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New Waikato and Bay of Plenty motorways confirmed

The NZ Herald reports:

This afternoon Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee is expected to announce funding for two transformational roading projects. A $4 billion four lane motorway between Cambridge and Taupo, extending the Waikato Expressway a further 100 kilometres to the south and an $8 billion 50km motorway from Cambridge to Tauranga which includes a 14km road tunnel. Both projects were hinted at in the 2012 Government Policy Statement for Land Transport Funding. He will announce the projects at a ceremony to celebrate the extension of rail electrification into Britomart station. 

“These are critical projects for improving freight efficiency in the North Island,” says Mr Brownlee in a leaked copy of his speech. “While we realise a near $12 billion investment in two roads that each carries fewer vehicles than the Kopu Bridge did when it was still one lane may appear to some as slight overkill, we think that those opposing the project just oppose progress and want us to return to dirt tracks and horse carts.”

NZ Transport Agency Regional Director Harry Wilson said his office was in celebration mode over the Minister’s announcements. “Once the Waikato Expressway project is finished in a few years’ time, we really didn’t know what we’d do with ourselves as we’ve lived and breathed that project for the past decade or more. We’re so pleased to see the government commit to the future of the Southern Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions – even though combined they’re not really growing – which will keep us in work for many years to come!”

Mr Wilson also noted that his organisation had been instrumental in pushing for the inclusion of the two projects in the 2012 Government Policy Statement and were “enthused” the project had been given funding approval. “We’ve learned a lot from our Wellington office in the past few years about the tactics of getting unnecessary projects in parts of New Zealand that aren’t growing over the line. We’re just so proud to have come up with the two biggest and most expensive projects ever imagined in New Zealand and now have funding approval for it!” Mr Wilson added.

Minister Brownlee noted in his speech that “Much like other Roads of National Significance, the Cambridge to Taupo and Tauranga motorways will duplicate an existing route where upgrades to that road could achieve most of the benefits for a fraction of the cost, but frankly upgrading what we’ve got is just boring – I want more motorways!”

Traffic counts between Tokoroa and Taupo on State Highway 1 show a slight increase in daily vehicle volumes from 6500 in 2009 to 6700 in 2013. Mr Wilson noted that “our traffic modelling suggests traffic volumes will increase to 60,000 cars a day in the next 5 years – almost all of which will be trucks!”

On State Highway 29 over the Kaimai Ranges traffic had also slightly increased, growing from 9200 vehicles per day in 2009 to 9300 in 2013. In the next five years this route is expected to increase to over 80,000 vehicles per day. The high number of trucks is said to be a key part of the decision to construct a tunnel under the Kaimai Ranges which was first investigated by the NZTA in 2010.

Local politicians unanimously supported the project when spoken to.

South Waikato District’s mayor Neil Sinclair said the projects would boost the economic productivity of his region significantly and wasn’t worried about the impact of the new motorway bypassing Tokoroa. “Look at Pokeno, it recovered a mere 15 years after being bypassed by the Waikato Expressway,” stated Mr Sinclair.

Taupo District Council’s mayor David Trewavas also stated his strong support for the project. “We’re about an hour and a half south of the thriving metropolis of Hamilton. This motorway will cut that time by at least a minute or two, which will be transformational to our economy. A local resident walking past added that they “didn’t care what was built, as long as it meant the money couldn’t be spent in Auckland.”

New Zealand Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said the two roads were great news and would allow trucks to even compete better with Kiwirail, especially on the Tauranga to Auckland route. “Everyone knows that the wider population and other road users subsidising trucking is a great investment and these two projects will be great for that” he said.

Details of the project’s exact route, the timing of construction and how it will be funded have yet to be determined but when questioned, Mr Brownlee said he was optimistic the money could be found for such important additions to state highway infrastructure in the Upper North Island. “Hey we could always push that silly rail loop under Auckland’s city centre back a few more years,” Mr Brownlee shouted at reporters while leaving the airport for Britomart station in a Crown limousine.

A business case for the motorway projects is expected to be presented to Cabinet for funding approval next Monday.

Cambridge to Taupo and Tauranga motorways

Brownlee admits they ignore economic analysis when it suits them

Following on from the Greens walking and cycling to school policy last week, Julie Anne Genter was again asking about it in Parliament yesterday and the answers from Gerry Brownlee were quite insightful to the governments thinking while some were also quite comical.

You can read the transcript here.

To me there were three interesting parts in the exchange. Firstly the primary question which is based off this written question.

JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Can he confirm that by the end of this fiscal year the Government will have spent $1.5 billion on work classified as having a “low” benefit to cost ratio under its Roads of National Significance programme?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport) :The analysis the questioner relies on is provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The Government makes its own decisions, though, about value-for-money expenditure. It is not a slave to bureaucratic formula and therefore considers other matters in making its decisions. The Government considers the roads of national significance to be excellent expenditure.

Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice and it was a yes or no question, and I did not hear a yes or a no in the Minister’s answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, the Standing Orders are quite clear that no member can demand a yes or no answer. Again, I can understand why the member does not feel that it was adequately addressed, and I accept that. On this occasion, the question, in my opinion, has been addressed, but I will allow the member an additional supplementary question to try to tease it out to the member’s satisfaction.

