John Key visits Aotea Station

One side effect of the government’s announcement in late January to allow for the CRL to start on time in 2018 has been for a string of senior government politicians to visit the CRL team to see what’s going on.

Just over a week after the announcement Auckland Central MP Nikki Kay was getting a virtual tour of the Aotea Station

Two weeks after that Transport Minister Simon Bridges had a tour.

Now another two weeks on, Prime Minister John Key has had a look at progress and with the Herald in tow.

The Prime Minister yesterday took a tour around a busy railway station which doesn’t yet exist.

Mr Key slipped on a virtual reality headset for a walk around Aotea Station – one of the proposed underground stops for Auckland’s $2.5 billion City Rail Link.

The station is projected to handle around 12,000 people in peak hours and be one of the busiest hubs on the network.

Describing the visit to a downtown control room as a chance to grasp the complexity and potential of a crucial venture, Mr Key stressed the importance of making sure one of the biggest engineering missions in Kiwi history gets a “successful execution”.

“This is something that’s been talked about for decades. It’s exciting, but something you’ve got to get right,” Mr Key told the Weekend Herald. “The successful execution of the plan will allow it to be delivered on the broad budget of $2.5 billion to $3 billion.

Perhaps my favourite quote from him is at the end of the video where he says:

In one sense it’s a tremendously exciting time for Auckland, you know, you can see a world class city that can rival Sydney and Melbourne emerging before your eyes and you’ve got to go through all the planning phases and construction phases of that, but you know Auckland’s here for the long haul and they know the potential. And personally as someone who lives in Auckland I’m pretty excited by why I see. I think that for long period of time I’ve felt that Auckland could do a lot better than it has done, it’s got that natural beauty but it actually now needs the capacity and facilities to back that up.

That last line in particular is something we’ve also said many times before and one of the reasons we’re so passionate about improving this city.

We’ve seen the images of what’s proposed at Aotea before but the most interesting aspect of the whole piece had to be the video. AT have recreated the Aotea station in virtual reality and the video gives the best idea to date of what the finished product will look like. I personally thought it looked very good, especially the entrance on Wellesley St.

 

Aotea Station VR Outside 4

Aotea Station VR Outside 3

Radio NZ have also published the video but with just the shots of the station.

With various members of the government now visiting the project offices it suggests that they have rapidly getting on-board and wanting to be associated with the project and given even the PM has visited perhaps even suggests that they’re actually quite impressed by what they’ve seen.

CRL Certainty

Certainty is the word I’d use to describe the announcement by John Key yesterday that the government would support for the City Rail Link main works beginning in 2018. While it was widely expected it was an announcement that was both very low on specific details but also contained a lot of information.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

As readers may remember, the government had long opposed the CRL with former transport ministers at the time Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee seemingly taking great pleasure in dismissing reports at that time. That all changed in 2013 where in a similar speech Key announced the government would accept the CRL from 2020 onwards but entertained the idea of an earlier start/finish time if patronage doubled to 20 million earlier than expected and CBD employment grew by 25%.

While the government hasn’t put in place targets for any other project before (or after), having one for patronage isn’t too bad an idea but we were always very critical of the employment growth one for a number of reasons. In the end the employment target was irrelevant in the decision.

CBD employment levels are still some way from the 25 per cent growth threshold.

But strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means it will reach the 20 million annual trip threshold well before 2020.

It’s become clear that we need to provide certainty for other planned CBD developments affected by the Rail Link.

This means we see merit in starting the project sooner.

 

As we posted the other day, patronage on the rail network reached 15.4 million to the end of December, a 22.9% increase on the year before. The scale of the growth and that it has been sustained at around that level for a year are impressive and highlight just how quickly things can change. It’s meant that at current rates we would hit the CRL target up to three years early. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is the impact the business community have had on getting an earlier start date. There is a huge amount of development planned along the CRL route and much of it is premised on CRL happening. Providing a commitment which then allows the private sector to get on with investing billions makes a lot of sense.

Emmerson CRL John Key 2016.01.27

Emmerson in herald yesterday

In quite a shrewd move Key actually only confirmed the government share would arrive after 2020 which is in line with his original time frame from back in 2013 but just by having that commitment now means that the council can use it’s share to start in 2018.

So I can today confirm the Government will work with the Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020.

The Council has indicated this would allow construction of the Rail Link’s main works to start in 2018 – at least two years earlier than currently envisaged.

It would also allow the council to get on with negotiating contracts and providing certainty for investors in other important Auckland CBD projects.

By providing the commitment he has it’s likely he’s saved more than just the two-year gap. The big reason for this is it means that those at AT working on the project can get on with the tender process and engage with potential suppliers knowing that will definitely be there from 2018. That can allow them to optimise the built, possibly reduce the amount of time the main works will take and definitely reduce the overall amount of disruption the city will experience from the construction. It of course also means we start getting the transport and economic benefits sooner.

