“The accident is not the major problem”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some misguided commentary on road safety that implied that “distracted walking” was a serious problem. It isn’t by any reasonable measure, but many of our other transport practices are unsafe.

On average, around 300 people die as a result of road crashes. Around 15 percent of the deaths are pedestrians and cyclists, who would have been perfectly fine if a motor vehicle hadn’t run into them. Another 1500 people suffer serious injuries in road crashes. And while road deaths are on a downward trend, the number of serious injuries has hardly changed over the last decade.

Some of these people chose to take on the risk of death or serious injury when they got behind the wheel. But others had the decision made for them – by someone else’s recklessness or by bad street design. So it’s worth asking: are there things that we could do to reduce these risks?

A few years back, Citylab published an excellent interview with Swedish traffic safety expert Matts-Åke Belin, who helped design Sweden’s “Vision Zero” approach to road safety:

Since approved by the Swedish parliament in October 1997, Vision Zero has permeated the nation’s approach to transportation, dictating that the government manage the nation’s streets and roads with the ultimate goal of preventing fatalities and serious injuries.

It’s a radical vision that has made Sweden an international leader in the area of road safety. When Vision Zero first launched, Sweden recorded seven traffic fatalities per 100,000 people; today, despite a significant increase in traffic volume, that number is fewer than three. To compare, the number of road fatalities in the United States is 11.6 per 100,000.

As of 2014, New Zealand had 6.5 road deaths per 100,000 people. So it’s roughly where Sweden was 20 years ago.

In the interview, Belin made one comment that particularly stuck with me:

In Vision Zero, the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured. And the reason that people get serious injuries is mainly because people have a certain threshold where we can tolerate external violence, kinetic energy. And we know quite well now how much violence we can tolerate.

One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph].

Because if you have, as we did in Sweden before, 50 kph [31 mph] as the default speed in an urban area — if you get hit by a car at 50 the risk for a fatal accident is more than 80 percent. But it is less than 10 percent when you have 30 kilometers per hour.

Clearly we have seen it is not enough to, for example, change the speed limit. You maybe have to put in speed bumps. You have to think through all the conflict spots that you have in your traffic system. And do things about it.

Speed, in short, is a fundamental determinant of whether people die in crashes or walk away. We can’t eliminate accidents entirely, because humans aren’t perfect (and neither are machines), but we can reduce the consequences of making a mistake.

The role of speed was highlighted by the Cycling Safety Panel convened by the government in the wake of a 2013 coroner’s inquest into cycle fatalities. They published the following graph to illustrate: The risk of death or serious injury for pedestrians hit by cars is four times higher at 50km/hr than at 30km/hr:

Cycle Safety Panel speed and death chart

However, as Belin observes, speed isn’t just a function of posted sign limits – it’s also about the design of roads. Road geometry must encourage people to keep to safe speed limits.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that road design standards encourage speeding. That’s illustrated in this chart from a Ministry of Transport review of speeding-related crashes, which found that the average free-flow speed on urban roads was higher than the posted speed limit. 15% of cars travel more than 5km/hr over the speed limit.

MoT urban road speeds chart

In short, our default urban speed limits are too high for pedestrians and cyclists to be safe in the event that they’re hit by a car… and road designs encourage people to drive even faster.

This has a number of direct and indirect consequences. The direct consequence is that people die, needlessly. The indirect consequence is that many people choose not to walk or cycle at all – a rational response to a dangerous road environment. That in turn leads to health problems and premature deaths down the track as a result of physical inactivity.

So what could be done?

The good news is that safety is a major priority for the NZ Transport Agency. They recognise that speed is a big part of that, but I’m not aware of any concerted effort to reduce urban speed limits, or make it easier for local road controlling authorities to do so.

The bad news is that there isn’t a major public conversation about safe speeds. But it’s starting to come up on the political radar. For example, the Green Party made lowering speed limits near schools a key part of the “safe to school” policy they released in March:

Safety is the number one concern that stops parents from sending their child to school on foot or by bike.

