Farewell Len

After two terms, yesterday was Len Brown’s final meeting as Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland and so I think it’s appropriate to look back at what he and Auckland have achieved over the last six years.

len-brown

 

First here is his valedictory speech.

As the first Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland I think the Len and the council often faced some very unique challenges and ones that won’t exist to anywhere near the same extent for any future mayor. The bringing together of eight different councils, each with their own plans, policies and rating systems was never going to be a straightforward task and the process of making the new council omelette was always going to require a few eggs to be broken.

The government amalgamated Auckland in part to try and address some of the long standing issues that weren’t being adequately addressed, particularly around planning and transport. By and large those have been or are well on the way to being addressed. Some of the significant pieces of work such completed include: the first Auckland Plan, the Unitary Plan, Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the standardisation of services across the region and of course combining eight separate rating systems in to one.

Simply by virtue of all of these disruptive changes having already taken place, any future mayor and council is going to look much more stable and in control of what’s going on even if they carried on exactly as things are. Also let’s not forget that Len had only one of 21 votes on the council for decisions. If all of the other Councillors didn’t agree with the changes then they could have voted against them.

But not everyone has been happy. Whether it be rates, policies, plans I don’t think he’s had a particularly fair time from the media. As we’ve repeatedly seen with the Unitary Plan debate and other debates like the Long Term Plan, the truth has often been bent to paint Len in a negative light. I do think that history will much kinder to him though. The city has come a long way in just six years and we’ve probably witnessed some of the most dramatic change the city has seen:

  • The city become more walkable through developments like the Shared Spaces
  • We have an internationally award winning waterfront development at Wynyard Quarter and there is now an urban regeneration arm of the council looking to replicate the success in other parts of the region.
  • We’re in the middle probably the biggest building boom the city has seen. It’s hard to go far in the city centre, or even out in most of the suburbs, without seeing signs of construction and the city evolving.
  • Electric trains have been rolled out across Auckland’s network and over the six years of the council, rail patronage has increased by 94%
  • Bus patronage has increased by 35% while usage of the busway has well more than doubled, this has been helped in part by double deckers are an increasingly common sight on city streets.
  • Ferry patronage has increased by 30% with new routes rolled out to Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven.
  • The city has started to roll out good quality cycling infrastructure that is encouraging more people to ride. Some older cycleways such as SH16 at Kingland now have more than double the number of bike trips on them as they did just 5 years ago.
  • The government and council now have aligned views on the future of transport for the city with the recently completed ATAP.

But by far the biggest achievement has to be the City Rail Link. Len has consistently pushed for the project since elected in 2010 despite the government originally not being supportive of it. After they agreed to the project back in 2013 he continued to advocate for it to start earlier. The council backed that and Albert St is now a hive of activity with the project now well underway. More importantly and just two weeks ago, the council and government signed a heads of agreement to fund the project 50/50. Considering how hostile the government have been towards the project at various times over the last six years, that’s an impressive achievement and one I imagine Len is most proud of.

This is far from an exhaustive list and of course some of those changes were already under way before the council came into being, but they are all things the council has had some involvement in achieving. Furthermore, the future certainly looks positive thanks to the work and focus that Len and the council have had.

In saying all of this not everything has been great. Perhaps the biggest concern I’ve had and continue to do have is that Len has spent a lot of time trying to please everyone. When it came to transport he could best be described as trying to do it all, for example in the Auckland Plan instead of making some tough calls as to which projects get included as priorities the council have opted to just do everything – something partially addressed now with ATAP.

Still on balance I think Len did a pretty decent job, most importantly being that he pushed a vision for Auckland that has been positive. Many people still think fondly of Mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson for pushing his rail scheme in the 60’s and 70’s despite it never being built. By comparison Len has actually resulted in the CRL getting funding and starting construction. I suspect Aucklanders of the future will thank him for it. His legacy will be that Auckland is and will become a much better place than it was when he became mayor. He has helped make Auckland a more liveable city.

Thanks Len and good luck for the future.