Julie Anne Genter: For clarity, has he spent $1.5 billion on low-value work under the roads of national significance programme, as stated in his answer to written question No. 813, and is he now trying to justify that waste by calling it strategic?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The question the member asked me to respond to indicates the benefit-cost ratio on both the 6 percent and 8 percent discount rate for a number of roads. The roads that she is most likely to be focusing on are the Waikato Expressway, the Tauranga Eastern Link road, and the Wellington Northern Corridor. The Government considers those to be very important. They are strategic, and we most certainly do not agree with the Green Party that it is inappropriate or low-value expenditure

Basically Gerry just confirms what we’ve been saying for a long time, that the government is building what are in some cases very stupid roads because they want to. Now while I don’t agree with that being how we should build motorways, in itself it isn’t necessarily wrong. However it is quite different to how the government have portrayed their road building programme, which is that the RoNS are good for the economy.

Following that was this exchange related to freight movements.

Julie Anne Genter: Given that none of the spending on the roads of national significance has been high value and that nearly half the spending on walking and cycling in the last year was high value, would it not be a better use of taxpayer money to prioritise high-value walking and cycling projects?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: One of the problems the member would leave unanswered is what you would do with the volumes of freight that have to get moved around New Zealand if you required them to be moved by bicycle or pushcart.

Julie Anne Genter: In light of the National Freight Demands Study released last week, which shows that road freight has fallen since 2006 and that the expected rate of growth is less than was forecast when his Government began this roads of national significance programme, is now not an appropriate time to reconsider whether spending billions of dollars on projects that his own Government considers low value is the best use of taxpayer money?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point is that I dispute the analysis that the freight volumes have fallen. What I would say is that vehicle kilometres travelled have fallen, and that is largely due to a more efficient roading network, which has an excellent outcome for greenhouse gas emissions.

This relates to the freight study released last week, the outcome of which said that while the amount of freight being moved by all modes had increase, the tonne-kms (distance) had been dropped. There are a number of factors at play causing this however one of them is not due to the roading network being more efficient which implies road building to reduce distances (i.e. removing curves) like Brownlee suggests. Note: This is different from using the existing roads more efficiently through changes like allowing heavier trucks which is something that need motorways to happen.

And lastly

Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister understand that duplicating motorways to the Kāpiti coast or Wellsford does nothing to alleviate serious congestion in our city centres—in fact, according to the New Zealand Transport Agency, they make congestion worse—whereas investing in smart projects like walking and cycling to school take cars off the road, eases congestion, and improves public health?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It also very seriously inconveniences the people who pay for those roads, and their commitment to these projects will be seen at the ballot box.

So we can’t have more walking and cycling infrastructure as it might slow down car drivers by a few seconds, even if that infrastructure takes people off the road and helps to free it from congestion. Also as mentioned this morning, people simply don’t vote on transport at a National level when there are so many other important issues being discussed. If people did vote based on transport policy then I suspect we would be getting very different outcomes.

Transport’s not a left/right political issue

As I discussed yesterday the debate on big urban issues of housing and transport far too frequently descends into left/right debates and today I’m looking at transport.

One of the reasons this has come up is that we’ve had some interesting conversations on Twitter in the last few days with a couple of Nationals MPs, which apart from highlighting a scary lack of understanding about transport, inevitably touched on the issue about whether the transport policy that we generally advocate on this blog fits into the traditional “left-right” political spectrum. Here’s what the fairly new National MP Paul Foster-Bell said on Twitter:

We have a fairly diverse range of bloggers on this site: a couple of economists, a transport planner, an urban designer, an architectural photographer, a planning student etc and of course myself who most recently working in banking and from our discussions I think we have some reasonably broad political viewpoints.

Furthermore, many of the key changes to transport and planning policy that we have advocated for strongest over the past few years hardly align with any traditional definition of a “left worldview”. Let’s take a look a few of our most common arguments:

  1. Cut back or cancel some of the Roads of National Significance that do not provide value for money. This seems to me like basic fiscal conservatism – as some of the RoNS projects are simply a huge amount of money being spent on a problem that really doesn’t warrant such high investment. Puhoi-Wellsford could be replaced by Operation Lifesaver, Transmission Gully is just overkill for a city that’s hardly growing in population, the Kapiti Expressway has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.2, the Hamilton bypass will carry fewer vehicles in 20 years time than the Kopu bridge did when it was a single lane… and so on. This seems like cutting wasteful spending, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they want to do?
  2. Built the Congestion Free Network instead of the Integrated Transport Programme. Ultimately the CFN proposal is at least $10 billion cheaper than the current transport programme for Auckland. It probably has a much higher chance of achieving the many targets that Auckland has set for its future transport outcomes than the ITP is able to meet (although that’s not hard as the ITP failed to achieve just about any of its targets). Similarly to above, this is achieved through chopping out an enormous amount of wasteful spending on unnecessary projects (both road and rail) – yet again, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they support?
  3. Built complete Streets. Democracy equality and choice are meant to be good things aren’t they? Most of our roads focus solely on the task of moving as many vehicles as possible and give scant regard for anyone not in a car. Building complete streets that treat each user equally and allow people to have a real choice in how they get around is the ultimate form of transport democracy.
  4. Improve walkability. We’ve seen both locally and internationally that when there is a focus on improving the walkability and the pedestrian environment (that includes wheeled pedestrians) a couple of significant things happen. One is that people shop more boosting local retail, perhaps the best example of this is the upgrade of Fort St to a shared space which has seen the hospitality retailers revenue increase by a staggering 400%. The second thing is that people walking (and cycling) more is good for them, improving health and therefore reducing long term costs to the health system. This is further enhanced as often these improvements also see a reduction in traffic crashes. So once again we see a case where we can lower costs while also increasing revenue and therefore tax at the same time.
  5. Get rid of Minimum Parking RequirementsThis key proposal is to get rid of a current regulation that causes more harm than good, that adds significant cost onto developers (thereby discouraging development and growth) and often just adds regulatory churn cost for no gain (as it seems most applications for parking waivers appear to be granted). I would have thought this aligns quite well with a “right of centre” political ideology where reducing regulation (especially regulation that harms economic activity and growth) is a very very good thing.
  6. Relax Planning Rules to give people more Housing Choice. This was covered yesterday but worth repeating again. Most planning rules limit development potential in existing urban areas: whether that’s through height limits, yard setbacks, density controls, parking requirements, minimum unit sizes or whatever. Through the Unitary Plan process we have advocated for (and will continue to do so) the relaxation of planning controls – particularly in areas where it makes good sense to allow high density developments to make best use of existing infrastructure. Similarly to parking controls, this is a relaxation of current regulation that significantly limits development potential and the prospects of economic growth through making better use of inner parts of the city. The relaxation/elimination of economically damaging regulation should be music to a right-wingers ears you’d think.

