This week in Parliament the government have been using patsy questions to talk up their recent transport announcements about the City Rail Link and East-West Link. Both are entertaining in their own ways.
On Wednesday there was almost a bit surreal when Transport Minister Simon Bridges got asked a series of patsy questions by Botany MP and former councillor Jami-Lee-Ross about the CRL. This extended to a couple of questions from other members in the house. What I found most interesting is watching Bridges now defend the decision to allow construction to start in 2018 after he and his predecessors spent so many years defending why they wouldn’t make that a decision.
While we’re far from fans of the project, Bridges quip to Peters about Puhoi to Wellsford was at least funny.
On Thursday Jami-Lee Ross started another patsy to the minister, this time about the East-West Link. It was all a pretty staid affair until Green MP Julie Anne Genter jumped in highlighting that some of the other options for the project were cheaper and had better economic outcomes – something we highlighted here. I think she saved the best line till last.
Minimum parking requirements have been getting some long-overdue attention at central government level after the release of the Productivity Commission’s report recommending their removal from district plans.
Finance Minister Bill English has also expressed his support for binning minimums. So last week Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter – a longtime advocate of removing MPRs – asked Housing Minister Nick Smith whether the government had any plans to legislate to remove them from district plans:
Smith’s responses were a bit evasive but there were still a few interesting points raised in the back-and-forth:
He also said that the government was developing a National Policy Statement on Urban Development, presumably to encourage better, less costly rules. That’s the first we’ve heard of that – I wonder who they’re consulting?
Smith also criticised heritage protection rules as a barrier to intensification, which he described as “part of the answer”.
Overall a pretty interesting exchange, and it’s good to see the issue getting more attention.
On Friday Night Prime TV’s Prime Time with Shaun Plunket hosted a debate on transport with Gerry Brownlee, Julie Anne Genter, Cameron Pitches and Ken Shirley (CEO of the Road Transport Forum). You can watch the discussion here.
There wasn’t anything new that came up from the discussion however perhaps my favourite part of the whole thing was before the cameras started rolling. The picture below emerged on twitter from before the debate showing Julie Anne and Gerry in a discussion. I find this picture fantastic in so many ways and it has one of my favourites of the election (so far). So lets have some fun with a caption competition.
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.
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.
Gerry Brownlee and the Congestion Free Network
Update: Alex Burgess captured some of the comments on video
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:
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.
This will benefit up to 325,000 tertiary students, as well as approximately 28,000 people training under the New Zealand Apprenticeship scheme.
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.
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:
@LouisMMayo as a transport policy it’s ineffective (not a big driving demographic), as a welfare policy it’s a bizarre target for assistance
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?
Following on from the Greens walking and cycling to school policy last week, Julie Anne Genter was again asking about it in Parliament yesterday and the answers from Gerry Brownlee were quite insightful to the governments thinking while some were also quite comical.
To me there were three interesting parts in the exchange. Firstly the primary question which is based off this written question.
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Can he confirm that by the end of this fiscal year the Government will have spent $1.5 billion on work classified as having a “low” benefit to cost ratio under its Roads of National Significance programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport) :The analysis the questioner relies on is provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The Government makes its own decisions, though, about value-for-money expenditure. It is not a slave to bureaucratic formula and therefore considers other matters in making its decisions. The Government considers the roads of national significance to be excellent expenditure.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice and it was a yes or no question, and I did not hear a yes or a no in the Minister’s answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, the Standing Orders are quite clear that no member can demand a yes or no answer. Again, I can understand why the member does not feel that it was adequately addressed, and I accept that. On this occasion, the question, in my opinion, has been addressed, but I will allow the member an additional supplementary question to try to tease it out to the member’s satisfaction.
Julie Anne Genter: For clarity, has he spent $1.5 billion on low-value work under the roads of national significance programme, as stated in his answer to written question No. 813, and is he now trying to justify that waste by calling it strategic?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The question the member asked me to respond to indicates the benefit-cost ratio on both the 6 percent and 8 percent discount rate for a number of roads. The roads that she is most likely to be focusing on are the Waikato Expressway, the Tauranga Eastern Link road, and the Wellington Northern Corridor. The Government considers those to be very important. They are strategic, and we most certainly do not agree with the Green Party that it is inappropriate or low-value expenditure
Basically Gerry just confirms what we’ve been saying for a long time, that the government is building what are in some cases very stupid roads because they want to. Now while I don’t agree with that being how we should build motorways, in itself it isn’t necessarily wrong. However it is quite different to how the government have portrayed their road building programme, which is that the RoNS are good for the economy.
Following that was this exchange related to freight movements.
Julie Anne Genter: Given that none of the spending on the roads of national significance has been high value and that nearly half the spending on walking and cycling in the last year was high value, would it not be a better use of taxpayer money to prioritise high-value walking and cycling projects?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: One of the problems the member would leave unanswered is what you would do with the volumes of freight that have to get moved around New Zealand if you required them to be moved by bicycle or pushcart.
Julie Anne Genter: In light of the National Freight Demands Study released last week, which shows that road freight has fallen since 2006 and that the expected rate of growth is less than was forecast when his Government began this roads of national significance programme, is now not an appropriate time to reconsider whether spending billions of dollars on projects that his own Government considers low value is the best use of taxpayer money?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point is that I dispute the analysis that the freight volumes have fallen. What I would say is that vehicle kilometres travelled have fallen, and that is largely due to a more efficient roading network, which has an excellent outcome for greenhouse gas emissions.
This relates to the freight study released last week, the outcome of which said that while the amount of freight being moved by all modes had increase, the tonne-kms (distance) had been dropped. There are a number of factors at play causing this however one of them is not due to the roading network being more efficient which implies road building to reduce distances (i.e. removing curves) like Brownlee suggests. Note: This is different from using the existing roads more efficiently through changes like allowing heavier trucks which is something that need motorways to happen.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister understand that duplicating motorways to the Kāpiti coast or Wellsford does nothing to alleviate serious congestion in our city centres—in fact, according to the New Zealand Transport Agency, they make congestion worse—whereas investing in smart projects like walking and cycling to school take cars off the road, eases congestion, and improves public health?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It also very seriously inconveniences the people who pay for those roads, and their commitment to these projects will be seen at the ballot box.
So we can’t have more walking and cycling infrastructure as it might slow down car drivers by a few seconds, even if that infrastructure takes people off the road and helps to free it from congestion. Also as mentioned this morning, people simply don’t vote on transport at a National level when there are so many other important issues being discussed. If people did vote based on transport policy then I suspect we would be getting very different outcomes.
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?