Council-Government agreement on CRL signed

Another milestone was reached on the City Rail Link (CRL) yesterday with the government and the council signing their first official agreement to work together and jointly fund the project. The Heads of Agreement (HoA) sets out how the two parties will work together to come up with a more detailed ‘sponsors’ agreement which is likely to be signed off next year. It also gives some broad details on how the council and government will fund and oversee the project. One good thing is that Auckland Transport now seem to be filming events like this so you can watch the announcement below

The good news on funding is that the government has agreed to pay for 50% of the cost of the CRL including the work already underway – although given Auckland contributes an estimated 36% to the economy it actually means Auckland picks up about 68% of the overall cost. There is a small caveat that the crown doesn’t have to fund any financing costs including interest that are incurred before July this year but I suspect that’s not going to be major in the grand scheme of things. Although it does sound like it means that cost of the hundreds million+ of property purchases for the project will be fully borne by Auckland rather than shared by both parties.

The outcome is far better than some feared which would have seen the government only pay for 50% of the remaining costs after the early works or as indicated in January, they might allow the project to proceed but only provide funding from 2020 onwards. Much was made in the media yesterday about the cost of the project with most reporting it had blown out to $3.4 billion but as is often the case in these situations it is a bit alarmist. The government has stated they think it will cost somewhere in the range of $2.8-3.4 billion and reflects more detailed design work that has taken place. Len Brown’s comments were to remind that the project cost of $2.5 billion was always +/-20%. The cost the government and council will ultimately target to pay is something that will be worked out as part of the more detailed sponsors agreement. Of course a lot will depend on how the tender contracts go.

Below is the project scope showing what is expected from the project – being the CRL and stations in the city plus a few other small upgrades elsewhere on the network.

crl-heads-of-agreement-project-scope

 

To oversee the project, they will separate out the CRL team from Auckland Transport and form a company called City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL) which will manage and deliver the project. The HoA states the government will have a 51% shareholding in the company vs 49% for the council and is very clear to point out that it won’t be a council controlled organisation. That makes me wonder if there was some legal or governance reason for the shareholding split.

crl-heads-of-agreement-crll-structure

The structure also means that both parties will benefit from ‘opportunities arising from the project’. As we know both the Wellesley St and Mercury Lane entrances have been designed for buildings to be built above the station entrances so those are likely to be some of the currently unbudgeted opportunities.

The signing of the agreement took place on on Victoria St where a 18m deep hole is being dug so a small tunneling machine can be launched as part of the task of moving the services. The hole is currently 13m deep so still has a little way to go. The photo below is from EmergingAuckland and there are more in the galleries – plus of many other projects.

 

While on the topic of the CRL, I came across this image from Auckland Transport showing the layout of Karangahape Rd Station

k-rd-axonometric-west

And in another piece of CRL news, Auckland Transport announced yesterday that the Albert St tunnels contract had won a sustainability award

The City Rail Link (CRL) has been awarded a ‘Leading’ Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) Design rating by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), the highest possible achievement in the IS scheme.

The rating to Auckland Transport is for the design and construction planning (with Connectus) of Contract 2 – Albert Street tunnels and a stormwater diversion.

To award a rating, ISCA considers project performance across six themes: Management & Governance; Using Resources; Emissions, Pollution & Waste; Ecology; People & Place; and Innovation.  The process the CRL has undertaken to engage and partner with Mana Whenua to embed cultural values into an industry recognised sustainability framework has been acknowledged as a ‘world first’ innovation.

Thoughts on the CRL ground breaking event

So yesterday was the symbolic ground-breaking, or perhaps more accurately the ground-exploding for the City Rail Link. If you weren’t there and didn’t watch the live stream the video is below and the actual ceremony starts from about 48 minutes. I thought I would give some of my views of it.

Over the years now I’ve been to a number of ground-breaking ceremonies and this was by far the most interesting. Auckland Transport and the Council certainly put a bit of effort in here but I guess when you’re celebrating the start of largest single transport project that is kind of justified.