 

One quite interesting statement about the project was that the council and government need to sit down and work out just who will own and operate the infrastructure. I can’t imagine the council/AT paying for half of the project and then being keen on say Kiwirail owning it.

On the funding, Key confirmed in this interview with Duncan Garner that the money would come from the government’s consolidated account and not the National Land Transport Fund once again highlighting the issue that rail infrastructure is funded differently to other land transport. This is something that really needs to be changed. Also of note in that interview was him being quite positive about development around the rail network which is encouraging.

It remains to be seen how the council will pay for its share. Funding for it was already included in the Long Term Plan agreed last year for 2018 onwards however Len was also talking yesterday again about using road tolls to raise funding for it. Interestingly the government also appear to have softened their stance on this. Previously they’ve outright refused to even consider it but Key is now saying they will if there is a good case for it.

Phil Goff has called for the project to be treated like one of National Significance and be fully funded by the government.

The council yesterday released this short video of the change that that Albert St and the surrounding area is about to go though

Congratulations and thanks to Len Brown for is effort over the last 5 or so years in turning this project into a reality. At times it’s looked like it may never happen but the persistency has paid off and Auckland will be considerably better for it. There are a lot of others that need to be congratulated too and many of whom we may never know just how important of a role they played

 

Following on from Key’s announcement on the CRL there have been a few of frankly bizarre press releases from some politicians that are worth mentioning. Top of the list is the response from David Seymour who has used the announcement to call for more money to be spent on schools in his electorate and this statement. Odd as the government have already shown they are prepared to fund greater investment in schools to deal with changing roll sizes – such as this at the beginning of December.

“The reality is that we have a train looking for passengers, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Rail Link requires heavy intensification around Mt Eden Station, among others, to be viable.

“The Council has not considered the implications of changing land use on education in the area, where schools are already bursting at the seams. The Mt Eden Station development, for instance, will bring hundreds of new residences into already-full school zones.

Yes a train looking for passengers, I guess that’s why they’re often so full that people can’t get on. I haven’t checked but I’m also fairly confident the Ministry of Education would have submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan currently before an independent hearings panel.

In a separate release he also suggests the government should have blackmailed the council by withholding infrastructure funding until they allowed unfettered sprawl subsidised by existing ratepayers.

The Government has let Auckland Council off the hook, gaining no concessions on land supply or rate rises, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Writing a big cheque was the time to bring Auckland Council to the table,” says Mr Seymour, “but instead the Council got away with the money and the bag.”

“The Government could have set up ongoing incentives for the council to provide infrastructure. Instead, with no sign that the council will focus on core services, the largesse of the Len Brown era will continue.

Yesterday’s news is also not good for those that have spent their careers first telling us the project wasn’t needed and after being surprised at the government’s support in 2013, that the council shouldn’t do anything till that time. Chief among those was Cameron Brewer who used the news as an opportunity primarily to take a swipe at mayoral candidate Phil Goff.

 

Links: Key’s Auckland Infrastructure Annoucment

Shortly Prime Minister John Key will be delivering his State of the Nation address at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. It’s been widely expected that he’ll announce the government agreeing to start the main works on the City Rail Link in 2018 – in line with when the council/AT wanted to start them – instead of 2020 like they had announced when they supported the project in 2013. I’ll actually be at the event and trying my best to cover it live on social media so follow us twitter for the latest updates.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

But it won’t be the only announcement with Key saying:

“As New Zealand’s largest city, our biggest commercial centre and the main gateway for international tourists, we all need Auckland to succeed.”

He said the Government was already putting billions of dollars into Auckland as it grew and he would highlight some of the priorities for the year ahead.

“It’s a speech that looks very heavily at infrastructure projects, not just in Auckland, but it does look at those issues and gives the Government perspective on next steps.”

….

“We are spending billions and billions of dollars as a Government on infrastructure. So the announcements we make tomorrow will ultimately mean the Government increases even further its expenditure on infrastructure. We are doing that because that infrastructure underpins the efficiency and competitiveness of our economy. We are not doing this because we need to stimulate the economy per se.”

Mr Key said housing in Auckland was a focus for the Government, but it was not the main issue of his speech. “We are saying we need to build more houses faster. It is our expectation the demand in Auckland is going to continue, that the growth in the Auckland population is going to continue and we just need to build a lot more houses between now and the next five to 10 years.”

It’s also been rumoured that he’ll make comments on the East-West Link, Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and Penlink. Further while he says housing won’t be a main issue of his speech I suspect that other aspects of infrastructure provision such as funding for water infrastructure that would enable more housing to be developed more quickly might be.

I imagine we’ll see media reports of the announcement coming in fairly quickly after the speech so the main purpose of this post is for somewhere to discuss what’s announced – I’ll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow.

