Julie Anne Genter questioned Steven Joyce in Parliament today about the City Rail Link. Perhaps the most laughable comment is when Joyce claims they are speeding up the project, not slowing it down. If they were speeding it up then at the very least they would be looking to have it started at the same time the council is wanting for it to happen.
Wow there’s so many bits of news I want to comment on today and I don’t have time for them all so as it kind of relates to my post this morning I’ll go with this one. In parliament today Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Gerry Brownlee about his stance on emissions and transport. It was following this news story from TV3 where he said”
I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say it’s man-made is an interesting prospect
Julie Anne Genter: Can he name one place in the world where carbon emissions have reduced or where peak congestion has reduced as a result of new motorway construction?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As far as I know, I would be correct in saying—because there are no motorways there—the Antarctic.
Brilliant question and one that left Gerry stumped because the reality is there isn’t anywhere that has built its way out of traffic congestion or emissions. Although perhaps Brownlee suggested it because in his mind hell would have to freeze over before he would accept that urban motorways don’t solve emission and congestion issues.
Gerry Brownlee was asked in Parliament today about the City Rail Link and the costs of delaying it.
The fact that Brownlee claims it the project isn’t being delayed is staggering. The council and Auckland Transport have for a long time being planning for construction to start in 2015 and to be completed with trains running in 2020/21. The government’s announcement in June that they would support it was that they won’t even start a new business case until 2017 and won’t start construction till 2020. That represents a 5 year delay and as Julie Anne pointed out, adds a cost of $100 million per year to the total of the project for a total additional cost of $500 million.
The figure comes from this presentation to the Transport Committee at the beginning of the month. It also points out that many of the benefits that make the CRL look better in the longer term are due to the travel times and congestion getting worse. That would leave us with the situation where we have to sit waiting for conditions to get worse before we can start working to make them better. That’s sounds like ambulance at the bottom of the cliff thinking to me.
We and the Congestion Free Network also got a mention from Labour Transport Spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway (I wonder who will be the new transport person in the shake-up they will be having?). Gerry has refused to meet with us or the Campaign for Better Transport multiple times now with the response being that he is too busy each time we ask. I wonder how many times he has met with the AA, NZCID or other road lobby groups? Might be time for an OIA on that.
At a national level we charging ahead with a few hand picked mega roading projects that will tie up our transport spending for the next decade or so. Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better locally with billions upon billions of dollars of ratepayer and taxpayer money proposed to go into transport projects over the coming decades, pretty much all of them relying upon significant traffic growth to be justified.
We’ve discussed changing travel trends on this blog for quite some time now, in particular the plateauing of traffic growth for an extended period of time since roughly the middle of last decade. Here’s a nice graph that Stu put together looking at vehicle kilometres travelled and car ownership rates over the past decade:
Similar trends are starting to show through in a wholevariety of countries around the world. With billions of dollars being poured into roads in the coming year the real questions relating to this trend is understanding why it’s happening and then figuring out whether it’s a short term anomaly or the start of a much longer pattern of stagnant or falling traffic.
While New Zealand specific research into understanding the causes of these trends is strangely absent (Stu’s superb analysis aside), an increasing amount of analysis is being undertaken in the USA to ‘get to grips’ with what’s going on. And while shorter term issues – like the economic situation of the past few years – seem to undoubtedly have had some impact on the trends, it seems that there are some more major underlying cultural shifts which are perhaps making the biggest contribution. The New York Times picked up on this recently:
For six decades, Americans have tended to drive more every year. But in the middle of the last decade, the number of miles driven — both over all and per capita — began to drop, notes a report to be published on Tuesday by U.S. Pirg, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
People tend to drive less during recessions, since fewer people are working (and commuting), and most are looking for ways to save money. But Phineas Baxandall, an author of the report and senior analyst for U.S. Pirg, said the changes preceded the recent recession and appeared to be part of a structural shift that is largely rooted in changing demographics, especially the rise of so-called millennials — today’s teenagers and twentysomethings. “Millennials aren’t driving cars,” he said.
In fact, younger people are less likely to drive — or even to have driver’s licenses — than past generations for whom driving was a birthright and the open road a symbol of freedom. Research by Michael Sivak of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan found that young people are getting driver’s licenses in smaller numbers than previous generations.
Online life might have something to do with the change, he suggested. “A higher proportion of Internet users was associated with a lower licensure rate,” he wrote in a recent study. “This finding is consistent with the hypothesis that access to virtual contact reduces the need for actual contact among young people.”