AT held the event right out in front of Britomart which was a good choice. While they had a marquee (and some tasty CRL cupcakes) for those who had been invited, it also allowed members of the public to join in too and there appeared to be quite a few people doing so. The people in shot below were outside of that invited area. For those outside of Auckland, as you can see the weather also turned it on which was a nice change after the last 3 weeks or so.

Some of the CRL cupcakes

CRL cupcakes

Right off the bat one aspect that was quite different and I thought a nice touch, was to have quite a strong focus on youth. This was optimised by having a 17-year-old from Waitakere College as the emcee for the event. She brought a lot of energy to her role which was refreshing to see.

John Key was the first speaker and I thought his comments were very good, in particular this part.

Second thing I think is that ultimately what we’re seeing in cities around the world that are doing well and progressing is that they’re places where people want to work, obviously, but they’re also places where people want to live and people want to be entertained. And what we’re seeing as Auckland grows up and indeed grows out, is a lot more apartments being built and I think over time you’re going to see more and more people live in the CBD, they’re not going to own cars, they’re going to get on the City Rail Link, they’re going to get on the train for transportation, they’ll get on the bus, and frankly they’ll probably take a taxi or Uber. And they’ll have their living, working and entertainment happen here in the CBD and that’s really what this is about, it’s an investment in the future, it’s an investment in Auckland, it will make a great difference in transforming the city, it’s a very futuristic project.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Key speak positively about transport or urban issues and I guess some of that comes from his time spent overseas in the likes of New York so it’s all the more surprising that these attitudes haven’t flowed through to some of his ministers or transport priorities.

Key was followed by Simon Bridges who also talked very positively about the project and the impact it will have even referencing the council’s “World’s Most Liveable City” goal. Both Bridges and Key also paid respect to Len Brown for his ongoing advocacy for the project which has been instrumental in getting it to this point.

Next up it was Lester Levy who talked about what it takes to make a project like this happen including highlighting that they’ve got experts from around the world working on the CRL

Then it was time the speech that most were keen to see, Lens speech. As expected Len was ebullient and so he should be given the history of the project and the attitude of the government up until recently. Len covered off a lot of topics in his speech but one I thought was quite important was that today probably would never have been possible without the government having amalgamated the councils of Auckland in 2010. On a personal level it was nice that he acknowledged the role of transport advocates in helping to get to this stage. As John Key said, Len should rightly be proud at what he’s achieved with the CRL.

One interesting fact that came out in Len’s press release after was this showing just how much patronage to the city is expected to increase in just the first year.

“Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.

Following the speeches there was a flash mob before the grand finale of Bridges, Brown and Key pushing an oversized detonator to set off some pyrotechnics and balloons to start the project – although as Bill Bennett pointed out, that detonator is reminiscent of something else.

Although as Luke discovered later, that sod has been unturned and filled back in again

Did AT go over the top with the dancing and pyrotechnics? It was certainly a unique ceremony for a unique project.

With the ceremony out of the way we can now look forward to the project really getting under way, despite the disruption that will bring.

Did you attend the ceremony or did you/have watched the live stream? What did you think of it?

Why is Len talking tolls again

Two weeks ago John Key confirmed that the government would cover half of the costs of the City Rail Link and allow for main works to start in 2018. Immediately questions began about how the Auckland Council would cover its share of the expected $2.5 billion cost. Equally quickly Mayor Len Brown was once again raising the issue of road tolling, suggesting it was needed to pay for it.

The government confirmed yesterday it would pay about half the cost of the project, allowing work on part of the project involving a tunnelling machine to begin earlier in 2018.

Mayor Len Brown believes he has the backing of most Aucklanders to introduce higher road taxes and impose tolls to pay for the city’s half of the bill.

But Mr Brown told Morning Report road tolls were part of a range of transport funding options, and in the long term could not be overlooked.

“We know that we don’t have enough money through rates and borrowings, even if we sold things like the airport shares or the port shares, it’s still not enough.

“It is a critical issue with the growth of the city with the transport investment needs that we have and the City Rail Link in the end, with the $65 billion we’ve got to spend over the next 30 years, is only a small part of it.”

