There has been an impression over the past while about how the government has adopted a more conciliatory approach to transport in Auckland. In some respects this is true, as they’re no longer getting in the way of quickly progressing the City Rail Link, they stumped up the Urban Cycleway Fund which is delivering some fantastic projects, and through ATAP there’s now alignment between the council and government on Auckland’s future transport needs including expanding the rapid transit network and a more open mind to road pricing. These are all very good things that are a big step forwards from where we were 4-5 years ago.
However, in other respects it seems that relatively little has changed. We still see crazy boondoggle motorway projects being announced before a proper business case has been done. We still see the highly sensible proposal for a regional fuel tax being knocked back for no good reason. And, when it comes to the Government’s most important transport document – the Government Policy Statement (GPS) – we still see a very State Highways focused strategy for transport.
This is the fifth GPS created since legislation was changed in 2008 requiring the document to be prepared. Only four of those have ever actually taken effect though, as the GPS released by the Labour government in mid-2008 was quickly replaced in early 2009 by the new National government. Each GPS provides a variety of strategic directions, objectives and measures, but where the GPS really has “teeth” is in defining upper and lower bounds for how much NZTA can spend on different funding areas – known as “activity classes”. By way of example here are the “funding bands” in the 2015 GPS (we don’t yet have the full 10 year bands for the current Draft GPS):
The real impact of these “funding bands” is that they prevent NZTA from continuing to spend in an area once that “allocation” has been used up, regardless of the merit of that potential investment. So, for example, even if a public transport project had a fantastic cost-benefit ratio and aligned really strongly with the strategic direction outlined in the GPS (and how NZTA gives effect to the GPS through more a more detailed framework), if there are too many PT projects in any given year then NZTA will be unable to fund them.
Given that this is the 5th GPS to be released, we can track how the proportion of investment in activity classes has changed over time. This task is made a bit more difficult as some of the activity class names have changed (for example PT services and PT infrastructure used to be separate but were then merged). To get around this issue and to also simplify it a bit, I’ve narrowed things down to State Highways (both improvements and maintenance), Local Roads (also both improvements and maintenance), Public Transport, Walking & Cycling, Road Policing and Other. While GPS’ are 10 year documents, we only need to consider the first three years as that’s how often the GPS is refreshed. I’ve summed the upper and lower bands for each three year period which is shown as the lighter shade. The (L) and (N) signify a Labour or National Minister of Transport who released the document:
What immediately stands out is how massively State Highway investment has grown over the course of time, nearly doubling from under $4 billion in Labour’s 2009 GPS to over $7 billion in the most recent draft. This has primarily been to fund the government’s expensive Roads of National Significance. Other areas have either remained fairly similar (road policing), grown slowly (local roads) or declined (public transport). Public transport funding is only just getting back to the level originally proposed in 2009 by Labour in the new Draft for 2018-21.
What’s also important to remember is that the overall size of the NLTF grows each year, so it’s worth looking at how the proportions have changed over time. For this I have used the “upper limit” of the funding bands as they are the most crucial in determining what NZTA can and cannot fund.
The most stark change is for State Highways, which have gone up from 42% of total investment in the 2009 GPS to around 55% in the most recent. Public transport, on the other hand, has declined from 14% in the 2009 GPS to 10% in both the 2015 and 2018 documents. Even Local Roads investment has declined, from 25% in 2009 to 22% in the 2018 plan.
Regardless of arguments about modes, it seems like we have a strategic approach to transport funding that is continuously putting more and more eggs in the basket of State Highway improvements. Many of these large State Highway projects have struggled to generate good cost-benefit ratios (another way of saying they’re pretty crap value for money) so it seems odd that we keep shovelling more and more money into them.
Over the next few weeks we will gather some key submission points and put together something to help you make a submission on the draft GPS. Feedback closes at 5pm on March 31.
Yesterday the Ministry of Transport released for consultation the Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) for 2018-2025. The GPS is refreshed every three years and as the name implies, it sets out the government’s policies and spending for transport over a 10-year horizon.
The single most important aspect of the GPS are the funding ranges for each of the 10 activity areas. The funding ranges set an upper and lower limit of how much money will be spent on each activity every year. These ranges are then used by the NZTA in conjunction with regional councils in setting the more detailed National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) and Regional Land Transport Plans (RLTPs) which will list specific funding levels. This is how the various transport documents are tied together and as you can see, other regional and national plans have to be consistent with or give effect to the GPS, meaning there aren’t a lot of options to stray from what the government wants.
In total, over $11 billion is expected to be spent over the six years from 2018 to 2024 but depending on circumstances that could be as high as over $12 billion.
And importantly, here are the individual funding ranges as a graph. This looks at the total range over three years and I’ve included the 2012-15 and 2015-18 figures as a comparison to show how they’re changing. Some notable things you can see:
- There is another significant increase for state highway improvements. Many of the big Roads of National Significance projects will be winding up over that 3-year period but other expensive projects, such as the East West Link and Northern Corridor are expected to getting underway.
