Election results, my first thoughts and so on

So, the 2014 election results are in, with an emphatic win for National. Six years into his Prime Ministership, and having just been re-elected for a third term, John Key has achieved what very few NZ politicians have done before him; he remains trusted, respected, admired and even liked by a large proportion of the public.

Transport

As regular readers of the blog will have gathered, we consider National’s policies on transport, urban issues and climate change to be outdated and misguided. From that perspective, their election win is unfortunate, but transport doesn’t seem to get a lot of discussion at (central government) election time; urban issues and climate change are even more minor.

And, to be fair, when you look at the government financial accounts you realise that transport is actually a pretty small part of what the government does:

Transport and communications spending

Of a budget of around $90 billion, the central government spends around $9-$10 billion a year on “transport and communications”. However, there’s only around $2.8 billion that comes through the National Land Transport Fund each year, and that’s essentially the transport part of the budget. Of that $2.8 billion, half of it gets passed through to councils for them to spend (although central government still gets to have quite a say in how the councils spend it, via the Government Policy Statement).

So, transport is not a big component of the government budget. It’s quite understandable that people aren’t going to cast their vote based on it. And while the Roads of National Significance program is a deeply flawed one, and many of the roads themselves are very inefficient, there’s some comfort in knowing that this wasted spending is just a small part of a large economy.

…That’s not the last word, I do have more to say on this below…

Urban issues

This is a broad topic and I won’t try to address it here, but long story short, I don’t see much to inspire me in either Labour’s or National’s urban policies. I think there are people at the top of both parties who have a good understanding of urban issues, but this gets swamped by populist policies which are not well thought out. Urban issues are mainly a job for local government, but the central government still has a big role to play. I’m confident that both major parties are likely to eventually figure this stuff out.

Climate change

I’ve previously made my views clear on National’s climate change policy, and I hope they come around to acknowledging this issue as a serious one. However, climate change barely registered on the agenda this election. I can’t even remember it being mentioned in the Green Party’s collateral that ended up in my letterbox, and I barely saw it anywhere else either. I’m sure these issues will return to the public consciousness at some point; I’m just disappointed at all the opportunities we’re missing, the low hanging fruit, and the likelihood that there will be much higher costs if we wait. In the meantime, NZ’s emissions continue to increase, and there’s absolutely no leadership being taken on making any serious reductions to those emissions. This issue is strongly linked to transport, and those are where many of the reductions will need to be made. We need to take steps to decarbonise our transport system, starting right away. National have not shown any interest in doing so, and are actually doing their best to head in the opposite direction.

Summing up

We strive to be non-political, or non-partisan, or both – I’m not even sure what wording we’re going for, but hopefully you get the idea – but transport is a political issue in NZ, so inevitably we do end up taking stances on issues which are deemed to be political. I’m optimistic about some of this stuff, though. I think we are working towards a point where there is broad recognition that we can’t go on doing things the way we always have, spending all our transport money on roads and cars and having no thought to anything else. Labour and the Greens (and even New Zealand First) are well ahead of National on this, but I expect even National to figure it out in the next few years. There will be more of a common direction set, and the Roads of National Significance binge will be the last one. A few billion dollars will be wasted, and that’s sad, but as I said above, it’s a small part of a large economy.

Likewise, I’m optimistic on our cities, with the possible exception of Christchurch. I’m pretty sure that people will figure this stuff out in the next few years. In the meantime, some decisions are being made which we’ll look back on as bad ideas, and that will cost the country, but it’s surmountable and it’s not the end of the world. I’m less optimistic about climate change; the fact that it barely rates as an issue worries me. The fact that we’re not taking steps now to future proof our transport systems and cities worries me. The first step is to get climate change back on the agenda. It hasn’t gone away because we’ve stopped talking about it; it’s kept happening, and the need to take action is growing ever more pressing.

I think this blog has an important role to play in all of these issues. I want us to educate the public, critique the silly decisions that are made on these topics, push for better solutions, and work towards a broader consensus across the country as to how they should be handled. We should do that through reaching the public, councils, and the government. And we should strive to get more agreement on these issues, so they can be depoliticised and people can get back to voting on the real issues like class sizes and whether we’re providing enough funding for cosmetic surgery and which leader has better hair and who said or did something inappropriate and that kind of thing.