Of course with the CRL getting so much attention it begs the question how many times will the media or some media commentator refer to it as a loop, suggest it’s just about trains going around in circles or that it’s just about Len Brown wanting a toy trainset.

Anyway it should be an interesting few hours. Keep an eye on our twitter account for the latest updates.

The Herald and Housing Affordability

The media are once again going off on the topic of housing affordability, after the release of the latest report by Demographia saying that Auckland is one of the most unaffordable cities in the world.

A survey of the median house prices around the world has revealed Auckland to be among the five least affordable cities to buy a house. The annual Demographia survey, released today, compares prices to incomes in 367 cities. Auckland is one of the worst in the world due to extremely high house prices coupled with moderate wages.

We’ve often talked about the issues with how Demographia produce their results. They take an overly simplistic view of the discussion, and exclude important factors. But while the scale of the issue is likely wrong, that doesn’t mean the general outcome – that housing affordability needs to be improved – isn’t correct.

We also disagree with their proposed solution of unfettered greenfield development. For Demographia, it seems that opening up greenfield land is always the solution, regardless of the question being asked. While land supply is an issue, they like to conveniently ignore the impact of planning regulations on existing urban land that prevents development across most of Auckland. They also like to ignore the cost to tax and ratepayers of providing the infrastructure needed to enable that greenfield development. For example, based on Auckland Transport’s figures it will cost about $67,000 per dwelling to provide the roads needed in the major new greenfield areas that are proposed.

Future Urban Land - North Transport Networks

Many people may want a home with a large backyard on the fringe of town, but many just want a home. A lot are prepared to forgo a large backyard for the added amenity of living closer to the city or other urban centres – but they are unable to do so, as so much development has been restricted.

This brings me to the main point of the post, the media (especially the Herald) who want to have it both ways.

While today they’re lamenting house prices, the Herald has spent much of the last few years championing opposition to one of the key tools that will help address housing supply, the Auckland Unitary Plan. From when the draft plan was released almost three years ago, they’ve given countless space to those opposing any change in Auckland. They’ve deliberately misled the public and recently they’ve even become so absurd as to call two-storey townhouses “Highrise” in their bid to whip up fear and anger over the plan.

Of course politicians of all stripes shouldn’t escape blame. Whether they’re also trying to whip up fear, generally oppose change or just have it happen in some other neighbourhood they are as much to blame. They also seem to me to have less desire to actually fix problems. After all, which of them are really going to stand up to house owning voters and say they’ll enact policies which could result in existing house prices falling or at best stagnating for many years as a result of changes.

Regardless of what you think the solutions are, it still feels like we’re some way off any real changes happening.

On a related note: I suspect we could see John Key include housing announcements in his announcement on Wednesday when he also announces support for the CRL to start in 2018. There have been suggestions the government have been talking to the council and CCOs like Watercare looking at what other big infrastructure projects could be brought forward to help speed up housing supply.

Is Penlink about to be approved?

Next week John Key is expected to announce the government’s support for starting the main works of the City Rail Link in 2018, at least two years ahead of what he said in 2013. He is expected to announce this at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and it’s expected the announcement will cover not just the CRL but likely a package of projects. Many have suggested that they think he’ll also announce details about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the East-West Link, both of which the NZTA and Auckland Transport are expected to progress getting consent for this year. In the NBR’s article on Key’s announcement they included some thoughts from Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Michael Barnett.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said Key’s address would cover the issue of infrastructure funding for the region, similar to the June 2013 speech to the chamber’s membership in which he confirmed joint funding for CRL.

“I’m expecting a significant funding package similar to what Key gave in June 2013 and that he will use this occasion to say ‘ok, we can give more certainty to some projects’. What we have at the moment is so conditional, it’s difficult for plans to be put in place,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the other projects he expected Key to comment on include the East/West Connections project which would improve connections between Onehunga and Mt Wellington which is heavily used by industry, the $380 million Penlink arterial route between Whangaparoa Road and State Highway 1 which is touted as a potential public-private partnership business model, and a second harbour crossing.

It’s the middle of those three projects in the last paragraph – Penlink – that raised my eyebrows. There are a few reasons for this.

Penlink Map - 2015 Presentation

Auckland Transport recently applied for and obtained approval to widen the existing designation to create a 4-lane divided expressway. Perhaps Auckland Transport have been looking longingly at the NZTA and really want a motorway they can call their own. We also know that the NZTA had been pushing for Auckland Transport to progress the project as a PPP tied in with the one they are planning for Puhoi to Warkworth – however they’ve already short-listed contractors for that project.

The council and government are deep in the middle of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which is meant to be reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland. Projects already underway or with funding confirmed for the near future are excluded, as are projects such as the City Rail Link but based on the timing as far as I’m aware that doesn’t include Penlink (I also believe AWHC is included within the ATAP scope). If Key was to come out and accelerate these projects or make funding announcements, it would undermine one of the key reasons for undertaking the alignment process in the first place.