- They’re lowering the bracket for local road projects saying it was consistently under spent but that the opposite is true of local road maintenance.
- On top of the State Highways fund, there is a separate activity for regional projects which they admit are mostly state highway projects too.
- Public Transport gets some improvements in range but it’s worth noting that this covers both services and infrastructure. Also with NZ’s weird funding rules, it isn’t allowed to be spent on rail infrastructure.
- Walking and cycling does get a little boost but not a significant one.
To give an idea of where investment has been in the past, this shows the funding ranges for the 2015-18 NLTP and where within those ranges funding was allocated.
Much of the text within the document feels like it has just been copied and pasted from previous versions of the GPS but I went through (most) of it anyway and a couple of things stood out.
The document states that the GPS takes into consideration a range of government policies relevant to transport, this includes the Kaikoura earthquake and tsunami recovery. But oddly it makes multiple references to the fact it doesn’t fully take into account the ATAP work agreed between the government and the council as it’s waiting on funding decisions. This makes me nervous that the government are planning on picking and choosing from ATAP.
30. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project is a collaborative exercise between Auckland local government and central government officials. It has provided analysis to inform the development of the GPS. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project identified four key strategic challenges and a strategic approach to investment for Auckland. The strategic approach looks to make better use of existing networks, target investment to the most significant challenges, and maximise new opportunities to influence travel demand.
31. The draft GPS 2018 recognises the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and Kaikoura earthquake but does not fully take the funding implications of Auckland Transport Alignment Project into account. There is expected to be changes to the final GPS 2018 once funding decisions have been made.
Previous GPS’ have talked a lot about getting value for money from transport investment while at the same time promoting programmes like the RoNS and other government initiatives that assessment has shown to perform poor economically. Now they’re starting to drop the charade government projects will be good value and saying they’ll be done anyway, simply because the government like them. This is a massive double standard from the government who have for years berated Auckland for projects they claim have a low economic value.
36. It is expected that maximising value for money will automatically advance economic growth and productivity and road safety. However, there will be investments with a low benefit cost return that are necessary to advance Government policies. In these cases there will need to be a strong policy alignment (as expressed in the GPS) with Government policies and transparency about the reason for the decision.
61. For many investments it will be possible to obtain good benefit cost returns while providing the right infrastructure and services at the best cost. However to sufficiently advance some government policies, investments may require a lower than normal benefit cost return (i.e. less than the average Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP). Even in these cases, in general it is expected that the benefit cost ratio will at least exceed one.
One thing to remember about the GPS is that it only covers some areas of transport which seems short-sighted, even if they claim there will be integration with other modes.
39. Investment in movement of freight by road is covered by the GPS, but investment in movement of freight by rail, sea and air is not. However, coordination between the GPS and those responsible for different modes of transport can help to maximise the benefits of transport to the economy.
There are a few positive things to say about public transport and the role it has to play, such as:
115. Significant increases in public transport capacity have seen more people using and relying on public transport in the main metropolitan areas. These increases have occurred alongside increasing fare box recovery, indicating that the investment is resulting in more efficient outcomes.
116. The GPS will support this result by:
- continuing to invest in public transport, including modal integration where appropriate
- continuing the momentum set by GPS 2015 to increase the efficiency of public transport investment
Yet at the same time, they make some odd statements such as that forecasts are overly optimistic.
Passenger numbers have increased recently and are forecast to increase in Auckland and Wellington over the short term (and in Christchurch in the medium term). Although forecasts of increased passenger numbers have typically been overly optimistic. Auckland and Wellington public transport plans are based on an increased public transport task.
Fare box recovery rates have improved in Auckland and Wellington. Currently expenditure is in the middle of the funding range.
The proposal is for a gradual increase in the funding range to cover forecast passenger growth and for some public transport infrastructure work (such as park and ride facilities).
There is a need to keep focus on value for money, and ensure fare box recovery rates are at the expected levels.
Over optimistic forecasts, that’s a bit rich coming from the MoT, for example remember this graph showing actual vs forecast vehicle travel.
Of the big investments in PT in the last decade, the rail network and the busway, in both cases they are performing ahead of expectations. In the case of the rail network, we are ahead of those expectations despite the trains taking about 2 years longer to fully enter service like the earlier assessments had identified. We’re also performing ahead of the MoT’s expectations when it comes to ridership for the CRL. At one point, they claimed we wouldn’t meet the 20 million trips by 2020 yet at current rates, we’ll hit it this calendar year.
Consultation on the GPS is open till the end of March.
Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.
The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’ it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.
Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.
Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:
All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.
People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.
There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.
However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.
Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.