There are probably many more examples than above, but they give a good overview of why transport policy (and land-use policy) really doesn’t fit well into a traditional “left-right” ideological spectrum. We could easily point out how bizarre it is that our current supposedly centre-right government has significantly increased petrol taxes to spend on a series of very dubious mega-projects in the form of the RoNS. That seems rather more “tax and spend” than fiscal conservatism.

Furthermore, if you look internationally there are many examples of centre-right political parties taking public transport seriously. In Britain, the current Conservative government is making a big contribution to the £15.9 billion Crossrail project in London and is also likely to spend even more money on the High Speed 2 rail project. That government seems to understand the economic importance of having good rail infrastructure. For example, Crossrail massively increases the residential catchment of the Canary Wharf employment area – somewhat similar to how the CRL vastly increases the residential catchment of the city centre. London Mayor Boris Johnson is a big champion of not only Crossrail but also getting more people to ride a bike and is planning to invest huge amounts of money in cycle infrastructure. In Australia, the centre-right New South Wales government is championing and making a massive funding contribution to the North West Rail Link project. Even in Auckland we have business groups who politically are considered “right of centre” supporting projects like the City Rail Link and improved cycling infrastructure.

It’s interesting to try to understand this political divide through other lenses than a traditional “left-right” spectrum. Pro-urban and suburban/anti-urban is perhaps a better lens in my opinion – particularly because it seems to explain better why some right-wing parties (like the Republicans in the USA, the current Liberal Government in Australia and the National government here in NZ) appear to be sceptical at best about public transport, while others (e.g. NSW government and UK government) seem to really understand the importance of public transport.

Perhaps this “pro-urban” and “suburban/anti-urban” divide even exists within the current National Party. It was interesting that John Key (an Aucklander who has lived in big overseas cities for much of his life) was the person who changed the government’s position on City Rail Link while Steven Joyce (grew up in New Plymouth and now lives on a lifestyle block in Auckland) and Gerry Brownlee (from Christchurch) were apparently the biggest opponents of that change. Or how we get current Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse saying this on auto-dependency:

From Dunedin, in case you were wondering.

Clifford Bay decision raises more questions than answers

Interesting to see yesterday the government make a decision on the Clifford Bay ferry terminal. I say interesting because the more you look at the details the more it shows just how much transport policy is being driven by political agendas rather than based on facts. First up here is Gerry Brownlee’s press release

The outcome of a study into the commercial viability of a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay in Marlborough has concluded Picton should remain as the southern terminal for the inter-island ferries, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee announced today.

Over the past year a Ministry of Transport-led expert team has been testing whether Clifford Bay could be delivered as a fully privately funded project.

“We have been delivered a thorough and robust report which clearly shows Clifford Bay is not commercially viable as a fully privately funded project, and the level of investment required at Picton over the next decade to extend its life would be substantially less than previously estimated,” Mr Brownlee says.

The project team estimated a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay could be delivered by 2022, at a cost of $525 million.  This left a gap the Government would have been required to fill to induce private sector investment in the construction and operation of the terminal.

Meanwhile, the investigation found Picton’s facilities are not expected to fail or become constrained due to asset age or condition, or growth in freight volumes, over the next 30 years.  It also found the level of investment required at Picton by its owner Port Marlborough over the next decade to extend its life and adapt its facilities is approximately half the cost estimated in 2012.

Mr Brownlee says it was concluded a number of significant financial risks would exist in the development and early operating phase of a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay.

“While it was expected these would be manageable, mitigation and management cost would have fallen to the Government.

“In the end, the government cost, remaining risks, and the lack of a compelling constraint at Picton have led us to decide the Clifford Bay option should be set aside at this time,” Mr Brownlee says.

“I hope this announcement will provide some planning certainty for Marlborough communities.”

To read the report, Clifford Bay Investigation 2013, and the paper Mr Brownlee took to Cabinet, visit www.transport.govt.nz

For those that aren’t familiar with the proposal, the idea is to create a new ferry terminal further south of Picton as shown in this image from the Ministry report.

Clifford Bay Routes

It would be a substantial project though with the report stating there would need to be

  • the construction of a breakwater 1.8km into Clifford Bay with a single-pier dual-berth facility for the two ferry operators
  • associated shore-side facilities for the marshalling of passengers, vehicles and rail wagons
  • the upgrade to Marfells Beach Rd to SH1
  • a rail link to the main trunk line

None of that is going to come cheap and the report costs the terminal at $525 million – although positively Kiwirail already own most of the land needed so land acquisition wouldn’t be as high. The problem comes that the berthing fees for ferry companies simply wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of building the terminal and so the project isn’t viable from a commercial perspective. But what about the economic benefits of the project?