Transport Election Policy Roundup

In politics, transport sits in a weird space. It’s a key topic in local body elections – which is understandable as people’s interactions the transport system are experienced at a local level – however it’s at a national level where most of the key decisions around funding and overall transport policy are made. Yet despite this transport remains a second or even third tier issue at a national level. Instead the focus tends to be on the Economy, Health, Education and Welfare. In many ways this is odd as transport policy is perhaps the one intervention that can have hugely positive or negative impacts all of those and other issues. This is one of the reasons why I think transport policy should have much more attention and importance placed on it.

With that in mind and with the election just a few days away I thought it was about time to do a wrap up of the transport policies of the parties that might get over the 5% threshold to enter parliament.

National

National will:

  • Keep building the Roads of National Significance to address capacity constraints on our roading network and encourage economic growth.
  • Kick-start the Accelerated Regional Roading Package with a $212 million investment in a suite of important regional roading projects.
  • Accelerate important State Highway projects in Auckland to reduce congestion, capitalise on the Western Wing Route, and improve connections to the airport.
  • Start the Urban Cycleways Programme to make it easier and safer for people to cycle to and from work.

For the most part National’s transport policy seems to follow the theme of not rocking the boat. It’s about them keeping on doing what they have been doing with a particular focus on the completion of the RoNS. This is not surprising as many of the RoNS projects are currently under construction and the reality is they would need to be finished regardless of who’s in power and they were hardly going to stray far from the draft Government Policy Statement released in June. Of the RoNS there are a couple of projects that would get underway during the next government if National are still in charge and they are:

  • Puhoi to Warkworth
  • The Huntly and Hamilton bypasses and the Longswamp section
  • Sections of the Wellington projects
  • Sections of the Christchurch motorways.

In addition to the RoNS the government announced at the budget it would spend $212 million on a series of regional roads around the country. It turns out some of the projects aren’t that bad and probably would have been funded sooner if the government hadn’t sucked up as much funding as possible for the RoNS programme.

The most surprising announcement from National was a few weeks ago where they promised to invest $100 million into urban cycling facilities over four years. This would be a welcome boost to a meagre cycling budget and it’s great to see National finally recognising the need for urban cycling infrastructure.

Lastly when it comes public transport there is simply nothing really being promoted in the their policies other than the claims about how much they’ve spent on PT – all of which was initiated under the previous government. This contributes to the fact that over the last six years the government haven’t funded, let alone announced a single new PT project (funding the CRL in 2020 doesn’t count in my books).

Labour

Labour will:

  • Build a 21st century transport system that provides choice and is cost effective
  • Rebalance the transport budget away from the current government’s exclusive focus on motorway projects towards a more rational investment in the most efficient and sustainable combination of transport modes. For freight this means investing in roads, rail, our ports, and coastal shipping. In our cities it means a greater emphasis on public transport, and walking and cycling
  • Invest in the Congestion Free Network for Auckland
  • Reduce congestion in Auckland by building the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council
  • Eliminate an unnecessary hassle by removing the annual registration charge for light trailers and caravans
  • Reduce congestion and make the roads safer by requiring trucks to not drive in the fast lane on three and four lane motorways
  • Reduce costs for motorhome and campervan owners by reversing changes made by the current government that have doubled their Road User Charges

While National may be trying not to rock the boat too much Labour seems prepared to do it, but if it doesn’t upset some people.

Their transport policy is much more PT friendly, even talking about improved PT as giving people a choice in how they get around. Fantastically they have even agreed to support the Congestion Free Network which is great to see. In addition to Auckland they say they will invest heavily in PT for Wellington and start rail services in Christchurch starting with services to the north of the city.

When it comes to active modes Labour seem to be the most vague, they talk about how National’s cycling plan is too little too late and that they will invest more but are oddly quite about just what they would do or how much it would cost.

It’s when it comes to roads that the party seem to be the most in conflict with themselves. They support Operation Lifesaver which would scale back the Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS but have also given their support to other low value projects on the RoNS list like Transmission Gully – instead fighting the PPP building it. The big challenge for Labour will be to see if the projects mentioned can be stopped because them being able to do so will be essential to freeing up funding for the other projects on their list to do.

In addition to above, Labour are also promising a raft of smaller changes like with things like banning trucks from using the fast lane and reducing costs for caravans.

Overall Labour’s transport policy has some really good stuff in it but also seems to be a bit of a compromise which perhaps stems trying to placate their regional based MPs/candidates trying to win local elections.

Greens

A bus or train every few minutes. By investing in an integrated network of trains and buses with dedicated rights of way, we can make it easy to get around our largest cities without a car.