Even putting aside ATAP, the councils recent Long Term Plan doesn’t have the project starting till the decade starting in 2025 (page 11). It did include the project in it’s everything including the kitchen sink funding package paid for by tolls or increased fuel costs but that wasn’t passed. Interestingly Auckland Transport’s website lists the project starting construction in 2021. What do they know that the council don’t.

The biggest reason for concern is the project itself and what AT claim it will achieve. They say the key objectives are:

  • Improve travel times and reliability.
  • Improve network performance and resilience.
  • Facilitate economic activity, planned growth and transport mode choice.

So let’s look at Penlink does based on information AT provide.

The project is about enabling more growth in the North however critically there is actually very little growth that is expected to occur on the Peninsula itself, most of the growth is around Silverdale or west of the motorway. A summary of the residential and business growth expected is below.

Penlink Map - Household Growth

There’s also almost no growth in employment on the peninsula

Penlink Map - Employment Growth

Developments in Orewa have access to the motorway at Grand Dr and at Millwater a new set of motorway ramps have been built at Wainui Rd so the main argument seems to be that Penlink is needed to get cars from the Peninsula off the Hibiscus Coast Highway where more business growth is expected. Given how much of a pet project Penlink was to the former Rodney District Council it makes me wonder how much the growth there was part of a deliberate strategy to help justify Penlink in the future.

Looking at the issue of travel time and reliability as well as network performance AT include a number of outputs from their modelling and they present some very odd results. The show the predicted travel times both with and without Penlink to three destinations, to Grand Dr, to Silverdale Township and to Beverly Dr which is where Penlink joins into Whangaparoa Rd. They’ve also broken down the journey into three parts. From Oteha Valley Rd to Redvale where the Penlink Interchange would be, from Redvale to Silverdale interchange and from Silverdale to the final locations.

Penlink Travel Time map locations

Here are the results for all three and they seem completely not believable or based on any kind of plausible reality. The first thing that strikes me about them are the claimed travel times in 2041 both with and without Penlink. At more than an hour just to get from Oteha Valley Rd they seem to be assuming that traffic is going to merrily just pile up and no one will attempt to change their travel time, mode or both. It’s worth noting that the base case for both options also assumes the NZTA will widen SH1 between Oteha Valley Rd and Silverdale to three lanes each way at around 2031.

Penlink Travel Time - Grand Dr

Penlink Travel Time - Silverdale Township

Penlink Travel Time - Beverley Rd

What I also find odd is that within none of the documents AT have published is there any mention of the impact of the traffic volumes on SH1 south of Oteha Valley Rd. If they’re this bad north of there it must require SH1 pumping a ton of traffic north or alternatively a lot joining at Oteha Valley Rd to head north. If traffic is this bad then as some readers like to frequently suggest, perhaps some road pricing to better manage demand is needed – and before we embark on spending $380 million on this motorway.

Speaking of road pricing the documents do talk a lot about Penlink being tolled. They say it would use the same system as used on the Northern Gateway motorway north of Orewa and the cost would match that toll road – at the time $2.20 for light vehicles and $4.40 for heavy vehicles. By 2041 the predicted 16,600 vehicles a day crossing the Weiti Bridge (where the toll gantry will be) will be paying about $13.5 million a year in toll revenue. Interestingly the modelling suggests that without a toll, traffic volumes would be 23k-24k per day across the bridge.

Penlink Toll Revenue Collectoin

Over 30 years they say the estimated toll revenue is $321 million which has a net present value of $112 million. Toll collection costs over that period are $77 million with a NPV of $28 million so at NPV that leaves around $84 million to go towards paying for the project. Of course the project is expected to cost around $380 million so the tolls won’t cover all that much.

Penlink Toll Revenue vs costs

Despite the cost of project roughly doubling over the last few years AT claim the project is positive economically. They actually list two Benefit Cost Ratio’s, a National BCR of 2.5 and a Government BCR of 3.1. Please correct me economists but as I understand it the Government BCR counts all benefits but only accounts for the net financial cost i.e. project costs minus toll revenue while the National BCR accounts for the full cost of the project.

Based on the language in the Business Case it seems almost certain that Penlink will be built as a Public Private Partnership where they finance, build and operate the road while AT pay for it to be open. This is the same as is happening with Transmission Gully in Wellington and will happen with Puhoi to Warkworth.

On the final objective facilitating transport mode choice. It seems to me there’s a very high chance that if built AT would leave buses to go the long way via Silverdale and Whangaparoa Rd which will only serve to further reinforce driving. The business case talking about buses seems boil down to a “buses can use roads too” argument and the only thing excluded from the project scope is:

Whilst facilitating and providing opportunities for improved public transport is part of the Project, the provision of public transport services and prioritised bus lanes on Whangaparaoa Road is not part of the Project.