When parents wave goodbye to their child in the morning they should know they’re going to be safe when riding their bike or walking with their friends to school. […]

We will:

  1. Reduce the speed limit outside urban schools to a much safer 30 km/h
  2. Reduce the speed limit outside rural schools to 80 km/h, with the option of a 30km/h limit during drop-off or pick-up times
  3. Allocate $50m a year for four years to build modern, convenient walking and cycling infrastructure around schools: separating kids and other users from road traffic, giving a safe choice for families
  4. Get half of kids walking or cycling to school by 2022: reducing congestion; improving health and learning; saving families time and money

The devil’s always in the details with proposals like this. For example, how far around schools would the 30km/hr zone apply? But if we were looking to trial lower speed limits in urban areas, it would be really sensible to start with the roads around schools. The benefits are likely to be higher, as kids are especially vulnerable when walking by the road.

What do you think we should do about urban speed limits?

Election Transport Debate

Last night was the Transport Election Debate and so this is a recap of what happened. Unfortunately it wasn’t filmed so we can’t put up a video for you all to watch. If I miss anything important please add it in the comments.

I want to say thank you to the candidates that turned up. There was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First, Julie Anne Genter from the Greens, Phil Twyford from Labour, David Seymour from ACT, Damian Light from United Future and surprisingly as a late addition current Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

All up there were probably about 150 people that filled the room to hear the candidates speak. This photo was taken before the start and we ended up needing to get more chairs out.

Transport Debate audience

The evening started with Patrick giving an overview and recap of the Congestion Free Network. After that it was the candidates’ turn to have 8 minutes each to talk about their parties’ transport policy. The order of speakers was drawn at random.

First up was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First and he was perhaps one of the surprises on the night. The party’s transport policy is fairly good but to me it’s one thing to have a good policy, it’s another to actually understand it and know the reasons why it’s needed and Denis did well on that part. He spoke about the need for a more balanced transport system and the benefits it can provide to mobility, the economy and the environment. He talked about the need to address how we fund transport over the long term and said the party would support a long term shift away from Fuel Excise Duty and Road User Charges towards implementing road pricing on motorways and major arterials. He said that NZ First support the CRL starting immediately and would contribute 70% as they see the project as a vital investment for New Zealand. He also talked about their policy of having Railways of National Importance which did go against some of his earlier comments about not picking winners. Overall it was a fairly good speech.

Following Denis was Phil Tywford from Labour. Much of what Phil talked about was related to the announcement on the weekend that they would support the CFN. We were hoping Phil might start a bidding war on how much to contribute towards the CFN however unfortunately he ruled that out. He also commented about how the major upgrades to the rail network (DART and Electrification) were both budgeted for and signed off under the previous government so Gerry can’t use the claim that the government have funded $1.7b for rail in Auckland (to which Gerry said he would say it anyway). The other important thing Phil talked about was the need to both develop and enhance our rapid transit networks to cope with the sprawl that is expected to happen. He cited the massive developments planned for the Northwest as needing a Northwest Busway while in the South rail electrification and new stations would be needed. Related to that he talked about the need for more intensification/development around stations. Lastly on the CRL he said if Labour won, he would be down in the CBD the day next day with his shovel ready to start digging.

It was now David Seymour from the ACT party who was getting a turn to speak. The focus of his talk was about road pricing and how we need to use it to get more out of our existing road network. He referred to the Remuera Rd Bus Transit Lane as effectively being tolled but then said he wants the cost lowered so that more people can use the lane (which would hold up buses). He said he thinks vehicle trends will go back to pre-2013 levels of unlimited growth across the network. He said he’s “a fan of market driven technological solutions “all of which involve rubber tyres”. He also said he thought a focus on PT would harm housing affordability and home ownership as in his view we all need to be sprawling out.

Following David was Damian Light from United Future who said he was working in the transport industry. He said he thought we should build rail the airport before the CRL as that is something that would be used by travellers while also saying the CRL wasn’t a priority as he “lives on the Shore and so it’s no use to him”. Basically the impression I got was a whole lot uninformed of backyard BBQ type rants that had no basis in reality.