The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:
- current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
- the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
- the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
- the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
- and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities
being missed in our only city of scale
. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…
The NZTA yesterday announced the what it would fund over the next three years as part of its National Land Transport Programme 2015-18 (NLTP). The NLTP combines funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) – which is essentially road/fuel taxes, council rates and from other government funding sources such as for the spend up on regional roads announced last year.
The headline figure is that over the next three years $13.9 billion will be spent on transport which is about 15% more than the 2012-15 NLTP and of which about $10.5 billion comes from the NLTF. Most of the rest comes from local councils through rates. Where the money comes from and where it is being spent is quite well shown in this graphic from the NZTA.
As you can see above the vast bulk of the funding is going on building new and maintaining existing roads. Of the $5.5 billion for road improvements the majority (almost $4.2 billion) is going towards State Highways. None of this is particularly surprising as it’s a continuation of the trend we’ve seen for a few years now and one that has been continued with the current Government Policy Statement (GPS) which the NLTP has to give effect to. The GPS doesn’t set specific funding levels but it does provide funding ranges for each category. Just how the actual investment in this programme compares with it’s GPS funding range for each category is shown below. You an quite see quite clearly that for State Highways the funding level is well above the midpoint set by the government – although interestingly local roads are at the bottom of their range (note: this is just for funding from the NLTF so doesn’t include rates).
One area that is at the top of its range is walking and cycling where the NZTA are putting in over $100 million which is on top of the $96 million from governments Urban Cycling Fund.
One aspect I was interested in was how the money is divided up across the regions. A lot was said about how Auckland is getting ~$4.2 billion in funding however when you look at on a per person basis (using Stats 2014 population estimates) it appears Auckland is spending about the National average while it’s the Waikato doing pretty well.
Just looking specifically at Auckland around $4.2 billion will be spent over three years. I find the press release and other information about this investment quite odd as it seems the NZTA are doing everything they can to avoid saying how much their spending on roads. They focus attention on the $1.175 billion going towards Public Transport (of which only about $176 million is for new PT Infrastructure and services), on the $960 million on road maintenance and the $91 million on cycling yet there is very little focus on the over $2.1 billion being spent on roads, $1.8b of which is state highways.
There are also a few other things I picked up on, including:
- The term Congestion Free is entering the NZTA’s lexicon
Mr Zöllner says Auckland’s future depends on a strategic joined up approach to both its motorway and local road network, along with critical public transport, walking and cycling networks, to ensure highly reliable, dedicated and congestion free travel.
- It is claimed that spending $960 million on maintenance will help ease congestion, I’m not quite sure how that will work.
- That the changes to the Northern Motorway will include the design and consenting for extending the busway to Albany which is good although no actual construction on it will happen within this time. They also say the motorway widening is only to address predictions of large travel demand in the future i.e. there is no proof it will actually happen and of course any predictions of large demand for PT seem to be ignored, especially by the government.
These projects aim to address predictions of large travel delays in peak times within the next decade, and provide alternative travel options.
- The NZTA are now talking about the package of works to widen the southern motorway between Manukau and Papakura as part of the route between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. As such seem to be lumping in the time savings from other projects such as the Waikato Expressway to claim the works will help save 30 minutes. This is odd seeing as one of the reasons they lost the Basin Reserve Flyover was that they lumped in time savings from other projects.
- It’s been cut from the online version but in the original emailed version of the press release they claim the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway will save up to 30 minutes, odd seeing as it only currently takes about 20 minutes now except for about four days a year in a single direction.
Road of National Significance, providing a safer, more reliable connection between Auckland and Northland by extending the four-lane Northern Motorway (SH1) to Warkworth. The project is estimated to cut 30 minutes from journey times in peak periods.
- This map shows where the NZTA is investing. It seems to me that the symbols are way off in some places and also minimise the impact of massive projects such as Waterview which only gets a single icon for all the North Western work that’s happening.
One of my big concerns about the PT funding in particular is that it simply won’t be enough investment to cope with the increase in demand. The NZTA say they think with this investment that over the next three years PT patronage will increase to 21%. Given we’ve had roughly a 10% increase in patronage over the last year alone and we still have the New Network, integrated fares and the completed roll out of the new electric trains that 21% figure seems a little undercooked.
Lastly I think the NZTA deserve credit for how they’ve made the NLTP data available. Through this table you can select any combination of activity classes and regions and get a list of every single project that will be funded from the NLTF and also download all of the data easily.
In this fourth post reviewing the 2014 I’ll look at the topics not already covered.
Central Government Election
2014 was dominated – either directly or indirectly by the central government elections which is not surprising considering how much impact the government has on transport and urban policy. In the end National had a fairly comfortable win which means not much change from a political point of view although as mentioned in Tuesdays post, they have now committed more money to cycling which is helpful.