Lastly it’s worth comparing the approach taken to the discussion back in 2010. 
alternatives-penlink

Back then widening Whangaparoa Rd was seen as a better option as the $20-26 million cost delayed the need for the hugely expensive Penlink. They now say that option isn’t viable as they’ll eventually need Penlink anyway.

So overall it seems like Penlink stacks up but that’s on the back of some very odd figures around travel times. The business case suggests that in the absence of funding constraints the project could have started in July this year – although that would be unlikely given the lead in time needed to procure it through a PPP. So perhaps John Key will kick that process off next week.

Government CRL announcement imminent?

Auckland could be about to get a late Christmas present. It’s appearing more and more likely that the government will agree to start to the City Rail Link in 2018, two years earlier than the 2020 date they set back in 2013 when they first agreed to the project. To go with the what, we also know the where and when, Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce the Government will help fund Auckland’s $2.5 billion inner city rail link two years earlier than originally promised.

It’s understood the PM will make the commitment in a speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce on January 27.

….

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett confirmed Key would address its membership on the issue of infrastructure funding for the city.

It would be similar to his announcement in 2013 in that he would outline the government’s future commitment to the city “and I think give some clarity and certainty to some of the investment in infrastructure that needs to be made”.

Asked if that would include a statement on the timing of the CRL funding, Barnett replied: “If they put a stake in the ground and then there’s clarity, then everyone can work around that.”

The Chamber of Commerce supported a 2018 start for the rail project, he said.

CRL - Early Works Jan-16 2

Early works are underway but are we about to get a Go for the rest of the project?

As I pointed out in my year ahead post last week we’ve been hearing noises that an agreement between the council and government is close for a while so it hasn’t come as a surprise that something may be about to happen. In fact I think the main thing stopping it from having been made earlier has been the Christmas/New Year holidays and lead up to them putting a dampener on the level of political credit the government will want to bask in.

Pressure has been mounting on the government to do something for months and one reason has been the stellar patronage growth that we’ve been witnessing. It has risen an impressive 23% over the last year Auckland is on track to reach the 20 million target by 2o20 around three years early.

2015-11 - Rail vs Govt Target

As I also mentioned in my year ahead post, the announcement be the council funding their share from 2018 with the government still not committing any cash till 2020. If this occurs perhaps they’ll off some sort of deal.

Making the announcement to the Chamber of Commerce is significant for a few reasons.

As I understand it, Auckland’s various business lobbies have been quite active behind the scene, pushing the government to commit to an earlier start date. They see the value in the project and also the value in minimising disruption. Waiting till 2020 leaves roughly a two year gap during which many businesses in the city – but particularly those along the route – will be in a state of limbo. Delaying the project also affects more than just the rail network as it also delays other projects to improve Auckland that are dependent on the CRL being completed, one example is the proposed Victoria St linear park but there are a heap of others.

It was to the Chamber of Commerce back in 2013 that the government first announced it would support the CRL after years of bitter opposition to it. Again back then the business lobbies were also a key factor in getting the government to change their position on the project. Of course as part of the same announcement the government also launched their accelerated Motorways package that fast tracked projects such as the Kirkbride Rd grade separation, southern motorway widening and the big package of works planned for the area around where SH18 joins SH1.

It raises the question of whether John Key will announce support for the CRL alongside any other projects. As we know the Reserve Bank of NZ has already said the government should consider accelerating infrastructure projects in Auckland. As such it’s entirely possible any announcement could also contain funding for other projects too (including non-transport projects). The concern would be if the announcement also included a number of projects designed to encourage significant growth on the urban fringe at the expense of enabling greater housing supply closer to the city.

Lastly an announcement would be a significant win for Mayor Len Brown. When he first became mayor the project was in its infancy and he has pushed it as the number one project for the city since that time with the backing of the council. To Len, if the government support the project starting sooner, then thank you.

CRL - Early Works Jan-16

I’ve already been counting the days till January 27 to see just what is announced.

 

A Government Minister for Cities

Australian politics are not something I tend to follow however the ousting of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull last week piqued my interest for a couple of reasons.

  1. Tony Abbott had taken an extremely ideological position on transport and pushed a transport policy very similar to our governments Roads of National Significance – perhaps even more ideological as our government at least funded or continued some transit projects such as electrification. The Abbott government cancelled or refused funding for a wide range of rail projects and redirected the cash towards more roads even though some of the rail projects were rated highly even by the governments own independent infrastructure body. Prior to being elected he said his government will “stick to its knitting” adding “And the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads”. In his own book Abbott said of public transport:

    In Australia’s big cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still a hideous drain on the ­public purse. Mostly, there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.

  2. The contrast with Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t be greater. Even before he became Prime Minister last week he was a well-known supporter and user of public transport in Australia saying recently on twitter “Trains and trams are fun. Meet new people. See new sights. Avoid road rage”. But it’s more than just words, he used public transport regularly to get to meetings and events in his role as a government minister, often tweeting that he was doing so such as the comment below and looking though his twitter feed there are many many more just like this.