Gerry Brownlee finally got to have his say. He talked for some time about how the government could easily have cancelled electrification but didn’t as some sort of achievement, about how he thinks the government have been generous with their CRL targets and how he thinks the government are doing the right thing with transport investment. He said he thought Auckland Transport had been doing an excellent job and wants to replicate the concept to other regions throughout the country. I was hoping he might drop some hints to an earlier start for the CRL but unfortunately he didn’t. However, about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, he said it was his view that there would be three tubes and that rail would be included as part of that. Later on he was asked what new initiatives the government have undertaken for PT since they’ve been in office and the answer was the PT Operation Model. He also said he was not pessimistic on climate change and that he thinks we’re on the verge of some massive changes in travel to which he highlighted having been in a driverless car.

Last to speak was Julie Anne Genter and as I expected she was solid, explaining why we need to change our investments to get better, more resilient and more economically successful cities. She also spoke a lot about the CFN and providing choices to people

Overall it was a good night and lots of people came which was great to see as it shows just how much interest there is in how we develop our city for the future.

Transport Debate Gerry Brownlee and CFN

Gerry Brownlee and the Congestion Free Network

 Update: Alex Burgess captured some of the comments on video

Election Debate on Transport

Auckland's Transport Eleciton Debate

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirmed speakers:

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

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

Greens announce full transport policy

On Tuesday the Greens announced a policy to give tertiary students free off peak public transport. While the policy wasn’t terrible I didn’t think it was great either however the same can’t be said for the rest of their transport policy which was announced today.

There are 5 key areas the Greens are focusing on

  1. A $10.4 billion investment in new public transport projects and rail over 10 years delivering buses and trains every few minutes at peak hour, decongesting our cities’ roads, and reversing the neglect of our rail network
  2. A $2.2 billion dollar government investment in seven key public transport projects in Auckland, including $1.3 billion in funding for the Auckland City Rail Link to start immediately.
  3. A 300% increase in walking and cycling infrastructure including separated walking and cycling infrastructure in New Zealand’s small towns and big cities.
  4. A $423 million increase in funding to regions to contest for projects that will best serve their transport needs.
  5. A Student Green Card to provide free off-peak travel to all tertiary students and apprentices. We will investigate options to lower fares for everyone, and implement smart, integrated options for monthly and annual passes.

The student fares was announced on Tuesday and the walking and cycling policy was announced back in March so there’s little point in going over them again other than to say I improving both walking and cycling as well as PT can often go hand in hand i.e. making it easier to get to buses, trains and ferries by walking and cycling will also help increase use of PT.

That leaves the PT and regional parts of the policy to think about.

I basically read point one as being about creating  proper integrated networks in our major cities. While it isn’t specified I would expect it would involve a combination of improved network planning like what’s happening in Auckland with the New Network, integrated ticketing/fares and higher levels of service provision. The latter in particular is something likely to require additional funding, an issue which I’ll come to shortly.

On the Auckland specific parts of the policy it’s fantastic to see them supporting the Congestion Free Network

CFN 2030A

There are a couple of key points about their support for the CFN though that it’s worth mentioning and that’s related to funding as shown in the table below.

Green CFN Funding

With the exception of the CRL at 60% the rest of the projects are funded to the tune of 50%. In some cases that’s better than what we have now where some of the projects might not get much government funding at all but I do wonder if strategic Rapid Transit Networks should get more funding. This is because RTN networks are the PT equivalent of a motorway and under the current system motorways get funded 100% from the government through the NZTA.

Putting that aside, the CFN combined with the Greens planned spend of $34 million a year on walking and cycling – around three times the current budget – would really see transport in Auckland transformed in a positive way which has the benefit of providing people with much greater choice in how they get around.

The other key part to their policy is around increasing funding for regional transport projects. I’m not sure if this funding is based on the governments recently announced regional roading package (some of which aren’t bad) or off some other figure but it’s clearly about tapping into the complaints from regions about funding being sucked away for the RoNS projects. I do like that as part of this they will move rail and port projects under the same funding criteria so that hopefully the best transport solution for a given problem obtained regardless of what mode it is. Personally I would go further and shift the network planning and management parts of Kiwirail in with the NZTA to hopefully further enhance chances of getting the best outcome and to gain the benefits of planning and project management experience that the NZTA seem to have.

The biggest thing with this policy is how to fund it. To address this the Greens have actually come up with their own version of a Government Policy statement which is really great to see and shows  they’re actually thinking though some of these issues. The graph below is a summary of the spending but the policy contains a yearly break down for each activity class too which is shows how much thought has been put in to this.