Mr Brown said he could not see any other way of raising extra revenue than with a motorway toll.

Quite why Len is suddenly raising the issue of road tolls again is odd for a few reasons.

Long Term Plan

Last year the council spent a lot of effort discussing the Long Term Plan – the 10-year budget. As part of that process they presented Aucklanders with a binary choice of either a programme of works that would build:

  • a basic version funded out of rate rises of 3.5% but that built very little over the coming decades.
  • almost every transport project ever dreamed up requiring lots of additional funding and still saw congestion predicted to get worse than it is today. To pay for the up to $12 billion extra that would be needed the council proposed either:
    • road pricing on motorways
    • a combination of additional rates increases and regional fuel taxes

The important thing though is that both versions of the transport plan included the funding for the City Rail Link. That means the project was never subject to the alternative funding options like Len is suggesting now.

LTP Basic vs AP networks

To realise either of funding options for the Auckland Plan option it would have required government approval and that didn’t happen. So instead the council ended up implementing a three-year interim transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses with the money from it earmarked primarily for PT, walking and cycling projects. There is absolutely no reason why the transport levy couldn’t be continued in to the future which is enough to effectively fund a sensible middle option of something between the two original LTP transport plans.

Just coming back to the CRL, the council’s own LTP documents show the project already has funding budgeted for it over the next decade. It includes the expected contribution from the government – which the council correctly assumed would be on board by then.

LTP approved capital projects list

click to enlarge

ATAP

As you know the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is currently going on and is reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland (the CRL and East-West link sat outside of this). In the Terms of Reference it specifically mentions road pricing, saying they will consider (I’ve underlined the important part)

all land transport interventions, including roads, rail, public transport, personal mobility services, walking, cycling, technology, network optimisation and demand management (including pricing for demand management purposes)

In other words, as part of the process they’re looking at what impact road pricing could have but not as a revenue gathering tool like Len wants but as a demand management one. The distinction between the two are important and would likely lead to quite different looking systems. As the name implies a demand management tool is really about trying to optimise the use of transport networks we have by using road pricing to keep roads from becoming congested. We’ve long suggested that if implemented it should be introduced in a revenue neutral way, lowering rates by the amount raised from the road pricing. In our view doing it this way would separate a potentially very useful tool from the more politically fraught issue of raising more money as by tying the two together it’s more likely neither will happen.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of road pricing is that it changes the question from how much traffic do we need to accommodate to how much do we want to accommodate. With it, it will almost certainly change the priority of many projects and it would kill off many projects altogether. For example, spending billions to widen or duplicate a motorway because an (unreliable) traffic model says vehicle volumes will increase in the future likely becomes a thing of the past. Every silly project that is no longer needed means a less extra funding that needs to be raised, easing pressure on Aucklanders and the government.

Of course to really implement road pricing we really need a much more complete range of good quality alternative options but if we know we’re going to do it in the future it should allow us to prioritise what is needed before that happens.

 

In conclusion, the council’s plans have the CRL clearly in the budget even if we had stuck with the no additional funding option. As such it seems that Len was perhaps trying to reignite the debate about road tolls from last year in a bit to push once again for a more build everything approach. But given the ATAP process is well under-way it seems the best option right now is to wait and see what comes from that.  The only other option for why he would suggest it is perhaps to keep the idea in the government’s head so they know the issue hasn’t gone away.

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.

 

NZTA and a Rail Harbour Crossing

The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.

In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.

In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.

Westconnex

From Sydney but appropriate here too

If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.

One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.

Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.

First up from the North Shore times

But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.

Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.

Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.

Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.

….

An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.

The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.

Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.

Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.

The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.

The second piece is from the Central Leader

“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.

But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.

Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.

“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.

The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.

“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.

Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.

The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.

Len Brown on the CRL

With less than a week to go till Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce an earlier start for the City Rail Link, Mayor Len Brown has written a fantastic op-ed on why the project is needed. One of the issues I’ve long thought the CRL has suffered from is that it’s part of the solution to a wide range of issues, not just transport ones. Len covers many of these well in his piece.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

You may be surprised to know how long the Herald has been speculating on when or if Auckland will get an underground train system. As is widely known, Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposal in the 1970s got axed but his wasn’t the first. It actually goes back almost a hundred years in Auckland’s history. In 1923, then Railways Minister Gordon Coates gave his support for a city-to-Morningside underground rail line.