Unlocking Auckland to become a vibrant city where public transport is fast, clean and affordable, and where cycling for adults and kids is safe. We will implement the Congestion Free Network including underwriting $1.3 billion in funding for the Auckland City Rail Link to start immediately, and extending rail to the Airport and the North Shore within 15 years.

Safe walking and cycling. The Green Party will invest at least $100 million a year in new, safe, separated walking and cycling infrastructure in New Zealand’s small towns and big cities.

Resilient regions. Our switch in spending away from a few motorways in urban areas will result in increased transport funding so regions can contest for projects that will best serve their transport needs. We will also reverse the neglect of our rail network, and invest significantly in the transport backbone of New Zealand.

Affordable fares. The Student Green Card will give free off-peak travel to all tertiary students and apprentices. We will investigate options to lower fares for everyone, and implement smart, integrated options for monthly and annual passes.

As expected the Greens are primarily pushing PT and active modes of transport strongly. One thing I particularly like about the overall policy is that they have gone to the extent of creating a mock version of the Government Policy Statement to show that they have thought through the issues of funding. Like Labour the challenge for the Greens is that a lot of the transport budget is likely to be tied up in the RoNS that are already under way for some time yet which will impact on how much they can do.

Fantastically they too have adopted the CFN as part of their core transport plan (to be fair they announced their support for it first) and have even gone to the extent of creating their own stylised version of it.

Auckland-Reconnected - Greens CFN 1

They have also backed the Fast Forward plan for Wellington which would see a light rail network built around the city. I’m yet to be convinced this is necessarily the most practical solution for Wellington but I certainly agree a comprehensive plan is needed. In Christchurch the party have stopped short of suggesting the solution but say they would work with the region to come up with a rapid transit solution for the city. They say there will also be money for an interim commuter rail service to be set up until the future of rapid transit is decided. All of this would be assisted by the creation of a single transport agency for the city similar to Auckland Transport. I think this is a good idea and perhaps one they should have suggested for Wellington too.

For all cities use of PT is expected to be helped by way of a Student Green Card which gives free off peak travel for students. Again like the Wellington plan the policy isn’t terrible but I do think the money could perhaps be used for other things better such as lowering the cost of PT for a wider section of society.

For all cities walking and cycling feature strongly too with the Greens promising to spend $100 million a year on cycling around the country which is a significant amount more than National plan to spend. I can’t speak as well for other cities but in my view we will need as much as we can get if we want to create a decent, connected and safe cycling network so the amount proposed be a welcome change.

NZ First

The NZ First transport policy contains a number of quite positive as well as some bold moves. There’s a lot of talk about creating a more balanced policy including much more investment in PT and rail in particular. In some cases this appears to be focused on rail for freight purposes however they have also said that if they were the government they would contribute 75% of the money needed for the City Rail Link (Greens have said 60% while Labour and National are offering 50% – with the later not till 2020). One thing they say is they want all new urban road projects assessed to see if a PT option could partly or wholly achieve a better outcome. For that to happen it’s likely the transport modelling and assessment criteria would need to be updated – and that’s not a bad thing at all.

In terms of bold moves I think that the fact they even mention the idea of introducing road pricing is a positive move as it’s a discussion I think we as a country need to have fairly soon.

Conservatives 

The Conservatives don’t seem to even have a transport policy and the only mention of transport is in a question to Colin Craig. The answer might be funny if it weren’t for the fact the party might end up making it to parliament. Craig says:

In respect of rail, In Auckland light overhead rail is an affordable and realistic public transport solution. It is unlikely population numbers in other centres would support a big investment in public transport.

I can only assume he’s referring to a PRT pod type system, like he did when he stood for Mayor in 2010. He further comments:

The provincial and national rail network is economic in some cases but not all. We are a very big but sparsely populated country and it is not economic to have a full rail and full road network competing for the movement of a limited number of goods. National has elected to invest into roads rather than rail and in some areas this is the best option.

Road building is way behind the population growth mainly as regional fuel taxes ended up being taken into the consolidated fund and “lost” not put back into roading. Regional fuel taxes should in future be in a separate account that is used only for transport to stop that happening again. Road improvements shouldn’t be just about the big roads as there are many smaller improvements that would be very helpful.

If he gets in to parliament someone will need to tell him that fuel taxes were hypothecated by the previous government.

There are of course a couple of other minor parties that could squeak in based on winning an electorate but I’m going to ignore them for this post as it’s long enough already.