Green GPS Funding graph

While I think that it’s pretty good my biggest concern is just how much they could implement as the government seems to be going hell-for-leather trying to get RoNS projects underway and once that happens it will likely be hideously expensive to cancel projects but also if they’re not cancelled they’ll be hugely costly with the construction trying up transport funding for years.

Overall at first glance the policy is fairly good and to me at least is a big improvement on what’s currently happening or is planned to happen.

Note: I’m not sure when the Governemnt or the Labour plan to formally release their transport policies – although for a large part we can expect the Governments policy to match the formal Government Policy statement

Free off-peak PT for students?

Yesterday the Green Party announced a policy of providing tertiary students and those undertaking apprenticeships with free public transport during off-peak periods. The details of the policy are:

  1. All tertiary students and apprentices will get free off-peak travel on buses, trains, and ferries with a Student Green Card. All students attending universities, wānanga, polytechnics and Private Training Establishments, as well as those training through New Zealand Apprenticeships, will be eligible for the Green Card.
  2. This will benefit up to 325,000 tertiary students, as well as approximately 28,000 people training under the New Zealand Apprenticeship scheme.
  3. Off-peak travel will be free between the hours of 9am and 3pm, and from 6.30pm until the end of service on weekdays. It also covers all weekends and public holidays.
  4. The Student Green Card will cost between $20 million-30 million per year. The costings are based on an increase in trips of 30 percent in response to the free travel on the Green Card, and would cost the Crown between $1.70-$2.20 per passenger trip. This will be funded by re-prioritised spending from the National Land Transport Fund.

All up this sounds like a university student version of a Super Gold card.

We’ve been skeptical of free public transport in the past because of its impact on costs, bus overcrowding and whether making PT free is the most effective way of increasing patronage (compared to, for example, spending that money on improving the system for everyone).

Like the Super Gold card the Greens policy reduces some of these problems by only applying in the off-peak period, when (theoretically at least, may not apply to some routes in Auckland) there is available spare capacity. Another advantage of the policy is that it’s to be funded out of the National Land Transport Fund rather than from general taxation, which means it’s money that most likely would have gone to building motorways that we don’t need.

However, it’s still an important question to ask whether this is the best way to spend $20-30 million a year to achieve the outcomes the Greens seem to be after: reducing the cost burden of transport on low income people and boosting public transport use. I tend to find myself agreeing with this tweet from Stephen Davis:

From a transport perspective, making particular trips free is unlikely to be the best way of boosting the use of a system. As Jarrett Walker notes, what we’re actually talking about is a trade-off between a fare cut (which some people benefit from) and a boost in service (which all people would benefit from):

If you want transit to be mainly for low-income people who have a low value of time, cut fares, as this is an improvement  targeted to benefit only the cost-sensitive.  By not improving service, this choice may also lead to an increased “stigma” around transit as it is perceived, with increasing accuracy, as a low-quality experience that is of no relevance to people who have choices.

If you want transit to be useful to a broad spectrum of the population, increase service.

From a cost burden perspective, it’s not that clear this is the best targeted policy either. We know from census data and other analysis (like John’s excellent post yesterday or Peter’s from a few weeks ago) that if we’re looking at reducing the financial burden of transport we should be trying to make public transport more attractive and affordable for people living in the south and west – probably people travelling to low-paid jobs rather than students who have pretty good transport options a lot of the time (especially if they’re studying in the city centre).

There are also a few slightly weird quirks in the policy:

  • Why should High School students have to pay to catch the bus on weekends but not university students?
  • Will there be huge pressure on exact 9am services or services just before 3pm in the afternoon?
  • What will the policy to do attendance levels for 9am lectures?
  • How do we stop operators ripping off the system, like it seems they sometimes have with the Super Gold Card in the past?

Overall, the policy is not terrible. There are good advantages of getting people used to catching PT at a time in their lives when they’re looking at moving out of home, potentially purchasing vehicles and making other key decisions that set in life-time travel patterns. However, on balance I just think there are probably better ways of achieving the goals the policy is aiming for. How about $20 million a year in scholarships for poorer students to attend University? How about a few million on bus lanes? How about making off-peak fares a bit cheaper (but not free) for everyone?