There are a couple of massive benefits for the project first of all it’s a shorter route (~15km) as well as one that also has no speed restrictions on it which means faster journey times. In addition as most people and freight are travelling south it would also provide some substantial travel time savings for both roads and rail due to being further south and not having to deal with the climb out of Picton and the Dashwood Pass north of Clifford Bay. For rail that journey incurs not just a time penalty but an additional operational one too as either an extra locomotive is needed or trains need to be shorter. The time savings are listed below. Compare those savings with something like Puhoi to Wellsford which would save 10 minutes if we’re lucky.

Clifford Bay Time Savings

So while the costs are high at $525 million, the overall economic benefits are substantial enough to outweigh them with the report stating that the project has a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.3. Unfortunately we can’t see all of the details relating to the benefits as most of that has been blacked out. However interestingly the report does state that the BCR of 1.3 doesn’t include the wider economic benefits (WEBs) that might occur (which have been assessed) and also uses an 8% discount rate and 30 year evaluation period.

This in itself is interesting as the NZTA recently changed their economic evaluation manual to assess projects with a 6% discount rate and 40 year evaluation period. The report states that an assessment with a 6% discount rate was done but the result is blacked out.  I think it’s pretty safe to say the result would have been much higher if all of those bits were included. Why this is particularly interesting is that the government/NZTA have long been talking about the BCRs of the RoNS projects like Transmissions Gully using the new assessment criteria as well as included the WEBs figures too.

The project even scores highly on the NZTAs new assessment criteria which asks about Strategic/Policy Fit as the crossing is considered a key part in both the national road and rail networks.

Clifford Bay Stragtic Network

Now let me be clear, I have no problem with the government saying they that they won’t support the project - despite being economically viable – due to it not being commercially viable. Sure there might be a positive benefit to the economy but if we can’t afford to build the project then that is fine. But I do have a problem when the same approach isn’t being taken when it comes to other areas of transport policy like what is happening with the RoNS. Projects like the Kapati Expressway have a BCR of 0.2 and Transmission Gully isn’t much better yet the government are pushing them ahead as fast as possible.

What all of this means is that the government are clearly picking and choosing which types of projects they want to support regardless of the facts. There would be no issue with this if they just said we’re building roads because we like them better but they don’t, instead they pretend they are building stuff that will really help the economy.

Antarctic transport policy?

Wow there’s so many bits of news I want to comment on today and I don’t have time for them all so as it kind of relates to my post this morning I’ll go with this one. In parliament today Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Gerry Brownlee about his stance on emissions and transport. It was following this news story from TV3 where he said”

I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say it’s man-made is an interesting prospect

So here is the debate today

The transcript is here.

This was what I thought was the best bit.

Julie Anne Genter: Can he name one place in the world where carbon emissions have reduced or where peak congestion has reduced as a result of new motorway construction?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As far as I know, I would be correct in saying—because there are no motorways there—the Antarctic.

 

Brilliant question and one that left Gerry stumped because the reality is there isn’t anywhere that has built its way out of traffic congestion or emissions. Although perhaps Brownlee suggested it because in his mind hell would have to freeze over before he would accept that urban motorways don’t solve emission and congestion issues.

Christchurch Central City Transport Plan

Yesterday the government announced the formal transport plan for the Christchurch central city which is one of the parts to the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. I’ve had a brief look through the plan and I must say that overall, it isn’t too bad. You can read the plan here. It appears that one of the key actions has been to prioritise streets for different modes instead of trying to make all streets do all things for everyone. I think that this is a good strategy and something that should be thought about for Auckland too. Here is the plan showing all modes.

Christchurch central city plan

One of the central themes to the plan appears to be about making it easier to get around the city by walking and cycling while reducing the impact from cars. One of the key parts to this is that the inner part of the central city will have the speed limit reduced to 30km/hr and the document also says that it will be more than just putting up some signs as the streets will be designed to reinforce the speed limits through streetscape upgrades. The outer zone will remain at 50km/hr although they say some of the residential sections will be managed with lower speed limits to “fit with the surrounding environment”.

Christchurch central city speed limits

Overall that seems very positive and Auckland could perhaps learn something. Queen St has a 30km/hr speed limit but that is the only street to have one in the CBD (although the shared spaces help to encourage people to drive slower.

Walking

One thing I like is how the plan frequently talks about the need for the central city to be people friendly to encourage people to once again visit the central city. I couldn’t agree more as it is people that buy things, not cars. In the core (inside the red dotted line on the image above) the plan talks about how some streets will be pedestrian focused either by being pedestrian only or becoming shared spaces. The plan also mentions that additional walking connections will be encouraged through the introduction of laneways (and they will be required in the retail precinct). The walking plans all sound really good however the key will be how they implement them.

Cycling

Like the walking section, there are a lot of positive aspects about this plan with it even talking about having some physically separated cycle lanes in some places (although just how many will be like this is still to be decided. The plan also talks about providing more cycle facilities around the city and requiring developers to provide cycle parking (this is happening in Auckland as part of the Unitary Plan). It even talks about the how cycling parking needs to be provided at the bus depot and at some of the major stops to enable people to combine cycling and PT.

Main Streets

Victoria and Colombo Streets which both extend outside of the slow zone will have the 30km/hr speed limit imposed and the plan says that they will be redeveloped to prioritise walking and cycling while the parts that have PT on them will have that PT priority measures included. Here is an image of what the change may look like.

Before

After

If the after image is what actually happens then that’s a nice change.

