party (I’m currently a fan of a Shearer/Parker team with Cunliffe as finance spokesperson, uniting all the factions). Phil Twyford’s excellent performance in the Te Atatu electorate (with a campaign based around the Northwest Busway), his in-depth knowledge of the Auckland Super City and his general interest in transport may make him a good candidate for the role. Auckland’s the most likely place where we’ll see transport being a political issue over the next three years – so it’d be good to have an Aucklander in the role.
For the Green Party, they are rather blessed with options to be their transport spokesperson. Gareth Hughes has done an excellent job since he came into parliament, often making Joyce struggle in parliament and also working really hard to build support for the Green Party’s transport policies around the country. That said, of course the Greens now have Julie-Anne Genter as an MP – someone with an extremely detailed knowledge of transport issues and from a transport planning background. I’m thinking it’s probably most likely that Gareth and Julie will share transport – with Julie slowly taking on more and more responsibility as she gains experience.
The next three years will be really critical in determining the country’s transport future. Since 2008 many of the transport projects being delivered (both roads and rail) were effectively being ‘finished off’ from what the previous government proposed. This will continue, to an extent, with rail electrification in particular being a number of years away from completion. However, the legacy of Labour’s last three years in power over transport will slowly drop away – and by 2014 it really will be the current government’s policies shaping our transport outcomes. While that’s a somewhat depressing thought, when I look at the prospective opposition transport spokespeople, I at least think we’ll have a better quality debate over transport matters in the next three years than we’ve had over the past three.
The election result on the weekend was obviously not particularly conducive to achieving where I think the country’s transport policy should be heading, but I wasn’t quite expecting things to go bad quite so quickly. First, here’s new North Shore MP Maggie Barry talking about the City Rail Link and a duplicate harbour crossing (road based, one assumes):
Maggie Barry hit the ground running as the North Shore electorate’s first woman MP.
The morning after National’s resounding victory she sent a strong message to Auckland mayor Len Brown, saying there would be a CBD rail link before a second harbour crossing “over our dead bodies”.
And the former broadcaster also affirmed her support for the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway extension.
She attacked those who have labelled it the “holiday highway.
“I refuse to use the `H’ word. It will be an umbilical cord for the far north and its economy.
“It is an arrogance for the critics to take money already set aside for this purpose and use it for something else.”
It’s a bit difficult to know how much thought she has put into these matters before sounding off on them. Does she realise that the cost of a road-based tunnel is around $5 billion, or does she support a bridge option? Does she understand how pointless the additional crossing is in the next decade or so, because traffic across the harbour bridge is falling? One suspects not.
Second, we have the two councillors who continue to oppose the City Rail Link – George Wood and Cameron Brewer – using the election result to continue to push their argument (not shared by the rest of the council) against the project:
The returning National Government is unwilling to commit to Auckland’s city rail link and the project should be put on the backburner before the expensive plans topple the council’s credit rating, two city councillors say.
The proposed 3.5km underground loop would include stations at Karangahape Rd, Aotea Square and Newton at a cost of $2.4 billion and, according to council, unlock the economic potential of the inner city and transform Auckland’s rail network.
But uncertainty about how the project will be funded, and a lack of support from the National-led Government, is putting Auckland Council at risk of a credit downgrade.
Earlier this month Standard & Poor’s put the council on a 90-day credit watch due to projected levels of debt needed to fund major transport infrastructure.
Councillors George Wood and Cameron Brewer say as a result the council needs to consider reprioritising the ambitious project which the Government is yet to commit funding for.
The council has indicated it expects the Government to contribute 50 per cent to costs but incumbent Transport Minister Steven Joyce has previously said he is not convinced by the council’s business case for the project.
The details of the credit-rating downgrade show that its impact on borrowing cost is relatively minor. Most of the former councils have the same rating as Auckland Council now does.
I feel it’s going to be a long three years as we try to push forward with this project.
The interactive maps of the election results hosted on Scoop are a highly addictive tool to play around with. A map that I found particularly interesting runs a comparison of how Labour & Greens did in 2008 and 2011, with how National & Act did in the last two elections. Blue indicates the electorates in which the party vote shifted towards National & Act (obviously, without exception, predominantly to National) and red indicates electorate where the party vote shifted towards Labour and the Greens: You can see that pretty much the entire country shifted, to a great or lesser extent, towards National/Act. Some places more than others of course. Christchurch in particular seems to be an area where voters have shifted to the right over the past three years.