Looking back at Transport Policy from the 2011 election

I initially started writing this post with the intention of posting it last week however it was put on hold as a result of the Green Party policy targeting kids walking and cycling to school.

In just over 6 months is next general election. At a national level transport is an oddity in that it’s not normally a big talking point – with the possible exception of those who read this blog – instead the focus is usually on the big three of the Economy, Education and Health. It’s an oddity as transport policy can have massive impacts on those three issues along with many others. This is because transport isn’t a direct objective but is an enabler for other outcomes, and that is why it is also so important to get right. While I expect some minor changes in some areas, overall I suspect we aren’t going to see any major changes in transport policy from the main parties. Many people probably have a good idea of each party stands for but with this post I thought I would highlight what the transport policy of the parties that achieved over 5% in the 2011 election.

National

National’s transport policy at the last election was really just a continuation of what they had been doing for the three years prior to that. There were a number of issues that they highlight as wanting to do however the one given the most attention was clearly Keep building better roads. That part of the policy said they would:

  • Invest $12 Billion over 10 years in State Highway construction.
  • Complete construction on:
    • Christchurch’s Southern Motorway Stage 1.
    • The Ngaruawahia and Te Rapa sections of the Waikato Expressway.
    • The Tauranga Eastern link.
  • Construct New Zealand’s largest-ever roading project, the Waterview Connection on Auckland’s Western Ring Route, including two three-laned tunnels bored under Avondale.
  • Start construction on:
    • The Christchurch Western Bypass and the Southern Motorway Stage 2.
    • The Basin Reserve Flyover and the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway on the Wellington Northern Corridor.
    • The Cambridge and Rangiriri sections of the Waikato Expressway.
  • Design and consent the Transmission Gully section of Wellington’s Northern Corridor (construction due to start in 2015/16).
  • Finalise the design and consenting of the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the Puhoi to Wellsford RONS, and prepare for a construction start in 2014/15.
  • Construct replacement Waitaki River bridges on State Highway 82 at Kurow.
  • Evaluate four new RONS projects for development following final completion of the first three RONS projects (Victoria Park, Waterview, and Tauranga Eastern Link):
    • State Highway 29 between Hamilton and Tauranga.
    • State Highway 1 between Cambridge and Tirau.
    • Further development of the Hawke’s Bay Expressway.
    • State Highway 1 North and South of the current Christchurch motorway projects.
  • Continue to develop key regional roading projects that will enhance productivity and economic growth, including the Rotorua Eastern Arterial and the Waiwakaiho Bridge in New Plymouth.
  • Improve the resilience of key inter-regional freight routes like Mt Messenger on State Highway 3, and the Manawatu Gorge.

The most interesting (and concerning) of these points was the additional four RoNS projects. I don’t know if the NZTA has done any work on them internally but I’m certainly not aware of any public discussion of them. Part of the reason these may not have happened is that the government are having enough problems funding the current RoNS work and so anything extra is being left for the time being. This coming election I suspect we will see the policy largely unchanged however there will definitely be an increased focus on the fast tracked Auckland projects they announced in June last year. They will undoubtedly claim a lot of credit for electrification and other PT improvements (expect to see a lot of shots of politicians wanting to associate themselves with the new trains). Of course discussion of the CRL will feature somewhat however I suspect that before the election we might see the government agree to Len Brown’s $250m kick start suggestion.

Labour

As you would expect Labours’ policy (6.2MB file) was more friendly to public transport including supporting paying for half of the CRL which would have been done by opting for an Operation Lifesaver approach to the Puhoi to Wellsford road although other than that there were no specifics given as to what would be done. There seemed to be quite a bit of talk around reducing emissions and working to shift more freight to rail. One difference to National was in sea freight where they promised to develop a national port strategy.