Election Debate on Transport

Auckland's Transport Eleciton Debate

 

The Campaign for Better Transport, in association with TransportBlog and Generation Zero, is counting down to Auckland’s Transport Election Debate, on the 27th August.

The meeting will be a chance for the public to find out from each party in the coming general election what they are promising to do for Auckland’s transport problems and options.

“We are hoping for some solid transport policy for Auckland from each of the parties attending,” said Cameron Pitches, Convenor of the Campaign for Better Transport.

Each speaker has been allocated ten minutes to speak, to be followed by questions from the floor from the general public.

“We’ve outlined a number of areas that we expect each speaker to cover. These include their party’s positions on the timing of the City Rail Link, and how transport projects across the different modes should be prioritised and funded in Auckland.”

TransportBlog contributor Patrick Reynolds will also be on hand to talk about the Congestion Free Network, a public transport focussed initiative that focusses on moving people effectively around Auckland at peak times.

Sudhvir Singh, a medical doctor and a leader of Generation Zero, is looking forward to the event.

“Young people are demanding that we learn from past mistakes when it comes to transport funding. A liveable low-carbon city is entirely possible if we are smarter about transport and give people choices,” said Dr Singh.

Representatives from Labour, the Greens, NZ First and ACT will be attending. National’s transport spokesperson and current Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee is unable to attend due to prior diary commitments. Organisers are hopeful that National will be able to put forward an alternative spokesperson.

“Nationwide, more than $2.5bn is collected in fuel and road taxes every year, and these taxes are increasing year on year. The public needs assurance that the Government after the 20th September will be spending our tax dollars on the right projects,” concludes Mr Pitches.

Auckland’s Transport Election Debate
Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, Freyberg Square, Auckland Central.
Wednesday 27th August, 7:30pm sharp. Building access from 6:00pm.

Confirmed speakers:

Labour – Phil Twyford
Greens – Julie Anne Genter
NZ First – Denis O’Rourke
ACT – David Seymour

Help spread the word about our election debate and download the Election Debate Flyer.

Looking back at Transport Policy from the 2011 election

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

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.

Labour

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.

Greens

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.

Vision

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

Could we really move the CBD to Manukau?

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
  • Job 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.

Location

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.

Employment

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.

Regional Employment

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.

Transport

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.

Conclusion

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.

2031-employment

Sydney 2031 employment projections

John has also repeated some of his thoughts in an article yesterday in the Manukau Courier.

He says the shift would take some of the pressure off Auckland’s congested roading network.

“If you look on a map, where’s the best place for another city in Auckland? Manukau is perfect.”

Adding more commercial aspects to the south would help foster connections with the industrial sector, Auckland Airport and Hamilton, he says.

“It’s almost impossible not to have traffic. We can’t say ‘let’s keep pushing them in’. We need to move them away. We can do that by building in Manukau.”

The likes of law firms, IT businesses and the courts could stay in the present CBD, he says.

The native New Yorker says the move could provide a new start for South Auckland.

“It does have a large crime rate. This will bring up the values of the properties and all of a sudden people start coming in.”

One major piece of infrastructure Mr Palino would consider is an electric train or monorail connecting Manukau with the airport.

And his plan to fund some of the changes would be through a government bonds issue.

Some intensification around Auckland is needed but not to the extent mayor Len Brown is proposing, he says.

He admits he hasn’t spent much time in the Manukau area but plans to touch base with local business associations to find out more.

“The new city which is Manukau will be a world recognised city.”

Getting rid of “high paying” jobs in the Auckland Council’s back office and moving that funding into frontline services is also a priority for Mr Palino.

Perhaps before John continues it might be worth him actually looking into some of these issues – and John if you read this, we are happy to talk through to you about it.

Shifting transport beyond partisan debates

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.

But how do we do that?

Transport in 2011: some steps forward, some steps backwards

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 early months of 2011 were a time when Auckland Council and Auckland Transport were still very much “settling in”. We saw some really interesting first glimpses of what the council’s vision for Auckland’s city centre was in January, we found out that Len Brown’s goal for public transport patronage was 150 million trips a year by 2021 (and we wondered how that would be achieved). We also saw construction of the now open Wynyard Quarter tram loop. Submissions on preferred options for the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the holiday highway were written.

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.

Transport in the next parliament

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. Rumours are 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.

Fallout for rail from the election result

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.

Auckland bucks the trend?

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?