Yesterday Turnbull announced his new ministerial line up and he paid special attention to the role cities play. His comments almost brought a tear to my eye as they would easily be some of best and most accurate on the value of cities from any politician in this corner of the world. He’s even gone so far as to create a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment to ensure there is focus on developing cities better.

A transcript is below:

Just turning to changes elsewhere in the Ministry. Liveable, vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity. Historically the Federal Government has had a limited engagement with cities and yet that is where most Australians live, it is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found.

We often overlook the fact that liveable cities, efficient, productive cities, the environment of cities, are economic assets. You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live, is an absolutely key priority of every level of Government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it’s very mobile.

The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness, that every level of Government works together, constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress. That Federal funding of infrastructure in cities for example is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability.

Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no — roads are not better than mass transit or vice versa, each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.

Now of course, we have a Minister for Regional Development and the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, but cities have been overlooked, I believe, historically from the Federal perspective. So within the Ministry of Environment, I’m appointing the Honourable Jamie Briggs MP to be the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, to work with Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to develop a new Australian Government agenda for our cities in cooperation with States, Local Governments and urban communities.

Of course these are just words and it will be interesting to see if and how the government work to make cities better however it’s definitely a promising start.

Last week in his first speech after being elected he pointed out John Key as someone he wants to lead like, perhaps on this issue the reverse needs to happen. New Zealand like Australia seems to have much of its national identity tied in with sparsely populated places such as farms or rugged and remote locations. Also like Australia most people in NZ live in cities yet despite this cities and Auckland in particular are looked at with scorn. This often results in a lot of provincial parochialism despite the fact that over half of NZs GDP is generated within its three largest cities. In Auckland the government has been actively hostile towards the council, especially in the areas of housing and transport and it’s often not even that they’ve had an alternative vision or ideas.

A minister for cities in NZ that was someone with an open mind and an understanding of the value of cities would be a welcome addition to the Government

Celebrating the 57th electric train

Today Auckland Transport celebrated the arrival of the last electric train – of this first batch. The celebration also included a visit by Prime Minister John Key

EMU Celebration - 1

Auckland Transport has officially marked the arrival of the last of the city’s 57 electric trains with a function at the Wiri Train Depot attended by the Prime Minister.

The last three trains from Spanish manufacturer CAF landed on the wharf last week and are now going through final checks at the depot prior to certification.

Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says it’s been a swift journey since the contract for the trains was signed in October 2011. “In less than four years we have seen 57 three-car trains roll-off the production line in Spain, they’re all here now and they’ve been delivered on time and on budget.”

Dr Levy says more than 14 million trips are now being made on the Auckland rail network each year. “That’s fantastic considering that in 2003 when Britomart opened less than three million trips were being taken each year.”

He says this project has had excellent support from the Government including a $500 million loan to fund the electric trains and the Wiri depot. “There has also been a government grant of $90 million and one of $40 million from Auckland Council, we would like to thank them for their support.”

Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the Government is committed to working with Auckland Council to see Auckland succeed. “The arrival of these trains marks the culmination of the Government’s $1.6 billion, decade-long investment in three Auckland metro rail projects.

“Over the next three years, $4.2 billion will be invested to build a robust, future-proofed transport system for Auckland.”

Dr Levy says Auckland now has trains that are of international standard. “The quality trains, along with a boost in the number of services means more people are seeing rail as an option.”

The first electric trains began operating on the Onehunga line in April 2014 and the network from Papakura in the south to Swanson in the west went all-electric just a few weeks ago on 20 July.

“We know many of the trains are already full at peak time but now that all 57 trains are here we will get more double trains operating to help ease the situation.”

Mayor Len Brown says “We’ve busted the myth that you can’t get Aucklanders out of their cars and the electric trains are fuelling the success. But their popularity means we’re becoming the victims of our own success. At the existing rate of growth, we will reach train service capacity by 2016. This emphasises the urgent need to get cracking on building the CRL.”

Each train has seating for 232 passengers and standing room for more. The trains have wider doors making it easier for passengers.

The central carriage is at platform level for wheelchairs, prams or bikes and automatic ramps mean a seamless transition between the platform and the train.

Open gangways between cars mean passengers can move from one end of the train to the other.

Some facts and figures:

  • The supplier, CAF used equipment from Japan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Spain – taking the best from the world to create trains specifically for Auckland.
  • It takes more than 15,000 hours to fabricate and assemble one electric train unit, there is 110km of wiring in each unit.
  • Each train is tested for 1000 hours on the tracks.
  • The maximum operating speed is 110km/hr, however, the average operating speed will be less than this.
  • To provide improvements to efficiency each train has regenerative braking, allowing braking energy to be fed back into the 25kv supply – a recovery of up to 20% of the energy used.
  • Noise reduction: the 25kV power supply means that the trains are very quiet both externally and internally – a very important consideration for people living and working near the rail network.
  • There’s no air pollution from the trains because they are electric and there are no exhaust fumes.
  • Rail patronage in Auckland grew 21.7% in the year to the end of June, that’s two and a half million more passengers than in June last year.
  • The number using all public transport in Auckland reached 79 million in the year to June, an increase of 9.5% or on average 19,000 extra boardings per day.