In addition to Puhoi to Wellsford which was mentioned earlier, when it came to roads Labour opposed the four new RoNS projects that National talked about but more specifically mentioned a few other projects including that:

  • Labour will investigate and prioritise improvements to the “East-West Corridor” proposal in Auckland between East Tamaki at State Highway I and Onehunga at State Highway 20.
  • Labour prefers the original Western Link Road plan, not the four-lane Kapiti Expressway as has now been approved and will fund it 100%
  • Labour will also continue to support the Transmission Gully project but only so long as it meets reasonable cost-benefit criteria.
  • Labour will ensure the funding for local roads is not further undermined by the excessive focus on Roads of National Significance.
  • Labour will promote the introduction of a nationwide infrastructure to recharge electric vehicles.
  • Labour will investigate the appropriate use of mechanisms including tolling, PPPs and road pricing, ie. congestion charging.

So a bit of a mixed bag there. Perhaps the overall thinking is summed up well by this statement which sits under the PT section

Labour will examine ways to maintain and increase the overall transport spend beyond the National Land Transport Fund to develop our public transport systems so that they are a credible and attractive transport option.

That sounds quite a bit like what we’re seeing in Auckland with Len (which I guess is unsurprising) where with the exception of a few of the RoNS projects, the focus is on working out how to raise more money to pay for everything rather than cut low performing projects.

This election I suspect we will see some more of the same. We know Labour have already said they are backing the CRL and would pay for half of it including Len’s proposed early start. I also suspect they will end up copping the Greens walking and cycling to school policy.

Greens

Of course we already know one of the Greens policies with the announcement last week although there is obviously more to come. As many would expect, the policy focused around reducing investment in roads and investing more in alternatives like PT, Walking and Cycling and shifting freight to rail and shipping. In Auckland they said they would:

  • invest 60% ($1.44 billion) to fast track the CRL
  • spend $500 million to build north-west and south-east busways
  • provide $30 million per year to fund walking and cycling in the region including across the harbour bridge.

The greens actually seem to keep their transport policy up to date (or have done so recently) meaning we don’t really have to speculate much. Here is the vision they are aiming for.

Vision

New Zealand has a sustainable transport system that supports liveable, people-friendly towns and cities, and enables the movement of people and goods locally, regionally and nationally at least social, environmental and financial cost.

  • People of all ages and abilities have access to safe, reliable and convenient transport.
  • Traffic on roads and roading is reduced as other modes of transport are preferred. Road traffic is predominantly low or zero-emission vehicles.
  • Public transport in urban and rural areas is widely available and extensively used.
  • Walking and cycling are a popular transport choice, facilitated by a nationwide web of safe and attractive cycle and walkways.
  • Transport infrastructure provides access to provincial areas and supports regional development.

The link above also contains a number of very specific policy points should you be interested.

New Zealand First

The NZ First transport policy relates almost exclusively to the movement of freight whether it be by road, rail or sea. In fact there isn’t even a single mention of public transport or commuters in the policy and there’s only one mention of building a cycle network which comes with the caveat of “where appropriate”.

With his history, I’m not even going to bother trying to predict what kind of policy Winston Peters might come up with this time.

So there’s my brief look at the transport policies of the main parties at the last election. Overall this year I don’t expect we will see too much different in the various positions compared to the last election with perhaps the biggest difference being National and whether or not they support an early start to the CRL. I’m guessing that will largely depending on what the polling is looking like

Greens want kids walking and cycling to school

I happened to be part way through writing a post about transport policy for the upcoming elections when the first policy announcement of this cycle appeared in my inbox. I aim to cover election policy from all major parties over the course of the year.

It’s not their full policy but the Greens say they will put invest $200 million to make it easier for kids to be able to walk and cycle to school.

The Green Party has announced $200 million of new investment in infrastructure so kids can cycle and walk to school safely and to ease congestion on New Zealand’s roads.

Launching the policy at Auckland’s Belmont Intermediate School this morning, Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said the Safe Walking and Cycling to School plan would make our roads safer for everyone – cyclists, walkers and drivers – and improve the health and wellbeing of our kids.

“We will invest $50 million a year over four years to ensure kids can walk and cycle to school safe from traffic. This is a policy that’s good for our kids, good for motorists and good for the environment,” Mrs Turei said.

In 1989 half of New Zealand’s kids cycled or walked to school and only a third came by car. Today, these numbers have reversed. Each morning, Kiwis make a quarter of a million car trips just dropping kids at school.