New Transport Minister
Related to the election, Prime Minister John Key reshuffled his cabinet around and we now have a new Minister of Transport in Simon Bridges. We are hoping to be able to meet Simon and will keep trying in 2015. So far there seems little sign of a change in position between him and his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, although he has taken a notable liking to the idea of self-driving cars.
Government Policy Statement
The Government Policy Statement – which dominates transport planning and spending in the country – was released and showed little change on its predecessors. It will still see the majority of money for transport spend on new and improved state highways of which most of that is earmarked for the hand-picked RoNS projects.
Council Long Term Plan
Next year the council must sign off a new 10 year budget – the Long Term Plan – and the mayor’s proposal emerged this year. It’s had a few minor changes by the council but effectively sees rates increases capped at 3.5%. One of the hardest hit areas from this has been transport which has had funding slashed. This has left us in a sticky mess where the funding available enables means many key projects – such as interchanges that are fundamental to enable key changes such as the new bus network are unfunded.
Tied in with this has been a separate stream of work looking at alternative funding methods to plug a funding gap previously identified and looking closely at options of tolling motorways or additional rates. The utterly terrible situation with the basic transport package very much seems like a way to force Aucklander’s to agree to additional funding rather than addressing the elephant in the room of the insane state highway spending by the government. The LTP goes out to consultation in a few weeks and it will likely dominate a lot of discussion in the first half of this year.
Great International Visitors
- This year we’ve had some great visitors as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations talks. This includes
- Janette Sadik Kahn
- The Brunrlett’s
- Brent Toderian (again)
- Professor Peter Newman
- Gordon Price (again)
- and many others.
Special Housing Areas
During 2014 two new tranches of Special Housing Areas were announced considerably increasing the number across Auckland. These are the areas where the Unitary Plan rules come into effect immediately and the council uses a fast tracked consenting process. Despite them all there has been little progress on actually building houses in most of them and it seems a lot of developers who pushed to receive SHA status did so just for some capital gains.
Auckland Construction Boom
In 2014 it seems like the Auckland construction scene burst back to life after a few quiet years with a huge number of projects announced. These were primarily residential projects such as apartments. The biggest of the lot is likely to be the NDG Auckland Centre for which a 209m high tower is proposed on the empty site bordering Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. The tower and retail podium will link directly into the Aotea station on the CRL
Earlier this year our friend and urban designer Stuart Houghton set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. We have been running these throughout the second half of the year – with some still to go. There have been some fantastic ideas and conversations that have resulted from this work. Thanks Stuart for your contributions to making Auckland better.
Lastly it’s been another fantastic year for the blog with more and more people reading it, something we really appreciate. I’d also like to thanks my fellow bloggers and everyone else who has helped contribute this year. All up including this post there we’ve published 908 posts, had over 33,100 comments. According to Google Analytics we’ve had over 900,000 visitors and have serve up over 1.7 million page views which is up about 20% on 2013. In total 65% of our readers are from Auckland and 82% are from NZ.
I hope you all have a great 2015.
Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can expect for 2015 plus a few predictions
Simon Bridges has released the final version of the 2015/16 – 2024/25 Government Policy Statement (GPS) following on from the draft version earlier this year. The GPS is effectively the top dog when it comes to transport funding and policy as in the words of the minister:
The Government Policy Statement on land transport (the GPS) sets out the Government’s strategic and policy goals for land transport, as well as the funding direction necessary to achieve them. It guides not only an investment of $3.4 to $4.4 billion per annum from central government, but around $1.0 billion a year from local government.
The GPSs relationship to other key planning documents is shown below.
Very little has changed from the draft version we saw with the Ministry of Transport saying some of the changes are:
- The upper ranges of funding available for public transport have increased, so up to $115 million more will be available for public transport projects between 2015/16 and 2024/25. This takes the potential spending on public transport to a total of $4.585 billion.
- The objectives set down in the final GPS 2015 have been amended to ensure they are clearer and more well-defined. A new ‘efficiency’ objective has been added, while the ‘demand’ objective has been clarified so it refers to access to social and economic opportunities.
- A definition of major metropolitan areas (reflecting the Statistics New Zealand definition) has been added, clarifying those areas which are eligible for funding under the Regional Improvements activity class.
- The Auckland Transport Package (announced by the Government in 2013), Accelerated Regional Roading Package (announced in August 2014) and the Urban Cycleways Package (announced in September 2014) have been referenced throughout GPS 2015. While funding for these will be provided in addition to funding for activity classes, the packages will be considered and undertaken in a way consistent with other projects funded under the GPS.
- The role that technology and innovation can play in managing network access and capacity has been reflected throughout the document, including the new crosscutting reporting line which will ensure technology investments (and the returns on these investments) will be transparently recorded.