However, Auckland stands out as quite different to the rest of the country – as particularly the west and south of Auckland shifted back quite a lot to Labour & Greens compared to the 2008 results. There was a 9.8% swing to Labour/Greens in Manukau East, 8.8% in Manurewa, 7.1% in Mt Roskill, 6.7% in Mangere and even 4.4% in the National stronghold of Hunua. I’m not quite sure what’s behind this. Changing demographics? Dissatisfaction with the Super City? Perhaps something to do with transport?
With special votes seeming likely to result in the Green Party getting one more MP, at the cost of National, and the chances of Auckland Central and/or Waitakere swinging from National to Labour being relatively (but not impossibly) slim, we have a fairly good idea about the shape of the future government.
We have 121 seats – a one seat overhang. This is down from the current parliament, which has 122 seats. This means that 61 seats are necessary for a majority.
National are likely to end up with 59 seats, which leaves them two short of a majority. They will require two “parties” (it feels a bit wrong calling one man bands of Act & United Future parties) out of United Future, Act and the Maori Party for support. This shouldn’t be too difficult. Ironically Labour might be kicking themselves for winning Te Tai Tonga as then there’d be a two seat overhang and National would need all three of these support parties – a much harder ask.
Interestingly, the total number of seats of parties generally supporting the government is down from 69 to 65 (assuming the Maori Party supports them), which gives a little less breathing space than we had previously. If either John Banks or Peter Dunne disagree with National on anything then they could make life pretty difficult – although I think this is unlikely as both will probably become defacto National MPs.
What does this all mean for transport? Well obviously the government is likely to continue with its current policies – as I outlined in this post we are likely to see further investigation of four additional Roads of National Significance. Personally I think these extra roads are more election bribes than anything else as there’s unlikely to be any money in the transport budget for major new projects for at least a decade if the government keeps pushing forward on their current RoNS.
In three years time obviously Victoria Park Tunnel will be fully completed and opened (I wonder if it will still be plagued by horrific congestion, I suspect so), construction on the Waterview Connection will be in full swing and widening of the SH16 causeway should be well under way. I’m not entirely sure what progress is expected to be made on Puhoi-Wellsford by that stage. Assuming that Labour and the Green Party stick to their pledge to scale back this road, a change of government in three years time could well mean that the “holiday highway” never happens, unless so much construction on it has occurred by 2014 that it’s impossible to back out of. I think that’s unlikely.
My pick for the big “elephant in the room” issue for road construction over the next three years will be declining fuel tax receipts putting enormous pressure on NZTA’s ability to actually deliver on the projects the government is promising. Already this year we are seeing NZTA finding it desperately difficult to “pay the bills”, having to put off many of its subsidies that go to Auckland Transport for a month or two here and there, so that they can manage their incredibly tight cashflow. If petrol prices continue to rise between now and 2014 this trend will only increase and we might find it very difficult to fund either the smaller projects (generally those with the best cost-benefit ratios) or we may have to be looking at delaying some of NZTA’s bigger projects. I feel that even increasing NZTA’s ability to borrow (as proposed in the LTMA reforms) will only delay this inevitability.
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom over the next three years. By late 2014 pretty much all our flash new electric trains should be running on the Auckland rail network, and judging by recent trends our rail patronage may be getting close to 15 million trips a year. With an enlarged Greens caucus, and key Labour MPs with a strong interest in Auckland transport issues (Phil Twyford, David Shearer and Jacinda Ardern) being returned to parliament and identified as rising stars, there should be an even better informed political debate over transport in the future. As I have noted in a few recent posts, I am particularly excited that Julie-Anne Genter has made it into parliament – I’m looking forward to parliament’s first questions on parking policy!
Like with many things, the real wildcard might be New Zealand First. Which side of the political divide they fall on transport policy is probably yet to be determined, but they may find it a useful weapon to attack the government on. Although Andrew Williams was clearly the worst mayor North Shore City ever had, the fact that he has been in that position means that he must have a reasonably good awareness of transport matters in the Auckland area – which must be a good thing.
Things went largely as expected last night with the election results, although a few of the results (particularly NZ First getting back in) were a bit of a surprise. Here are the preliminary party vote results – with another 220,000 odd special votes still to be counted: The 13 seats for the Greens Party (and they traditionally go up a seat on special votes) means that Julie-Anne Genter will get into parliament, which is pretty awesome as we’ll have a transport planner there to put the tough questions to Steven Joyce over the next three years.