Of course this isn’t a particularly ground-breaking observation – various studies and articles have been talking about younger generations not being as keen on driving as previous generations were at the same age. What’s particularly interesting is that this report has taken the recent trends and then applied them to forward travel projections under a number of “what if” scenarios to get an idea about what might happen in the future:
Young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001—a greater decline in driving than any other age group. The severe economic recession was likely responsible for some of the decline, but not all.
Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies, which are rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving.
If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years, even at half the annual rate of the 2001-2009 period total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040—despite a 21 percent increase in population. If Millennials retain their current propensity to drive less as they age and future generations follow (Enduring Shift), driving could increase by only 7 percent by 2040. If, unexpectedly, Millennials were to revert to the driving patterns of previous generations (Back to the Future), total driving could grow by as much as 24 percent by 2040.
All three of these scenarios yield far less driving than if the Driving Boom had continued past 2004. Driving declines more dramatic than any of these scenarios would result if future per-capita driving were to fall at a rate near that of recent years or if annual per-capita reductions continue through 2040.
The different scenarios are then graphed:The real kicker point is when you start comparing these scenarios with past traffic volume forecasts – as shown below: From what we’ve seen previously, it appears that pretty much all future transport modelling in Auckland is calibrated to a 2006 base year – pretty much exactly when we started to see transport trends change dramatically. Presumably that will be updated when results from this year’s census come through, but if projections do end up being updated to reflect not only changing travel trends going forward but also the fact that what’s happened in the past seven years is rather different to what was likely to have been expected back in 2006, we could be in for some huge shocks.
In short, it wouldn’t be surprising for the justification for new roads becoming significantly more difficult. Which makes a lot of sense if the demand for them isn’t going up anymore. This issue was also raised by Green transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter yesterday on Radio NZ.
Ernst’s claim that every road works for public transport and for active modes is almost comical. Just looking at Auckland, how many buses are using the Victoria Park tunnel, how many will use Waterview and why is there no cycleway planned for Puhoi to Wellsford and where is the promised walkway under the Newmarket Viaduct?
One of the most frustrating things about the process the CRL has gone through is not that the government is forcing it to go though extremely rigid analysis, but that it doesn’t require other projects to do the same. Bill English was questioned on this today by Julie Anne Genter but never seemed to be able to directly answer the question. I will say one thing though, he at least wasn’t dismissive of the project.
Also in the news about politics and the RoNS. National’s Northland MP, Mike Sabin has come out yesterday extolling the virtues of Puhoi to Wellsford. Yet at the same time he has confirmed some of the voodoo economics that seems to surround this, and many of the RoNS projects. He claims:
“The Greens would scrap this project in favour of Auckland’s rail loop, because they see it has better cost benefits than the Puhoi to Wellsford project, yet NZTA estimates this RoNS will benefit Northland’s economy in order of $35-$45 million a year, giving a cost benefit ratio of 2 to 1.”
Well let’s just look at that a bit closer. $35-$45 million a year seems fairly significant but in the context of this road is nothing. Being generous let’s say that the benefits start coming in as soon as the project starts and we use the normal 30 year assessment period, ‘et’s also ignore any of the benefits being discounted. That would give us benefits in the range of $1.05 billion to $1.35 billion over a 30 year period. Yet the road is expected to cost around $1.6 billion and that was before the recent announcement that the shorter and easier Puhoi to Warkworth section will cost around $1 billion. I don’t know how on earth you can get a BCR of 2 to 1 when the benefits achieved are less than the construction costs but that is why they are called voodoo economics.
This is a guest post from Green Party MP, Julie Anne Genter
You are invited to the launch of Reconnect Auckland: a transport campaign led by the Green Party.
A smarter approach to transport and planning offers us huge opportunities to get better outcomes for everyone.
I find the posts on this blog incredibly useful and informative, particularly because of the detail of analysis and soundness of the logic.
However, as recent years have shown, information and logic is not enough to get political support for changing the status quo.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about transport is because it seems like an easy win for people, the economy, and the environment. New Zealand doesn’t have a car manufacturing industry and we export all of the oil we produce, so no one really benefits from the status quo approach that results in high car dependence. We just foolishly followed the car-oriented central planning by traffic engineers and town planners because Los Angeles and everywhere else was doing it.
But a different approach to policy and spending would still require contractors to build rail, bus and bicycle infrastructure. It would require better maintenance of our existing roads. It would create more semi-skilled jobs in operation of passenger transport services. It would be way better for those who really want or need to drive, and trucks, because it would reduce congestion and demand for car-parking.