I was secretly hoping that John Key might announce the government were bringing forward the City Rail Link, electrification to Pukekohe or even just the ordering of more trains but sadly that didn’t happen. Below are the speeches from Lester Levy, John Key and Len Brown (sorry audio quality isn’t the best)

Lester Levy

John Key – I particularly liked his comments that he doesn’t think Aucklanders are any different to people in the rest of the world and will use PT if good quality options are provided. Now if only the government will follow up that with appropriate funding to enable that to happen.

Len Brown

It is fantastic that all trains are now here – although it will be a few months before all are on the tracks. One thing mentioned in Lester’s speech was that the EMUs were seeing much improved reliability and punctuality. To highlight that yesterday saw 99% reliability i.e. only three services from over 500 failed to run and 95% punctuality meaning that only 5% of services were later than 5 minutes to their destination. That’s a dramatic improvement on what we’ve had in the past.

Of course the next thing we will need is more trains. As mentioned sadly there was no announcement of that because as I understand it, it will take about 2 years to get new units built and delivered. Given the rapid growth in patronage that means we will probably need to be ordering those very soon. On patronage I don’t have July figures yet but I’ve been told they are very good and in addition August is looking good so far too.

 

Bring on the Cycleways

Yesterday the John Key and Simon Bridges announced the planned cycling investment throughout New Zealand for the next three years and pleasingly it represents a massive increase on anything we’ve seen before. There are two primary reasons for this increase in funding.

  • One of the government’s election promises was to create a $100 million Urban Cycleway Fund (UCF) to be spent over four years. The first year of projects (well half year really) totalling just under $10 million was launched in January and this announcement constitutes the remainder of the funding.
  • The NZTA are spending significantly more money from the National Land Transport Fund (which comes from fuel taxes, road user charges, licencing fees etc.). This funding is governed by the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which was confirmed at the end of last year and sets funding bands

In effect this is the first announcement of what’s inside the 2015-18 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which is the three year programme of transport activities that will be funded throughout the country and ties in with regional land transport programmes – which AT consulted on at the beginning of the year. I understand the rest of the NLTP funding will be announced next week.

The funding announced today is broken up by city below

NLTP 2015-15 cycling

We knew the urban cycleways funding was coming – and the government deserves credit for seeing it fully implemented – however as mentioned above the NZTA are also spending a lot more money. To highlight just how much of an increase in spending this $107m from the NLTF is, in the 2012-15 NLTP there was $53 million allocated for walking and cycling. That’s less than half what this announcement contains and itself was a 27% increase above the 2009-12 GPS. So even without the urban cycleway funding the level of money available for cycling has increased dramatically. Add in that remaining $90 million from the UCF and it represents significant increases in spending from Central Government.

One interesting aspect I’ve also noticed is that the $107 million from the NLTF is actually higher than the upper limit of the funding band in the GPS – if only they would also do that to PT funding.

The money shown above is going towards 41 separate projects.  Below are just the Auckland projects however you can see a table of all of them here. It’s worth noting that what’s shown only represents the projects where joint funding is taking place, a lot more cycle facilities will be delivered as part of other projects too. In addition the council have voted to significantly increase spending on cycling and that means it will be funding some projects on its own. It would be interesting to know just how much more network we could have had rolled out if were were able to at least get a 50% contribution from the NZTA for those other projects. The Auckland projects are split into four categories.

NLTP 2015-15 cycling - Auckland Projects

And here’s a map of the projects

Auckland urbancycleways map 2015-18

We’ve talked about many of these projects before and it’s really great that we should be seeing all of this within just three years. One new part I also really like is the addition of two programmes to link up the surrounding areas of New Lynn and Glen Innes to their train stations as well as other local amenities. I think that will be really useful in getting more people cycling not just to those town centres but also to catch trains and buses.

Quay St cycleway impression

An artist impression of a cycleway on Quay St that will be built within 3 years

Here’s Bridges and Key after making the announcement.

All up a great announcement and one that should see some major progress on improving cycling facilities in Auckland – and elsewhere around the country. After years and years of pushing for more funding it’s finally starting to arrive which is a testament to all the people who pushed so hard for a better future. Let’s just hope the various transport agencies have the capacity and capability to deliver all of these projects.

Next up – perhaps even today – we should hear if Skypath will be approved.