Public Transport

The plan talks quite a bit about the bus interchange however it only says that bus priority will be provided on streets where necessary which seems a bit weak. In saying that it appears that Manchester St will get a physically separated central busway for about 600m as shown in the image below. For most of the city the bus network has been consolidated onto two way streets to make it easier for users to understand – except for in the south of the city.

Christchurch central city plan central busway

Car Travel

As mentioned earlier one of the great things about the plan is that central part of the city will have the speed limit reduced to 30km/hr which should really help improve safety and comfort for pedestrians. However one disappointment is that the two way system will be retained with the exception of northern pair of Salisbury and Kilmore. The plan also says the roads “will be enhanced over time as needed to cater for increased traffic volumes.” That doesn’t really sound ideal and seems more about moving as many cars as possible improved only by the fact there is a lower speed limit so time will tell if they live up to the promise of being more friendly for everyone. Here is a before and after from the document showing Montreal St which appears to have been narrowed and had decent chunks of parking removed.

Before

After

Parking

The last section I will look at is parking and there appear to be some good things here too. The plan says the amount of on street parking will likely reduce overall due to many of the previously mentioned plans. In the core the parking will be focused on serving the disabled, deliveries and short term parking. Within the zone parking maximums have also been applied to try and reduce the amount of vehicles that need to travel through the more pedestrian focused areas. Public parking will be managed through initiatives like time of use and variable pricing. The plan also talks about how the preference is for any off street car park to have active street frontages which should hopefully reduce some of the impact of parking buildings.

Conclusion

All up there are some very positive things for Christchurch in this plan and some that would be good to use elsewhere. For example it would be great if we could a 30km/hr speed limit across the Auckland CBD. What’s perhaps even more positive is that Gerry Brownlee has been talking up how important it is for the city to be friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says reducing the speed limits of Christchurch’s inner-most streets will provide for a more people-focused environment in the redeveloped city.

The new 30km per hour limit is a significant factor in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan transport chapter “An Accessible City,” released today, which explains the transport system which will support the new compact CBD core.

“Overall we are trying to make the central city as attractive as possible for people to come in and shop, socialise and live, and I’m confident executing this plan will help meet that goal,” Mr Brownlee says.

And you can even hear him saying it will encourage more pedestrians and cyclists in this piece from TV3.

I must say, it’s really nice to be able to talk positively about a government announcement on transport for once. If only it happened more often.

Gerry discovers electric cars

An interesting article in the herald this morning about Gerry Brownlee who to took a trip to the California to have a look at “alternative transport” options but only appears to have looked at cars

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says his scepticism about electric cars has all but disappeared after he took a spin along the Los Angeles coastal freeway in an electric sports car.

Mr Brownlee investigated alternative transport options while on a trip to the United States and also took Google’s driverless car for a 16km trip around San Francisco’s freeways.

In LA he test-drove the Tesla SP85, which is considered one of the world’s most advanced electric cars with a range of nearly 500km and a top speed of more than 210km/h.

The minister, who owns a diesel-powered Hyundai Sante Fe, raved about his zero-emission joyride. “I’ve been somewhat of a sceptic around electric vehicles. I don’t want to say I’m a total convert but I’ve been incredibly impressed by the technology that I’ve seen.

Personally I’m fairly optimistic about the impact electric cars will have, especially in New Zealand where a lot of power is already generated through renewable sources. While we at the blog obviously want to see a lot better public transport options provided to help give people choice – and we expect a lot of people would use PT when that happens – plenty of people will still choose to drive. Removing, or at least significantly reducing emissions will have a positive impact on air quality and the liveability of urban areas. But while electric cars might not produce emissions, they won’t do anything to reduce or ease congestion.

With the vast majority people in urban areas probably travelling less than 50km a day, the battery range is simply not an issue (assuming you remember to charge it). In fact with the range these things have, trips from Auckland trips to typical summer holiday destinations like the Bay of Islands or Coromandel Peninsula would not be a problem so it is only really long distance road trips that would be impacted and those are things most people don’t tend to do all that regularly.

Here is a promo video for the electric car Gerry had a go on.

As for the impact that driver-less cars would have, they could certainly be a way to save a little bit of money on having to hire ministerial limo drivers but I’m not sure about just how much congestion relief they will offer, as we have explained before here and here.

“When you’ve got a car that can perform to the sort of specifications that I saw at the Tesla factory you could just see that we’re not too many years off there being quite a significant percentage of electric vehicles in our fleet.”

He said battery technology and infrastructure was progressing much faster that he would have expected.

He pointed to Tesla’s plan to have battery change stations across the US by 2016.

Mr Brownlee said he did not expect the number of electric cars to rapidly increase on New Zealand roads, but said it was important to make sure regulations encouraged low-emissions vehicles. There are believed to be fewer than 100 here now.

The main policy designed to encourage growth in electric car use was the exemption from road user charges, which was introduced in 2009 and last year extended until 2020. Mr Brownlee said driverless cars were also likely to one day play a role in reducing congestion on motorways.

I think the discussion of electric cars and road taxes really highlights why we need to be starting to discuss if funding transport via fuel taxes are necessarily the best option. This is especially the case as we move towards much more fuel efficient petrol powered cars as well as hybrids while at the same time the government is spending like a drunken sailor on massive motorways. The article finishes with:

The minister road-tested Google’s prototype, which uses a combination of sensors and GPS to get commuters to their destination as efficiently as possible. He described it as “a very advanced form of cruise control”.

Even a small increase in the proportion of driverless cars was expected to cut congestion because all aspects of human error were eliminated. The cars were allowed on some US roads, but had not been developed for commercial production.