In other words there’s been some tweaking around the edges but no significant change. That means there is still some massive hypocrisy and double standards contained within the document. As a quick example, while noting that vehicle travel has basically flat-lined and will “remain more muted than in previous economic cycles“, the maximum possible funding for state highways increases by 4%. By comparison almost all talk in the document about improving PT services comes with the caveat of “if justified by demand“. Simplified you could say PT investment has to justify its existence but road investment doesn’t.
Related, the maximum possible funding for PT increases by 3.5% per annum and the MoT say “This rate of increase reflects current and projected patronage growth“. Of course that level of projected patronage growth only exists because of the level of funding being made available limiting services. If Auckland Transport had more funding they could roll out the new network much faster and of course by doing so we would see stronger patronage growth much sooner.
One of the key things about the GPS is the funding ranges it sets. These funding ranges are meant to give the NZTA some (small) amount of flexibility when setting the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which sets out the projects that are likely to be funded. The NZTA could theoretically use the maximum funding ranges in some categories at the expense of others however overall the exact amounts selected tends to be closer to the midpoint between the upper and lower figures.
And using the mid-point between the two figures, this graph highlights where the money is going over the next decade.
In terms of the maximum extra $115m possible for PT, for the next three years the difference between the draft and the final version over the next 4 years are compared to the draft are just $5 million in 2016/17 and $10 million in 2017/18.
In addition to the table above the GPS also lists the funding outside of the categories above, in other words money the government is paying directly for transport projects such as the governments $100m Urban Cycleway funding that they announced in the lead up to the election. One of the things that’s odd about that particular funding stream is it seems to be broken up into state highways and local roads elements which is something that hadn’t been mentioned before.
Overall the direction of transport policy has changed little since 2008/09 and the focus remains on building massive state highway projects – most with low value outcomes – while the areas of the transport system that are seeing the most growth get ignored.
John Key by Platon
On the Monday night after his impressive victory in the election the Prime Minister presented a very statesman like and inclusive tone in an interview on Campbell Live:
“I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders” was a quote from Mr Key’s acceptance speech that stood out for many, writes Campbell.
Throughout the interview he gives a strong impression that he has no intention of standing still in the glow of this endorsement, he clearly has ambitions to cement his appeal across as a broad spectrum of the public as possible. If he is to achieve this then it will likely involve reaching across traditional divides in policy to bring even more people into his camp. Of course he will also want to carry his base with him if he is to initiate anything new, so it will need to be acceptable to general market-led philosophy even if novel for National otherwise.
The other increasingly important issue to him now will be thoughts of legacy, of history’s judgement. I see an appetite for more than ‘steady as she goes’ for this term, both in terms of building for another or if it were to be his swansong. I believe we can expect a more creative and dynamic John Key, looking to make a make a mark beyond being a good manager and a great salesman:
Robert Muldoon’s ambition, “to leave the country in no worse shape than I found it”, Mr Key describes as having an incredibly low ambition.
“I want to leave the country in better shape than I found it,” he says. [ibid]
It is certainly the case that Key has a unique opportunity to be bold, especially within his own party, as no Prime Minister in recent memory has such a strong position to carry even the most sceptical and conservative caucus or cabinet into unfamiliar waters. But where are the opportunities for change?
I will argue here that there is one area that he can certainly do this, that is consistent with modern market-led conservatism [if less so with our own rather parochial traditions], that it is consistent with his type of leadership, and importantly, is already working for those he admires overseas. Furthermore he has already shown some movement in this direction. This opportunity is for him to position his government as the driver of the economic transformation already underway in our cities, and in particular in our one city of scale: Auckland [but not exclusively].
This is to place Key in the similar mould as the UK’s David Cameron [who he expressly admires] and other right of centre leaders such as London Mayor Boris Johnson and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. These are three modern conservative leaders who have built their reputations in large part by championing the power of cities for economic, environmental, and social transformation.
John Key could go down in history as the man who added a new layer to New Zealand’s economy and identity: the man who added another support to our currently somewhat unstable economic structure, and added another, urban, thread to our social fabric, and who began the turnaround in our environmental performance. And it all starts in our cities.
This does not involve abandoning nor neglecting the countryside, that is already getting huge attention from this government which should continue. But that this is an additional opportunity to add to that work which would remain at the core of his government’s activity.
And conditions are perfect. This is the moment to seize. This is the direction being taken by governments and cities everywhere in the developed world, while perhaps radical here, it is rapidly becoming orthodox and necessary policy to invest in changing urban form to compete for talent and new business. It can be argued that this government has been lucky with the soft commodities boom but that now that is clearly on the wane, but we have already seen that the services sector is already there to at least soften that blow:
Gross Domestic Product rose by 0.7% in the June quarter, according to Statistics NZ, driven by strong growth in the services sector.
The main driver was a 4.2% increase in business services activity, which was partially offset by a 2.8% decline in agriculture, forestry and fishing.