“In a survey of parents that we conducted, 93% of parents who drive their kids to school said they would prefer for them to walk or cycle, but only if they knew it was safe. Our plan will help make walking and cycling to school safe by protecting kids from traffic,” Mrs Turei said.

“We need to turn around the decline in cycling and walking numbers. When kids walk, bike or ride their scooters to school, it’s good for their health and learning, it eases congestion, and it benefits the environment. We just need to make it safe.”

According to the New Zealand Transport Agency, safety is the main reason people have stopped walking and cycling to school.

Local authorities, in conjunction with schools, will be able to draw upon the $50 million a year ring-fenced fund for walking and cycling infrastructure to protect kids from traffic so they can travel safely to school.

This funding will be drawn from a total of $100 million a year in the National Land Transport Fund that the Green Party will ring-fence for walking and cycling.

Funding for walking and cycling is currently only about $15 million a year.

“The latest research shows that we can get up to $20 of gains for every dollar spent on walking and cycling. That’s a billion dollars of gains for each year’s $50 million investment,” Mrs Turei said.

“Our Safe Walking and Cycling to School plan is a smart way to get kids to school safely, and is a smarter spend than wasting money on low benefit projects.”

The full policy paper is here.

I think that regardless of political allegiance, getting more kids walking and cycling to school is a good thing. Currently information from the Ministry of Transports Household Travel Survey shows that for kids 5-12 only 2% ride a bike to school while that goes to only 4% for those 13-17. By contrast in the 5-12 category 58% are driven to school while in the 13-17 category around 41% arrive by car (some drive by then).

There would of course be quite a few challenges with a policy like this, just because the money is available it doesn’t mean that council (or AT in Auckland’s case) may actually use the money as far to often we hear stories of improvements to make it safer for kids around schools being declined due to it having the potential to disrupt the flow of traffic.

As mentioned at the start, we’ll be covering transport policy announcements of all parties.

Edit: I just noticed on twitter this from George Wood, this is a seriously concerning attitude

 

We need to stop underselling PT

One thing that really frustrates me about public transport projects is the tendency of both our official agencies and many supporters to completely undersell the benefits of them. Auckland Transport is a frequent offender of this and I think that the main problem is that they are a bit gun shy. They are too scared to talk about specific benefits of the project, in particular the parts that really matter to the general public. It is seemingly out of fear that they might not meet those objectives at some point in the distant future, or that plans may change. But by taking this approach they often lose out on much of the impact that they could otherwise achieve. The City Rail Link is perhaps the prime example of this. Below is a list of the benefits from that AT provided at their CRL open days that were held recently to support the consenting process:

The City Rail Link (CRL) will improve the entire Auckland rail network – allowing more trains, more often, more direct and more reliably to more places.

  • The CRL will allow more frequent services on key routes with double the number of trains able to run on the network
  • Britomart will become a through station and not the end of the line, unblocking the network and eliminating the need to travel via Newmarket
  • More direct travel to the city and improved access to the city centre and major employment areas with three new stations near Aotea Square, Karangahape Road and Newton
  • The number of people within 30 minutes train travel of a city station will double
  • More people on trains will reduce the pressure on roads to keep traffic moving
  • Bus and train services will be better integrated

AT Open Day CRL times

It is really the first two of the bullet points that I really have a problem with. Let’s have a look at them more closely.

The CRL will allow more frequent services on key routes with double the number of trains able to run on the network

Doubling the number of trains on the network is a good thing but most people wouldn’t have a clue just how many trains are on the network now. Even less would know how many trains are expected to be on the network following the completion of electrification. I would suspect that most people, the ones that don’t currently use trains but who we may want to in the future, probably think that trains only come once every half hour or worse. For them doubling a “crappy” service doesn’t mean it will suddenly become useful. My thinking on this was largely confirmed by the release of a Horizon Research poll released late last year that said 6% of respondents indicated that if the City Rail Link had the effect of increasing train frequency to every 15 minutes in peak hours, they would switch to using rail to travel to work.

The reality of it is that our main lines already have at least 15 minute, or better, services during the peak hours. With electrification and the new PT network, this is expected to increase to a train on the main lines every 10 minutes, not just at peak but all day. The CRL doubles that again meaning we could have a service on every line every 5 minutes combining to a train in each direction through the CRL every 2½ minutes. To me saying either of those two figures  is far more powerful than just doubling the number of trains on the network. I think part of the reason why there has been a reluctance to give any specific details regarding frequencies is partly related to the second point.