Mr Brownlee said he had asked the ministry to have a closer look at how it could best encourage the use of alternative transport as the technology developed.

While I think the move towards more fuel efficient and potentially even driverless cars are a good move, I would hardly call them alternative transport. Instead more of a evolution of what we have today. If he was really interested in alternatives he could have looked at what even “car mad” LA is doing with its transport spending, particularly with Measure R where people voted to increase taxes to pay for primarily a large range of public transport improvements.

On a slightly separate note, one my scariest driving experiences ever occurred in San Francisco a few years ago. I was on a road trip with my wife and some family members and we were driving down the 101 freeway at night somewhere around the airport area (I was driving). The freeway was something like 5 or 6 lanes wide in each direction was relatively empty with only a few cars in the far distance. We were in the middle lane and had cars flanking either side of us and when we came around a corner were faced with an oven sitting in the middle of our lane just a few hundred metres ahead of us. The cars beside us prevented a lane change so was a case of having to apply some rapid deceleration to be able to change lanes behind some other cars. An oven is certainly the last thing you expected to see on a road and would have been an interesting conversation trying to explain an accident with one to a rental/insurance company.

CBT open letter to Gerry Brownlee about the CRL

In December last year the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) which looked at various options for moving more people in and around the city centre. Crucially this project also involved staff from various government agencies including the Ministry of Transport and it came to the conclusion that the City Rail Link was the best option. When it was initially released Gerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss the study however some of that may just be bluster for the media. The reality is that the government is yet to formally respond to the CCFAS. Perhaps they are spending their time trying to come up with some more road based options like the Eastern Highway.

But as while we sit and wait for the official response, the CRL in particular continues to be talked about on all sides including by Brownlee himself on Campbell Live. The answers he has provided in public have prompted the Campaign for Better Transport to write a letter to Brownlee about some of his assertions.

Hon Gerry Brownlee
Minister of Transport
Parliament Buildings
Wellington

Cc: Hon Nikki Kaye, MP for Central Auckland; Hon Paula Bennett, MP for Waitakere; Rt Hon John Key

20-May-2013

Dear Minister

Re City Rail Link

I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport in regard to recent public comments you have made on Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL). Your comments indicate that you have been poorly advised of the main benefits of the project, and that you also misunderstand the costs associated with the CRL.

Specifically, on 30th April on Campbell Live, you stated:

  • That the CRL is “a short little loop”
  • That the CRL will cost $3 billion dollars
  • That “we” (implying the central Government) are currently funding $1.6 billion dollars to expand the rail network in Auckland.
  • That “we” are spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct and clarify each of these points. As the Minister of Transport it is vital you have an accurate understanding of Auckland transport issues.

The CRL is a not a short little loop

The CRL is a 3.5km rail tunnel forming a direct link between the Western Line near Mt Eden and Britomart, bypassing the current dog-leg via Newmarket as shown on the map below.

AT-CRL-map-large

While the CRL is relatively short at 3.5km, in practice it will never function as a loop. Instead the most likely operating pattern will be for Western Line trains to proceed directly to Britomart via the tunnel, continuing on either the Southern or Eastern Lines. Similarly trains from the South and East will continue through Britomart station to the west. Western line commuters will enjoy considerable travel time savings on journeys to Britomart and beyond due to the CRL. For instance the trip from Henderson to Britomart currently takes about 45 minutes because of the dog-leg via Newmarket; via the CRL this trip is expected to take around 35 minutes – a saving of 10 minutes. Travel time savings of this magnitude will no doubt attract even more rail passengers from the west than there are currently. (From Auckland Transport’s most recent survey, some 5,000 people a day board the train at stations within Paula Bennett’s Waitakere electorate.) In addition, three new stations will be built on the new CRL: Newton, K’ Rd and Aotea. These stations will greatly increase the accessibility of the CBD region to all commuters on the rail network. For instance a trip from New Lynn to Aotea Station (near the Sky Tower) will take just 23 minutes at peak time – faster than a car journey and much faster than the current journey via public transport, which takes 45 minutes.

However, the key reason to construct the CRL is to increase the capacity of the entire Auckland rail network. The rail network is the backbone of the public transport network, since it offers the highest peak time capacity for people of any transport mode. Currently Britomart is a dead-end terminal station, with all trains having to exit via the same two tracks they arrived on. Consequently there is a relatively low limit (approximately 21 trains per hour inbound) to the number of trains the station can handle. As Britomart station is by far the most popular station on the network, a bottleneck is created which limits the number of trains that can operate on the entire network. The CRL opens up the capacity of the entire network by turning the Britomart cul-de-sac into a ‘through route’, ensuring we get value for money from the rail network and significantly enhancing the capacity of Auckland’s public transport network. The City Rail Link creates a second rail entrance to the city centre (from Mt Eden), doubling the number of trains that can enter the city centre at any one time. Capacity is further increased through the reduction of conflicting movements on the rail network as trains do not have to ‘turn around’ and return the way they came – they can simply keep on going. The CRL is a necessary prerequisite to any future expansion of the rail network in Auckland.

The CRL will not cost $3 billion

The 2011 business case review confirmed a cost estimate of $2.4 billion; however note that this also includes other network upgrades such as double tracking the Onehunga Line and the cost of additional trains. More recent estimates expect the cost of land purchases, constructing the tunnel itself, the three new stations and track works to be under $2 billion.

Central Government is not funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network in Auckland

We assume that the $1.6 billion figure quoted is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

Project Dart has been completed now and included double tracking of the Western Line, station upgrades including Newmarket Station and New Lynn Station, reinstating the Onehunga line and the new Manukau spur line. This was funded from the 2006 budget which precedes National forming a Government.