There is economic growth to foster in town and it has different needs to the traditional industries based in the countryside. And we need as a country to diversify our economic base. Urban areas and Auckland in particular are growing in population, activity, and infrastructure requirement and offer just such an opportunity:
Data source: http://www.motu.org.nz/publications/detail/a_new_zealand_urban_population_database
A leader who rejects the mistaken idea that urban growth must somehow be restricted for the rest of the nation to prosper will be the one that can ride this economic force for the good of the whole country. And again Auckland in particular seems right now to be at the sweet spot in terms of scale, density, and growth for this boon. Furthermore his government has already set the foundation for a new urban policy with two earlier decisions that are now bearing fruit: the Super City amalgamation and the electrification of the rail network.
Also because of both the existing conditions in our cities and in the stated preference of their citizens there is actually much less risk to such a pro-urban policy change than it may seem to anyone familiar with the usual cliches of New Zealand Party politics. While it would be a bold move for a leader of the ‘country Party’ that is actually the genius in the idea. It seems clear to me that the notion that National must force the same policies on the cities as fit their core constituents in the provinces is as flawed as the corollary that other parties must try to force urban conditions onto rural communities. This is a lazy idea can can be easily blown open by confident leadership. Different horses for these two courses is clearly what is required for the good of all.
At the core of the policy difference required between urban and country areas is in the type of transport infrastructure investments that have the most effective outcomes. Roads, Ports, Rail for freight, are needed in the countryside. Cities need these too, but they also need the spatial efficiency of quality passenger transport systems. And nowhere is this more true than in Auckland right now.
Let’s consider the evidence: Stated preference, revealed preference, and overseas examples.
1. Stated Preference:
Such an astute student of public opinion polls and changes in sentiment will not miss the profound changes happening in cities all across the world and clearly in evidence in Auckland? Here is what Aucklanders say their city needs:
Ok well this is all very good, but are they voting with their feet, are they using the public transport there already is? Well yes:
2. Revealed Preference:
This century has shown a very strong growth in uptake of our often substandard-but-improving Public Transport systems. Here is a recent example, the latest figures for the rail network:
And if we look at the figures in detail one very very clear theme stands out loud and clear: The services that approach Rapid Transit standards, ie are on their own right of way, have a high frequency, and offer better quality service are the ones that are growing way above all else. In Auckland that means the improving rail network and the buses using the Northern Busway, each of which attracted around 18% more users this August than last.
And in particular all of the growth in numbers accessing the vital economic heart that is the City Centre has been met by our Transit Systems. Especially Rail and the NEX, but also walking, cycling, and ferry use. So much so that the economic value of the City Centre can only grow through these modes, space for private vehicle access is finite and to try to expand it can only come at considerable cost to the economic performance and appeal of the area.
3. Overseas Example:
Mr Cameron said: “Big infrastructure projects like Crossrail are vital for the economy of London and the rest of Britain. They are the foundation-stone on which business can grow, compete and support jobs
From coverage of a visit by David Cameron and Boris Johnson to the tunnels of the Crossrail project in the Telegraph.
Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail
Crossrail, while in fact the third layer of underground rail for London, is, on a scaled basis, very similar to Auckland’s City Rail Link project. While it is much bigger and much more expensive it does exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. It comprises of a core section underground through the Centre of the City that connects to existing rail lines that reach out into the edges of the city. So while the new work is under the centre the reach and value of the project is spread right to the peripheries. It brings a new capacity to a growing Centre that is extremely spatially efficient: it delivers the economic power of concentrations of people without occupying land and buildings or clogging streets with vehicles.
But the key point here is in the UK, as in the US, understanding of the economic value of urban passenger transport systems is not captured by one side of the political divide. In fact the most dynamic conservative leaders, like Cameron, Johnson, and Bloomberg are leading the charge on these projects. Because they make the most economic sense in cities.
CROSSRAIL BUSINESS CASE SUMMARY REPORT
The Crossrail Business Case Summary Report published in July 2010 presents the latest update of the business case for Crossrail, a new world-class and affordable railway across London.
The report confirms the project is supported by the Coalition Government and forms a key part of theMayor’s Transport Strategy, published by the Mayor of London in May 2010.
And for Cameron as for other modern right of centre leaders it isn’t just about the biggest cities. Speaking at the launch of a programme for investment in Rail for Glasgow, Cameron said:
And for too long governments in London and Edinburgh have acted as though taking powers away from Britain’s great cities is the best way to create growth, rather than trusting the people living there to find their own specific solutions to meet their own unique needs.
Before the election our Prime Minister made a first move towards supporting the changing shape of cities by announcing a new policy to fund urban cycleways
nationally. This surely is just the start.
So, in summary, I am proposing that were John Key looking for something fresh, something that will deliver results, something that could define at least this term of his leadership if not something that could lift him up to the ranks of our greatest Prime Ministers, like King Dick Seddon, then adding Minister for Auckland, or perhaps even Minister for Urban Growth, or Minister for Cities, to his roles could be the stroke of genius he is looking for. Perhaps with Nikki Kaye as associate.