Council/Government battle heating up

It seems the fight between the council and the government is turning into an all-out war. The first front was on housing where Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith threatened to override the council who are refusing to approve three SHA’s in rural Kumeu because of a lack of supporting infrastructure. The second front was opened up by Transport Minister Simon Bridges on Saturday who attacked the council’s transport plans saying they don’t have the right mix of projects to deal with congestion well enough in 20-30 years-time. When pressed the only project he could think of as a project that he didn’t agree with was rail to the airport. I’ve already covered off how the refinements that AT have been making to their plans appear to be making them more effective.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key joined in the battle.

The jump in rates is due to the council’s decision to implement a flat levy on households to fund the city’s future transport needs. Households will fork out an extra $114 a year over the next three years for cycle and bus lanes, regardless of the value of their home.

The Government has ruled out giving the council the power to implement a fuel tax.

“I just think their priorities are wrong,” Prime Minister John Key said on TV3’s Paul Henry programme this morning. “They’ve got to turn around and say, what is the most important issue? The most important issue has to be, in our view, provide roading solutions in the very short-term for where people live. Only 15 percent of people live in the CBD.”

The Government has also called on the council to rethink plans to build from the airport to the CBD.

“If they want more tools for funding, I think they have to demonstrate to everyone they have the right strategy,” says Mr Key.

“When the strategy they’ve got is focusing on 15 percent of where people live – not the 85 percent of where they live, or on the fact that we need to build more houses and build those houses we need infrastructure – I think the council does need to sit down with the Government and say okay, because we have a lot of experts. They are going to do that I think, because in the end, if they don’t, then their options will be limited to basically their rates, and there’s only so far rates can go.”

Firstly I’m not aware of many houses that don’t have access to a road. By talking about people needing roads to where they live it seems as if he’s trying to bring in some reference to the special housing areas issue. If so then he’s quite off the mark as people aren’t living in those places (yet). It also seems he’s getting his housing and employment figures for the CBD mixed up however some of that kind of be excused, he was talking in the heat of the moment. The things that concerned me the most are:

The short term thinking – we’ve spent decade after decade doing the quick, easy and cheap options for building suburbs and it’s left the city a mess with poor public transport, walking and cycling options. One of the key reasons given at the time for having a single council was to break through the short term thinking and why the government required a 30 year spatial plan which is meant to provide a more strategic approach to how the city develops. By just quickly throwing in roads it’s likely we’ll have to go back in 5, 10, 20 years and retrofit everything to fix up the mistakes that will inevitably be made.

The ‘We know Best’ attitude – Auckland is no small rural town, in creating a single council the government set up an organisations with access to a lot of expertise and resources. When it comes to transport expertise I suspect AT is on par with staff from the NZTA and the two work very closely together. In fact they are so close the CEO from the NZTA sits on AT’s board and the NZTA have their logo on AT’s plans. Given all this it’s hard to fathom how exactly government staff conducting any rational investigation would be able to come up with any radically different solution.

The lack of an alternative plan – So far it seems the government just want to sit on the side-lines throwing rocks Auckland without actually presenting any alternative vision for the future. As mentioned just above it’s hard to see how the government could suddenly find a massively different solution to Auckland’s needs. Perhaps the timing and state of some projects such as rail to the airport might not be right but the project is 10-20 years away which is plenty of time to make adjustments if they are needed. It seems that the real reason behind the governments stance is simply for some political power game.

It’s not just about the CBD – The government and the media have talked a lot about how the councils plans are very CBD centric however it’s clearly untrue. One of the key purposes of the New Network and integrated fares is to make it easier to travel across town and transfer between services. It significantly boosts frequency all across the urban area and is shown best in the maps from yesterday showing the difference in frequent services from now to 2018. Yes there are projects in the CBD however they’re also projects that have regional scale impacts.

RPTP Proposed 2015-2018

If the government is playing some form of power game it would help if they got their numbers right. Yesterday Radio NZ’s Todd Niall published this excellent piece about the figures both Bridges and Nick Smith were brandishing around in public. In essence both have been caught out using wrong or misleading figures to push their arguments.

Another good piece on the issue has come from Tim Watkin over on Pundit.

If Key holds this line and refuses Auckland the power to act, he’s very much at risk of getting on the wrong side of the politics heading into 2017. The biggest bit of feedback from the recent council submissions was “get on with it”. Aucklanders may have run out of patience with Brown, but they (especially those under 40) will quickly run out of patience with a government that’s stopping the building of better public transport.

And as we all know, lose Auckland and you lose elections.

But worse, you can forget flags and surpluses. If National doesn’t let Auckland get on with it, Key’s government will have a legacy (like National governments of the 1950s and 1970s) of stopping Aucklanders getting the transport networks – and therefore quality of life – that the country’s biggest and only international city needs.

At this stage it’s very much looking like we’re heading down the road of another government leaving a nasty transport legacy in Auckland and if the previous ones are anything to go by, future residents will not be impressed.

John Key and Simon Bridges, show us your plan.