Funding for electrification infrastructure was initiated in the 2007 budget, with an appropriation for both Wellington and Auckland track upgrades. When National came to power, the regional fuel tax funding mechanism was stopped and the electrification project was put on hold. Eventually this went ahead and was paid for, as I understand it, from nationwide fuel taxes.

Auckland’s new electric trains are being funded by way of a loan which is repayable by Auckland at commercial rates of interest. It is noted that National contributed a crown grant of $90m to procure more electric trains than originally specified. NZTA are also contributing to the loan repayments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs.

At the same time, Auckland Transport track access fees to KiwiRail were increased to in excess of $20 million annually.

In summary, the claim that the Government is funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network is patently an exaggerated and misleading claim. The current budget includes little in the way of future funding for Auckland’s rail network.

Central Government is not spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland

Prompted by an earlier claim in the media from your office that $890m has been budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years, I wrote to your office seeking clarification on where this figure came from. As you will be aware, you directed my enquiry to the NZTA, who responded with the following:

For clarification, the $890 million is the combined committed expenditure from the National Land Transport Fund (administered by the NZTA) and funding from Auckland Council for Auckland public transport services and infrastructure, between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015. The NZTA’s share of the $890 million is $488 million. This is made up of $449 million for public transport services and $39 million for public transport infrastructure.

Almost half of the quoted figure comes from Auckland Council ratepayers, not from central Government. Without diminishing the fact that $488m over three years is a substantial commitment from the NLTF, it is misleading to be implying $790 or $890 million is being spent by central Government, when clearly it is not.

In summary, I hope you have found this information helpful in understanding more about the City Rail Link, and that we now have a common understanding of the project objectives and costs.

You will be aware that we have previously sought to meet with you, and again we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss Auckland transport issues in more detail in the near future. Please advise if this is possible.

As a side note, my understanding is that Gerry Brownlee is the first transport minister who has refused to meet with the CBT as even Steven Joyce did.

National; we have a problem

In yesterday’s post Matt covered this recent article by Brian Rudman.

The crux of the issue is that the National Government – under the guise of the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill – is proposing to remove Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.

In the brave new world created by the LTMA Bill, Auckland Transport will have to develop a Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) that “is consistent with” the Government Policy Statement on Transport. In contrast, this RLTP need only to consider the regional transport objectives established by Auckland Council.

For those who are not used to Big Brother policy-speak, “consider” is what you do when you flip through a report looking at the pictures before turfing it in the recycling bin.

The relevant section of the Bill is shown below (page 15).

RLTP requirements2

Hence, the Bill proposes to establish a clear policy hierarchy, where central government’s GPS has precedence over Auckland Council’s transport objectives. The change in hierarchy is subtle but oh so significant.

The Bill then goes on to explicitly remove Auckland Transport’s ability (established in the LGACA 2009, when Auckland Council was formed) to delegate responsibilities for developing the RLTP (either in part or in whole) to Auckland Council:

Delegation

Consequential indeed. The intended (and practical) effect of the proposed legislative changes is that Auckland Transport becomes an implementation tool for the National Government, rather than one of the Auckland Council. On a superficial level this immediately renders the term “Council Controlled Organisation” (CCO) something of a misnomer – Auckland Transport may as well just merge with the Auckland offices of the MoT and NZTA and be done with it.

I think there are, however, deeper and more fundamental issues with the proposed legislative amendments. In my opinion, one of the primary issues with the LTMA Bill – as it is currently drafted – is the degree to which it undermines the (already tenuous) connection between taxation and representation. This connection has been a bedrock of conservative political thinking ever since the American War of Independence.

More specifically, the thinking behind the LTMA Bill fails to acknowledge that it is the people of Auckland who collectively pay for transport projects in our region, by way of user charges and local taxes (actually Auckland historically more than pays for its transport projects – to the benefit of other regions).

One might argue, then, that Central Government does not actually “fund” transport in Auckland in any meaningful sense – they simply distribute hypothecated fuel excise duties that are collected from users. It is actually Local Government that does most of the “funding” – insofar as the money they contribute is collected not from users but instead via taxes. The collection and application of these funds are subsequently open to normal democratic debate.

In my view, one of the fundamental tasks of the Central and Local Government agencies involved in funding transport is identifying projects that align with the preferences of the people who might use, or be impacted by, the transport system. In turn, I have not seen much evidence to suggest that Central Government is better placed to represent the preferences of these people. In fact most people view transport as one of the key functions of Local Government.

There is also no reason to expect that preferences are homogenous at the national level. People in Auckland, for example, are likely to have different transport preferences from people who live in Rangitikei. The former probably walk/cycle and use public transport considerably more than the latter.

Differences in preferences are one reason why certain types of people choose to live in cities, and vice versa in rural areas. Put simply, people will partly “self-select” their location based on how it reflects their transport preferences. This might imply that Local Government is actually better placed to understand transport needs than Central Government.

Moreover, in most parts of New Zealand the majority of travel demands are regional or local, rather than national. The last time I looked, approximately 90% of the vehicles using Auckland’s state highway network, for example, were associated with regional/local travel demands. Put simply, most of our travel occurs locally or regionally.

All this seems to suggest that Local Government should have quite a bit of say on how transport funds are applied.

The underlying principle being invoked here is called the principle of subsidiarity. This principle is embedded in European Law and seems to hold general appeal across the political spectrum, for quite understandable reasons. In short, the principle argues for governance functions to be devolved to the lowest possible level at which they can be delivered effectively and efficiently.