Reading through old files of this newspaper and its then-rival the Auckland Star over the holiday break, I was intrigued at how many times the same arguments for and against have been aired and which sadly resulted in missed opportunities.

A few days before Christmas, I spoke at an iwi blessing for the start of work in Albert St, signalling the start of the City Rail Link against that history of missed opportunities. It was a hugely moving occasion.

The City Rail Link is not just a transport story. It’s also about growing business and creating jobs as well as promoting environmental sustainability. The economic growth that will result will occur well beyond the central city. I have championed this project since my first Auckland Council mayoral campaign because it will be transformational, not only to keep Auckland moving and also to boost the city’s economic and social life. It will rejuvenate many parts of wider Auckland as well as building a great heart for the city.

It is estimated about 120 premature deaths occur in Auckland each year due to air pollution. Vehicles are also the largest contributor to Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions, making up more than a third of the region’s total. The rail link will move more people out of their cars and into public transport resulting in cleaner air and water as well as promoting more active lifestyles. The move from diesel to electric trains has already reduced our CO2 emissions by 1 per cent.

Auckland’s city centre is New Zealand’s largest, fastest-growing and most productive employment precinct. Its focus is the fastest-growing part of our economy, the service sector – quality professional services, quality hospitality and quality retail. The service sector is people-intensive, so its growth means we need to move increasing numbers of people into and out of the city centre every day.

The number of people travelling to and from the city centre by car has been static for more than 15 years, and now 52 per cent of people commute by public transport. Public transport and walking and cycling are the only way to build the city workforce.

Some people suggest the way we should respond to this is by spreading the growth, and traffic, out to other parts of Auckland. This has been the failed plan for the past 60 years. There is certainly plenty of growth to go around and it is already being experienced in major metropolitan centres across Auckland.

Over the past two years, Auckland’s economy is growing at an extra $3 billion a year adding about 35,000 new jobs per annum. Concentrating certain types of employment in the city centre, however, is critical to maximising its economic value to all of Auckland. The private sector is planning and constructing new office developments able to accommodate 22,000 employees in the city centre over the next six years.

Great research has been done into urban economies over the past decade. One major finding is that whenever you increase the number of workers in an area, the productivity of individual workers goes up. This means that if you increase the number of workers by a certain percentage, you increase economic output by more than that percentage. This is because larger centres enable more specialisation and more interaction between people and firms. So providing for job growth in Auckland’s city centre is critical to its economic future. Public transport is the only way we can deliver the necessary workforce to the CBD.

Britomart station will hit train handling capacity this year. It can handle only 20 trains an hour.

The CRL allows us to increase this to 48 trains an hour. Building the rail tunnel will also divert more than enough passengers to the new Aotea Station to give Britomart enough capacity to handle decades of growth. To reach my vision of Auckland being the world’s most liveable city, we need this to happen and I expect it will soon get the needed additional financial support from the Government.

So while we all know transport and housing are the city’s biggest challenges, the issue dominating everything is that Auckland is on a roll and we are growing fast. In fact our population is growing at 3 per cent a year or more than 800 new people a week and immigrants are continuing to decide Auckland is their destination of choice.

The CRL is the heart of dealing with the growth, with propelling our economy, and creating a future Aucklanders want.

On a related note, interestingly today we also learn that Auckland will be hosting APEC in 2021. Albert St is in the process of being dug up and while the section north of Wyndham will be finished in 2018, about the time the main works are due to start which includes digging out the Aotea Station. I wonder if that section will be finished in time or if this section straddled by a few hotels will be one big construction hole.

Len’s Legacy

Yesterday Mayor Len Brown announced that he would not stand again for the mayoralty next year.

Len Brown has announced that he has decided not to seek another term as Mayor of Auckland.