In practice this would then mean:
- Government working much more constructively with the Auckland Council and abandoning any petty obstruction that some less mature players on the right have towards it because of their dislike of Len Brown. Key is surely well above that.
- Championing the economic potential of our cities for the whole country. Showing that this does not come at the expense of the rest of the country and the primary sector in particular.
- Advancing the CRL expeditiously. After all; is there a better reading of those letters than: Centre Right Legacy?
- Recognising that the idea that efficient urban passenger transport is somehow left-wing is a curious and outdated local relic.
- Accepting the clear evidence that the top priority for the city in terms of transport infrastructure need is a full Rapid Transit System of a mixture of modes, like our CFN.
- Listening to all the evidence on urban form and housing affordability, and not just the lobbying of vested interests and the Demographia lobby who monotonically urge more sprawl, as there is so much evidence in favour of the economic efficiency of a more compact urban form leading to more international competitive cities.
- Taking seriously the opportunities that cities offer for improving our energy efficiency and environmental performance nationally.
This government has officially had a policy of being a ‘fast follower’ on climate change. In practice it has done little, fast or otherwise, and always claimed that the reason for this is that it won’t do anything to add cost to the primary produce sector. Well that doesn’t explain its failure to act in the urban areas, where transport, and especially personal transport, is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions. There is a great deal of opportunity to take on all fronts by listening to the desires of city people in the transport and housing sectors and one day some leader is going to take that opportunity. Could it be now? And could that be John Key?
“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”
Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.
Dresden 1945: Catastrophic change
There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:
- It is clear that demand growth is shifting away from driving towards the Transit and Active modes
- It is clear that spatial arrangements are shifting including a substantial revaluing of the centre
- It is clear that demographics of the city are changing to smaller households and denser communities
- It is clear that the city’s growth path is continuing; Auckland now is already city sized and getting bigger
- It is clear that environmental and geographical constrains are tightening; resource constraints in Transport sector ever more pressing
- It is clear that the urban motorway programme of the previous era is nearing completion; we are in a new phase
- It is clear that newer generations just don’t share the older ones’ ideas of what is important in urban form and how to move
It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.
However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.
Let’s have a look back.
The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.
Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:
Old ‘tram built’ suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden
And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:
After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.
In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.
Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.
And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.
Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156
Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.
We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].
Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.
So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.
What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.
Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.
Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.
Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]
Proposed transport spending distribution in millions.
Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].
So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?
It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.
Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.
Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:
by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker
Stuff have released the results of a poll they’ve conducted asking about transport funding.
Auckland has sent a clear message to the Government over its transport priorities: Give us better public transport rather than better roads.
The latest Stuff.co.nz-Ipsos poll found that nationally people wanted a government focus on better public transport over roads by a margin of 30 per cent to 24 per cent.
Another 40 per cent wanted a focus on both.
In Auckland there was much stronger backing for public transport spending, which got the nod by a four to one margin over roads among those who had a preference.
Almost 43 per cent said the focus should be on both.
For Auckland in particular the results suggest a strong support for more being spent on PT with some quick calculations suggesting 46% of respondents wanted more PT spending, followed by 43% who wanted both with just 11% wanting more spent on roads alone. Understandably the support for PT isn’t quite as strong outside of Auckland but still saw a significant number of people supporting the call for more spending on PT. I’ve put together these graphs based on the results highlight the result
Additionally when asked if the government was doing enough to address congestion once again Aucklanders voted differently to the rest of the country with the majority saying no – although to be fair I’m not sure if Aucklanders will ever think enough is being done.
There was a similar, but less pronounced, division between Auckland and the rest of the country when it came to traffic congestion.
Across the nation 57 per cent felt the Government was doing enough to ease traffic jams in their region.
Even in urban areas there was still a majority at 51 per cent backing the Government’s efforts with 42 per cent saying it was not doing enough.
But in Auckland a clear majority – 54 per cent – said the Government was falling short against 43 per cent who thought it was doing enough.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Brownlee has shrugged off the results suggesting that respondents are confused
But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee called the result a “confused” message, saying Aucklanders did not use public transport to an extent that made it truly economic.
His response shows two things:
- That he fails to grasp the difference between peoples aspirations and the reality they live in – we know that many people will only catch PT if it is rational for them to do. You could have a bus stop outside your front door but it isn’t likely to used if the buses that stop there take long convoluted and slow routes. My guess is most people probably want more investment in PT so that it becomes viable for them to use rather than the only realistic option being to drive.