Last year the NZ Productivity Commission – instigated by the National Government – produced this issues paper on local government regulatory performance. The paper discussed – and generally extolled – the merits of subsidiarity. The section of their report titled “Factors that may be relevant in allocating regulatory roles” (pg. 28) contains this cutesy diagram:

NZPC on subsidiarity

What this illustrates is that the “local customised” approach to public policy more accurately reflects differences in the population’s underlying preferences. And that – put simply – makes the affected people better off. In contrast, the “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting transport policy, which is what the LTMA Bill proposes for Auckland, is likely to result in some people – especially those who use public transport and who walk/cycle – much less happy.

I’d suggest the National Government has a major problem on its hands, and one that is entirely of its own making. How do National reconcile the LTMA Bill with the concepts of taxation/representation, as well as the more general principle of subsidiarity? In my opinion you can’t; what is being proposed in the LTMA Bill is nothing less than a naked power grab.

I’m actually rather outraged by what is being proposed here. As an Aucklander who is interested in transport, I’d like all the National MPs in Auckland to front up and tell us why they think it’s appropriate for Central Government to place their transport agenda ahead of Auckland’s democratically elected councillors.

Can Aucklanders not decide for ourselves what sort of transport projects our rates and fuel excise duties should fund? Or does Nanny National always know best? And I have not even mentioned land use and transport integration, which is another strong argument for retaining Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.

If you’re as concerned as I am by what is proposed in the LTMA Bill then I’d suggest you send your local National MP (listed below [source]) an email and let them know how you feel, or possibly just point them to this post. Go well.

National MPs in Auckland

The government’s annoying funding myth

Over the last few weeks there has been a renewed media focus on Auckland’s transport issues. This has been spurred on by  two main events the first was the Green Party launching their Reconnect Auckland campaign and the second was the announcement of alternative funding options to help pay for future transport projects.  Along with that it has seen a resurgence of an annoying myth that members of the government like to perpetrate. In an effort to try and make their transport policy sound more balanced than it actually is they love to state that the government has invested $1.6 billion into the rail network. Government MPs talk about it on social networks or at meetings, Gerry Brownlee mentioned it in his recent interview on Campbell live and Steven Joyce, repeated it this morning on The Nation (on TV3).

Now $1.6 billion certainly sounds like a lot of money and of course it is. It is also true that it the amount of money that central government has, or will be spend on rail up until the electrification project has been completed. The issue I have is that a decent proportion of the money was approved or spent before the current government even came into office. So let’s look at the figure a bit more closely, the $1.6 billion can be boiled down into three key areas:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

As the government are using the total figure to suggest that they are investing in a more balanced transport system, the question becomes whether the money was invested by the current government or not, so lets have a look.

Project Dart

Amongst other improvements it included double tracking the western line, various station upgrades, the Newmarket Station and changes to the junction, the New Lynn trench and station, reinstating the Onehunga Line, building the Manukau branch line. Kiwirails page on the project also states:

The 2006 Budget included funding of up to $600 million for rail infrastructure improvements to speed development of the Auckland network.

So yes this was paid for by central government but as you can see, funding started before the current government came to power which was late in 2008. Of course not all funding is spent in one year and as Brownlee said the other day, they didn’t cancel it. But even if they wanted to, how much could they have cancelled anyway?  Well probably not much.

Interestingly the funding for this project was kept out of the normal transport budget and instead is listed under the finance budget. The government’s budget documents for the  2006/2007 financial year shows that the money was to be spent over a four year period and it was only the fourth year that National had any control over the budget. By then pretty much all of the various aspects to the project were either already completed or well under way meaning it was probably impossible to cancel anyway.

DART Funding

To me there is no way that the current government can claim the $600 million spent on Project DART as their spending or that they had anything to with it.

Electrification

This includes new signalling, modifying existing infrastructure like bridges and of course the wires themselves. Funding for electrification was initially included in the 2007 budget and was separate to the funding allocated for Project DART.

Electrification Funding

Now from memory the government intended to pay for the Auckland work via a regional fuel tax which would work in conjunction with one the region would also impose to fund other projects, including new trains. When National came to power they stopped the regional fuel tax and put a hold on the electrification project. They eventually agreed to let it go ahead and paid for it out of the nationwide fuel tax increase. It is however quite clear that funding for the project was initiated in 2007, over a year before National came to power.

Electric Trains

There is obviously not much point in paying $500 million for electrification without trains to run under the wires. As mentioned, the original electrification proposal was to see Auckland pay for the trains out of a regional fuel tax imposed by the regional council. The national governments cancelling of that fuel tax took that funding option off the table. When they finally agreed to let the project go ahead it was announced that the trains would be paid for by way of a loan that Auckland would have to pay back (without the extra source of funding). Worse still was that even after paying back the loan the proposal meant that Auckland still wouldn’t own the trains, Kiwirail would, however this has now changed and Auckland will own the trains directly.

Since then there has been some positive news, it was announced that Auckland would end up getting more electric trains that first proposed, that was partly possible due to better than originally expected exchange rates along with the government kicking in an extra $90 million. The NZTA are also going to contribute to the loan payments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs however oddly it turns out that the government appears to be clipping the ticket on the loan by charging a margin on top of their cost of funding.

EMU painted 3

The first EMU will be here in a few months time

So when the government states that they have invested $1.6 billion in to rail in Auckland, it is frankly untrue. In fact the only new funding they seem to have provided is the extra $90 million they provided to buy extra EMUs and the 50% share of funding for loan repayments. Other than that all of the funding is the same as what was agreed to before they came to office.