Somewhat more frustratingly, if you look at the results for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye is just over 500 votes ahead of Jacinda Ardern – although there are still around 6000 special votes to be counted. If Nikki had lost Auckland Central to Jacinda it would have been quite a strong message sent to the government about the transport policies of the two major parties. Ironically, the current majority is well under the number of electorate votes for Green candidate Denise Roche – so all you Green Party supporters who couldn’t split your vote have undermined your own transport goals. Fools! There are quite a few interesting things about this result, moving forwards:
Because “Keep MMP” easily won the referendum (at least the advance votes, but the final votes should be pretty similar) it seems that we will definitely keep that system, which I think is overall a very good thing.
If you combine the party results into “centre-left” and “centre-right” parties, the vote split is remarkably similar to the 2008 election. National has just mopped up votes from Act while Labour lost votes to Greens and NZ First.
The turnout seems to have been remarkably low, at below 75% once special votes are counted. This worked against Labour as in electorates like Mangere (Labour’s strongest in the country) there were only 21,000 votes whereas in many rural electorates there were well over 30,000 votes.
I wonder what NZ First’s approach to transport matters will be. I’d better have a search through their policies…
If the Greens can maintain something like their vote share at the next election (which I think will be a challenge against an inevitably revitalised Labour) then in 2014 I think we’re likely to see National remaining the largest party but not being able to form a government.
But perhaps the weirdest thing of the whole night is the electorate result for Christchurch Central. With the special votes still to be counted the Labour and National candidates are dead even.
After a comparatively short campaign, thanks to the Rugby World Cup, the election is upon us tomorrow. I have previously written about the transport policies of National, Labour and the Greens in separate posts so I won’t go over those again. Perhaps the most significant shift in transport policy over the past three years has been from Labour, who have shifted their emphasis away from so much of a roads focus to a more balanced viewpoint on transport.
Obviously transport policies form but a small portion of why people choose to vote the way they do. This situation frustrates me somewhat, not necessarily because people should take transport policy into greater consideration when making their voting choice – even I can recognise that there are many more important issues that would decide your vote – but because central government holds the purse-strings on transport decisions to such a great extent. In contrast, transport is a very high priority issue for people voting in local government elections, yet councils typically find themselves unable to implement their plans if central government doesn’t come to the party. A fundamental transport policy I would like to see in the future is giving local government more say over transport matters generally – because I think that would be more democratic.
As I noted above, the changes to Labour’s transport mindset over the past three years has been significant and is greatly welcomed. I think that the election of Len Brown last year on a strong public transport mandate has given Labour the confidence that even though only a relatively small minority of people actually use public transport on a daily basis, a much greater chunk of the population recognises that, particularly in Auckland, a more balanced world-class transport system is essential for reducing the impact of congestion and helping Auckland become a truly world-class city. I have gotten to know a number of excellent “up and coming” Labour MPs over the past three years and I’m confident that their transport policy will continue to move in the right direction in the future.
While the Green Party’s transport policy has always been excellent, one thing that really excites me about their prospects is the quality of MPs that may be brought into parliament if the Greens’ vote can match their recent polling (something which has traditionally been a challenge for them). In particular, at number 13 on the Green Party list (requiring around 10.5% of the vote, or more if NZ First reaches 5%) is Julie Anne-Genter, a transport planner by profession. Julie’s knowledge about the impact of things like parking policies on transport trends and land-use patterns is huge – as you can see in the video below.
While many aspects of National’s transport policy continue to disappoint me, in particular the cutting of funding for public transport infrastructure over the next decade in the Government Policy Statement, I have at least been heartened by many of their billboards including mention of “rail”, along with roads and broadband as key parts of their investment in infrastructure. We must also remember some of the good things National has done: like providing $90 million to enable the order of a much larger set of electric trains and the $500 million for the infrastructure part of electrification – which has come out of general government funds rather than having to be repaid through a regional fuel tax (not that I think a regional fuel tax is a bad idea, but Wellington’s electrification infrastructure was paid for by central government so it seemed unfair that Auckland’s wasn’t).
Finally, it’s extremely important to remember that there are restrictions on what we can and cannot discuss tomorrow, in terms of the election. The Electoral Act 1993 very importantly restricts electoral advertising on Election Day – which extends to internet media such as this blog. Russell Brown has an informative post up explaining the situation and I’m going to largely approach things the way he has suggested. It’s not just a legal issue though, as one of the greatest things about New Zealand’s democracy is how we can vote without a gun to our head or without any pressure over which way to vote on that particular day. So a few things to keep in mind:
• Tomorrow we must not discuss the election in a way that is likely to influence people’s votes.
• It is OK to discuss voting experiences we had (i.e. the process) and to encourage people to vote.
• After 7pm (when polling booths close) is it OK to start discussing results.
If I have the time and energy I may post results updates throughout tomorrow evening.