- That he is confused about the economic and financial viability of transport systems. Both roads and PT provide economic benefits to the country by allowing for the movement of people and goods. Neither roads nor PT are currently financially viable and both require subsidies. PT subsidies are well known and often pointed out by those opposing investing in it however roads also require subsidies. About $1 billion a year is invested in them by local councils – which comes primarily from property rates – and the government themselves are spending additional money from outside of the transport budget on many of their flagship roading projects like the recently announced Accelerated Regional Roads Package.
As the Stuff article says
The poll will be a blow to the Government’s transport policy which has emphasised road building, and in particular its flagship Roads of National Significance, and has rebuffed calls from Auckland Mayor Len Brown for an early start to the city rail link.
National also made its roading policy the centrepiece of Prime Minister John Key’s speech to National’s annual conference, with a promise to spend $212 million from the sale of state-owned assets to upgrade 14 roads across the country.
“Team Key has always been very focused on roads,” Key said at the time.
If there’s one thing – more than anything else – that annoys me about the government’s approach to transport, it’s the double standard they apply between state highway projects (particularly RoNS projects) and public transport investment. Getting any public transport funding requires analysis after analysis, proof that the timing of the project is optimal, proof that it’s definitely the most viable and cost-effective option, links with triggers around the level of use or growth in the area the project is located – the list goes on. This would not be a problem if the approach was applied consistently, after all transport projects are expensive and we should be careful when it comes to the use of public funds.
Yet the same level of analysis is never applied to state highway projects, and even less analysis when it comes to the Roads of National Significance (RoNS). Despite major concerns around the cost-effectiveness of many of these projects and a complete lack of analysis when it comes to triggers for timing, the assessment of alternatives or even basic cost-benefit ratios the projects plough on ahead.
This double-standard is carried on through to the latest version of the Government Policy Statement (GPS), which was released recently. The justification for an $11b spend on state highways is fairly general:
Following more than a decade of increasing concern about under-investment in roading infrastructure, in 2009 the Government began a significant improvement programme. With an intention to invest nearly $11 billion in New Zealand’s State highways over the 10 years to 2019, the Government focused on enabling economic growth rather than simply responding to it, providing high quality connections between key areas of production, processing and export.
Continued funding under GPS 2015 (draft) for State highway improvements will bring benefits for national economic growth and productivity, particularly given that State highways carry most freight and link major ports, airports and urban areas.
This clearly leads to a number of questions that could be reasonably asked to check whether this is the best way of spending $11,000,000,000 of public money:
- What proof is there of recent under-investment in roading infrastructure – what’s the major problem the investment is trying to solve?
- To what extent does investing in state highway infrastructure actually boost economic growth – where are the international examples of state highways being a better investment than other transport, or investing in education, or just letting people keep that money and deciding what to do with it themselves?
- How will success of the investment in state highways be measured?
- How do we know we wouldn’t have achieved the same outcomes (or nearly the same) with a much smaller spend?
- What other options for this level of investment were considered and how did they perform on a relative basis?
- Has the investment been working (and how might we measure that), has it achieved its local goals (like reducing congestion) and has achievement of those local goals (if it’s even happened) contributed to greater economic performance to the extent we would hope from an $11b investment?
In some shape or form, these questions have all been asked of public transport investment (either recent or proposed) by government over the past few years – but surprisingly we don’t seem to have seen the same questioned asked of the state highway programme. You’ll also notice the comment about the investment enabling economic growth rather than responding to it. The only vague reference to the impact of billions spent on state highways in recent years comes in the section on Auckland:
Since 2009, the Government has undertaken a major programme of investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure. By 2017, Auckland will have a completed motorway network and an upgraded and electrified metro rail network. This investment programme is delivering significant results, helping to hold congestion steady despite population growth.
But if we back up a bit, we see the GPS noting that VKT hasn’t grown in recent years:
It seems like the GPS is saying “despite flat traffic volumes and massive investment in state highways, we haven’t managed to reduce congestion at all“. That seems to be a pretty massive elephant in the room signal that the current approach isn’t working. Yet despite some pretty obvious questions about whether we’ve got any value at all from the billions in recent state highway projects, the GPS doesn’t question ploughing billions more into future state highway spending.
Contrast that with the much more cautious approach to spending on public transport improvements:
Considerable investment has been made in the public transport network to build patronage. Much of this investment has been ahead of patronage demand, particularly in metro-rail services. A period of consolidation is needed where the focus is on securing the patronage gains anticipated from measures such as integrated ticketing, reconfigured bus networks, and metro rail investments.
No “period of consolidation” to see whether the gains from state highway improvements are realised though? No checking whether the billions spent on state highways in the past decade has led to improvements in economic performance or even reduced congestion – as per their stated goal? If we were to compare the per capita use of public transport against the per capita use of the roading network in recent years, we find quite a compelling story:
I’m kind of struggling to see how one can interpret the above graph as “we’re not sure whether the PT investment is working but clearly we need to keep spending billions on roads”.
Which is what the GPS does, showing its hypocrisy.