Mr Brown says: “It has been my absolute honour to be given the privilege to be able to serve our people as the first Mayor of a united Auckland.

“I was proud to be inaugurated as the first Mayor of the super city in 2010 and humbled to be re-elected for a second term three years later.

“However after discussions with my wife Shan and our daughters, I have decided nine years as Mayor, first of Manukau and then Auckland, are enough.

“Our opponents wrote us off from day one, but the achievements during the first five years of the new Auckland have been extraordinary.

“Auckland is more confident and positive about its future than it has been in decades. We are becoming a true international city and the symbols of our optimism are all around us.

“Electric trains, double decker buses, a growing network of cycleways, new ferry routes and most of all construction is about to begin on the City Rail Link – the most important piece of infrastructure to be built in Auckland in decades.

“Auckland is working better with government than it has in years with the Housing Accord enabling thousands of extra homes to be built and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project focussing on building vital transport infrastructure.

“We have opened up the waterfront and award winning civic amenities have been built and are now being enjoyed by people across Auckland.

“Our swimming pools are free for our kids, people will be able to cycle and walk across SkyPath on the Harbour Bridge, we have saved iconic heritage landmarks such as the St James, and that most iconic of Auckland landmarks, Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill will soon have a tree back on the summit.

“All this while the council remains committed to low rates increases, the sale of non-strategic assets, capping council debt and keeping our credit rating remains at a level many sovereign states would be jealous of.

“Aucklanders have my assurance that my commitment to this job will continue until the last day of my mayoralty. There is still enormous amount we need to achieve during the coming year.

“My best wishes to those who decide to stand for what is one of the most all-consuming jobs in the nation. Tamaki Makaurau is an extraordinary place which will place extraordinary demands on whoever takes up the challenge.”

Given the way Len and many council decisions have been portrayed in the media over – especially over the last few years – he has clearly made the only sensible choice available to him.

As the first Mayor of an amalgamated Auckland I think the Len and the council often faced some very unique challenges and ones that won’t exist for any future mayor. These include the creation of the first Auckland Plan, the Unitary Plan, the standardisation of services across the region and of course combining eight separate rating systems in to one. All of these areas were some of the key drivers behind the creation of a single council and the process of making the new council omelette was always going to require a few eggs to be broken.

On rates where Len and the council are most heavily criticised, the move to a single rating system – where everyone properties rates are determined by the same criteria – the changes have been taking place gradually over around four years. That has seen rates for some increase above the regional average (new property valuations have had an impact here too) while they have actually decreased or stayed about the same for others. With the migration out of the way there aren’t likely to be the level of increases the media have portrayed in recent years.

Simply by virtue of all of these disruptive changes having already taken place any future mayor and council is going to look much more stable and in control of what’s going on even if they carried on exactly as things are. Also let’s not forget that Len had only one of 21 votes on the council for decisions. If all of the other councillors didn’t agree with the changes then they could have voted against them.

Right now Len is seen as a lightning rod for those upset with change to focus on however I do think that history will much kinder to him. The city has come a long way in just five years and we’ve probably witnessed some of the most dramatic change the city has seen. We’ve seen

  • the city become more walkable through developments like the Shared Spaces
  • an internationally award winning waterfront development at Wynyard Quarter
  • electric trains have been rolled out across Auckland’s network and over the five years of the council rail patronage has increased by 65%
  • bus patronage has increased by 22% and double deckers have started to be rolled out
  • ferry patronage has increased by 24% with new routes rolled out to Hobsonville Point and Beach Haven.
  • the start of good quality cycling infrastructure e.g. on Beach Rd
  • the government and council now working together on actually aligning views on transport with the recently announced ATAP process.

Of course some of those changes were already under way before the council came into being and so perhaps even more important is to also think about the next few years to see what the council have achieved.

By far the biggest achievement has to be the City Rail Link. Len has consistently pushed for the project since elected in 2010 despite the government not being supportive of it. After they agreed to the project back in 2013 he has continued to advocate for it to start earlier. The council have backed that and Albert St will be a hive of activity from about May next year as digging starts on the first section. Further we’ve had lots of suggestions from various people that the government might soon be ready to announce earlier funding.