We’ve got the facts on our side, we can persuade many that they will actually benefit from a different approach, all we need now is the political will. That is why the Green Party is running a strategic campaign on transport in Auckland – designed to engage, inform, and activate people power.
We chose Reconnect-Auckland to symbolise more than just a return to the great transport connections Auckland had in the 40s and 50s. It’s also about connecting people to the communities that have been severed or lost through car-oriented design.
Our campaign has a few dimensions. Firstly, we are have the big launch and a big phone calling operation for people to register their support for the CRL.
Secondly, I am doing a speaking tour to anyone and everyone we can line up – Rotary, Lions clubs, high schools, university lectures, business associations, you name it. The goal is to give a short presentation on smart transport, so people know exactly what the opportunities are and that public transport, walking and cycling can happen in Auckland.
Finally, we will be holding a series of mini-events around Auckland (ideas please!) to get local media attention and get volunteers active in their communities.
Gerry has clearly taken the first question very literally and his response was at least a little bit funny. Now I generally tend to be an optimist so I’m going to say at least Gerry wasn’t completely dismissing the project. What’s more he seems to have softened his stance a little bit and clearly isn’t ruling it out. He even used the non inflation adjusted price, saying it would cost $2.4 billion, which is probably the first time a minister has done that.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exchange was when Julie tabled the document showing that over the last decade, the number of vehicles entering the city centre had dropped by 20%. This is something that Mr Anderson has pointed out before although it actually seems more like a 15% drop. The point went straight over Gerry’s head though as he started talking about what would happen in 2021, not realising that a shift has been happening already.
Yesterday in Parliament Julie Anne Genter asked Bill English about the PPP that is going to be used for Transmission Gully. I think the thing I am most concerned about from the answers is just how little he appears to know about the deal, something you would think he would have a good understanding of due to being the minister of finance.
From time to time I like to check on the written questions asked by MPs to ministers, these questions are important as the ministers are required to answer them and the results are stored on record so they can be a great way of finding out information. One of the things that the online tool allows you to do is filter the questions by portfolio so is fairly easy to find all the questions asked to the transport minister. It is probably worth pointing out to anyone who wants to use it themselves that for some reason the thing is incredibly slow in searching and changing pages so don’t be surprised if it takes a little while. Anyway going through some of the recent questions I came across a series from Green transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter about the time savings on a number of the Roads of National Significance projects and the answers highlight just how shonky some of the numbers for them are.
First up Puhoi to Wellsford where we get some absolutely astounding figures, here is the current situation:
7287 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What is the approximate distance in kilometres of the current route that will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance? Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that approximately 42 kilometres of the current route will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.
7288 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What is the current travel time estimated by NZTA for the route that will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance? Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that between Johnson Hill Tunnels and South of Te Hana the current travel time is approximately 35 minutes during the southbound afternoon peak and 34 minutes during the northbound afternoon peak.
So this seems to be roughly about right, it means that the average speed along the entire route is just over 70kph and the time given by Google for the same distance in normal conditions is listed as 32 minutes. But here is where things start getting odd:
7286 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What will be the approximate distance in kilometres of the completed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance? Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that the completed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance will be approximately 38 kilometres.
After 3-4 years of investigating the project, the NZTA have yet to be able to announce a route from Warkworth to Wellsford due to the extremely difficult geography and geology of the area. Without knowing where the new road will go, how can we know how long it is going to be? Even putting that aside, here is were the real craziness begins:
7289 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What will be the average time saved per trip by the proposed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance? Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that travel times between Johnson Hill Tunnels and south of Te Hana will be reduced by 26 minutes during the southbound afternoon peak and 15 minutes northbound during the afternoon peak.
Those time savings are just ridiculous, are they really suggesting that you will be able to drive the 38 kilometres southbound in just 9 minutes, perhaps the plan is to buy everyone a supercar and remove the speed limits as it works out to an average speed of over 250kph. The northbound route is a little better but still would see average speeds well above our current limits vehicles would have to average 120kph to get 15 minutes of savings, even on the shorter route. In fact my calculation is that even with the shorter route and an average speed of 100kph, the time savings all the way from Wellsford to Puhoi would only be about 12 minutes. I would go further and suggest that half of the 12 minutes of savings that would likely just come from bypassing Warkworth and perhaps some work to the area south of the Pohoehoe viaduct.
Travel time savings often make up quite a large chunk of the economic benefits associated with transport projects, if they are so blatantly wrong as in this case then it really makes you question what is going on. Even at 12 minutes, is that kind of time saving really going to make a difference to the Northland economy, I don’t think so.