Britomart will become a through station and not the end of the line, unblocking the network and eliminating the need to travel via Newmarket

Along with the reluctance to talk about frequencies, there has also been reluctance to talking about just how trains will be routed around the network. Currently everything travels from Britomart to the west or south and back again. Any journey from one part of the network to another requires a transfer. The CRL gives the opportunity to change that by through routing services meaning services that come from the west could potentially head south or east after passing through the central city. It is just where they will head that seems to be the problem. Decisions on routing seem to be way down the priority list so not a lot of detailed thought seems to have gone into it. In a double whammy, without knowing the routing proposed it is then hard to say just how many trains will run on the network which causes the issues found in the first point.

But it is these two points that would do far more to sell the project to the general public than pretty much anything else. How different would that Horizon Research poll have been if they had of quizzed people about 5 minute frequencies instead of 15 minute ones? So if Auckland transport won’t promote the project in a way that will get through to the general public, it becomes even more vital that advocates, like this blog, get the message out and that brings me to what caused me to write this post in the first place.

Yesterday the Green party launched their Reconnect Auckland campaign under which the building of the CRL is seen as a critical project. The launch brought with it media attention, the perfect time to really sell just how transformational the project will be. Unfortunately in my opinion they really wasted the opportunity by underselling it. Co-Leader Russell Norman appeared on TV twice about the issue and both times said it would only allow for trains every 10 minutes at peak, half of what will be possible. The first time was on TVNZs Q and A programme (click to go through to the video)

Reconnect Auckland - Russell Norman Q&A

And let’s not even go into failing to dismiss the notion that trains will be going around the city in a loop. The panel also discussed it briefly (need to skip past the GCSB stuff).  The second time was later in the day in an interview for the 6pm news.

Reconnect Auckland - Russell Norman 6pm news

Of course the greens aren’t alone in this underselling. Labour are just as bad with the press release put out by Phil Tywford and Iain Lees Galloway also claiming it would only allow for 10 minute frequencies.

Mr Twyford said the City Rail Link would double the number of trains on the network, unlocking much needed capacity and opening up the potential for trains every ten minutes on the western and southern lines at peak times.

Of course compare that with the way that roads are promoted, all sorts of benefits get mentioned even if they are not true. A great example of this is Puhoi to Wellsford where even in parliamentary questions, spurious claims have been made. For example last year Gerry Brownlee claimed time savings that in reality would require vehicles travelling up to 250kph. Of course I’m not suggesting that PT advocates should put out false information but at least stop underselling these projects.

Greens release transport policy

The Green Party has just released its transport policy for Auckland – unsurprisingly the policy is excellent and a model for the kind of transport policy that Auckland desperately needs a supportive central government to provide. Here are some highlights: With Labour committing $1.2 billion to constructing the City Rail Link and the Greens committing $1.4 billion, we now have two of the three biggest parties in parliament having come up with some serious cash for this project. But aside from that headline move, I’m also really happy to see a commitment to improvement busways in the southeast and the northwest (support for the NW busway is really growing). Finally, it’s also good to see a real commitment to improving the funding of walking and cycling projects, which seem to struggle for funding as “add-ons” to roading projects at the moment, rather than an important part of the transport mix themselves.

Recent polling suggests has the Green Party at between 10 and 12%, which suggests a pretty large increase on their current 9 MPs is likely. What would be interesting is a scenario where National require some level of support from the Greens to form a government (not an entirely impossible situation) – one wonders whether transport might be a useful bargaining chip in such negotiations. Could the Green Party somehow get some funds out of National for important public transport projects in return for something like abstaining on confidence and supply?

Smart Transport Conference videos

As I noted last week, there was a “Smart Transport Conference” held at parliament jointly by the Green and Labour parties. Below are three videos showing talks from that conference.

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes:

Transport Consultant (and parking guru) Julie-Anne Genter:

And last, but certainly not least, keynote speaker Paul Mees. (Here’s his presentation)

Let’s hope a few more videos go up – as it sounded like a really interesting conference.