In addition to the CRL we’ve lots of other big changes coming in the next few years. This includes:

  • Over $200 million of new investment in cycleways over three years (combined with government funding).
  • Over 50 double decker buses will be on road over the next year or so to increase capacity on already busy routes.
  • The new bus network which will dramatically improve buses for most people.
  • Integrated fares making most public transport trips cheaper and easier.
  • Auckland Transport is looking at Light Rail for many routes on the isthmus as a direct response to the need to make public transport better and the city more people friendly
  • The council have combined two CCOs to form Panuku Development Auckland which should see the council more involved in urban development across the region.

This is far from an exhaustive list but certainly the future looks positive thanks to the work and focus that Len and the council have had.

In saying all of this not everything has been great. Perhaps the biggest concern I’ve had and continue to do have is that Len has spent a lot of time trying to please everyone. He’s tried to do it all, for example in the Auckland Plan instead of making some tough calls as to which projects get included as priorities the council have opted to just do everything.

Still on the general balance of things I think Len has done a fairly decent job and pushed a vision for Auckland that has been positive. His legacy will be that Auckland will end up in much better place than it was when he became mayor and many future generations will benefit from the push to make Auckland a more liveable city.

Addressing Fare Evasion

Yesterday Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced a law changes that will come next year to make it easier to deal with fare evasion. Currently there is a penalty of $150 for fare evasion but only the police are able to enforce it. In the future warranted ticket inspectors will be able to take the details fare evaders so infringement notices of $150 can be issued and if the person refuses to comply then if convicted they could be issued a fine of up to $1,000.

Simon Bridges - fare evasion

As mentioned above these changes aren’t immediate as they will require a law change to go through parliament and that is not expected till some time next year however they do seem like a step in the right direction.

Here is Bridges speech at the event yesterday. I noticed in particular that he says he is well aware of the rapidly increasing patronage thanks to Len Brown reminding him almost every day

Here is his press release.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges says public transport users who deliberately avoid paying fares will face penalties under changes to the rules on fare evasion, which will be made to the Land Transport Act in 2016.

While previously there has been a fare evasion offence, it has been very difficult to enforce. Under these changes, councils may appoint warranted enforcement officers who will have powers to:

Ask passengers to provide evidence they have paid a fare;
Ask passengers to advise their name, address and date of birth if they cannot produce evidence of a valid ticket;
Advise the passenger to get off the public transport service.
As before, fare evaders will face an infringement fee of $150 or a maximum fine of $500 on conviction if evidence of a fare cannot be provided. But there will now also be a new offence of failure to comply with an enforcement officer’s directions to provide details or leave the service, which will carry a maximum fine of $1,000 on conviction.

In challenging situations enforcement officers will still be able to call on Police for assistance, but the need for this will be significantly reduced by these new measures.

“Auckland Transport raised the issues around fare evasion with me and it has been good to work constructively with them to help ensure public transport is a success in our biggest city,” Mr Bridges says.

“Evasion of public transport could be as high as six percent – or $2 million a year – on Auckland’s rail network alone, and without action, these numbers could rise further.

“Left unchecked evasion of fares increases the costs of public transport for paying passengers as well as taxpayers and ratepayers who subsidise the services.

In doing so it undermines the integrity of the ticketing systems used and the effectiveness of public transport generally.

“While these changes will be of immediate use in Auckland especially on rail, they will also help in other parts of New Zealand – and on other modes of transport such as buses – over time,’ Mr Bridges says.

The comments about double deckers are interesting and hopefully suggests some of the thinking going on behind the scenes will be to allow all door boarding to speed up dwell times.

As mentioned above it is estimated fare evasion on trains could be cost $2 million per year in lost revenue – although it’s likely better enforcement will just mean those trips don’t happen rather than the AT will collect $2 million more. The revenue aspect was something that Mayor Len Brown focused on.

And from this press release

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has welcomed the announcement by Transport Minister Simon Bridges, saying fare evaders are effectively cheating ratepayers, taxpayers and honest travellers and this is something he has been seeking for some time.

“An estimated six per cent of passengers evade fares and that has a negative effect on revenue and the provision of services. I suspect the $2m per annum figure is conservative – it could be much more.”

“Recorded public transport patronage has exceeded 80 million trips for the first time, with annual rail patronage up 22.7 per cent to 14.4 million. However actual patronage will be much higher and it’s crucial we have accurate figures so we can properly plan for future service and infrastructure requirements.”

The Mayor said fare evasion was often accompanied by anti-social behavior. “This initiative will help deal with those who don’t value community assets or respect the rights of fellow passengers.”

For their part Auckland Transport say they will be making it harder for people to evade fares which will include changes at some stations. Gating will go in at Otahuhu when it is built and AT say they are working on business cases to gate some additional stations but this isn’t a cheap solution so will not be across the entire network. They did say that stations not gated will see some changes to create more controlled access to platforms. This may include using fencing to reduce the number of entrances at some stations and possibly shifting infrastructure such as ticket machines. In addition they are looking at changing security procedures to make improve safety – or perceptions of safety. I understand this may involve more extensive police involvement including them using trains.

Here are Lester Levy’s comments

 

While the fare evasion announcement is a welcome step, I think it actually a sign something even more important and was hinted at in the speeches. In Simon Bridges we now appear to have a Transport Minister who willing to work with Auckland (and other cities) to improve public transport and this includes fixing the small stuff. Another recent example was the change to vehicle regulations which made it easier to get double deckers on our roads and as a result three bus companies are purchasing 53 of them. It’s worth noting that many of the people I’ve spoken to have commented on how good Bridges has been to work with. Will he be the Transport Minister that gets the CRL over the line? The same people have also said that Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye has also doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help get improvements over the line. Perhaps in Bridges and Kaye we’re starting to see the younger more urban literate side of the National Party emerge and that can only be a good thing for our cities.

Government Says No to Road Pricing

How Auckland’s transport system develops and how it is paid for is probably something that will be debated until the end of time. That doesn’t mean we should just sit back and endlessly debate it though. Almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done to and it seems many are even prepared to pay extra for it.

If there’s one thing that’s been clear for many years now it’s that Aucklander’s want more choice in how they get around. Many have either travelled to, lived in or come from other cities around the world that provide residents with greater transport choices and have therefore seen first-hand the benefits greater options provide residents. However in Auckland they primarily turn to the car as for most that’s the only realistic option for getting around. The car might be preferred by many but a lot of people would love to have options and that’s come through in survey after survey. The most recent case of this was the Long Term Plan where the feedback was overwhelmingly in favour of focusing more on public transport and cycling. The desire for more transport choice was something the AA noted too in their survey.

2015 LTP Final Changes in transport Investment

It’s this strong feedback that is almost certainly a factor in the majority of the council’s Interim Transport Programme – which is possible due to the new transport levy – going towards PT and active modes.

interim-programme

However the transport levy is only meant to be an interim step until a longer term funding solution can be found. During the LTP the council consulted on taxes and rates or tolls on motorways. I was quite surprised that just over half supported the tolling options in some manner – although that could also be an outcome from the binary choice that was presented.

 

2015 LTP Final network and funding preferences

To be honest I’m not a huge fan of motorway tolling – or at least not what was proposed. That’s because I feel that just targeting motorways is likely to have a number of large side effects such as pushing a lot traffic that would otherwise be on the motorway onto arterials and then making it more difficult to roll out PT and cycling initiatives. A road pricing scheme that was more focused on getting the most out of our entire road network by better managing demand rather than a scheme focused primarily on raising revenue seems like better option to pursue.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like any kind of alternative funding method is going to get much support from the government. They’ve previously signalled they don’t like the idea of tolling or other ways of raising taxes which is why the council adopted a transport levy. Now it seems they are ruling out the toll idea completely with Radio NZ reporting that Transport Minister Simon Bridges has written to Mayor Len Brown saying the government is unwilling to even consider the idea.

This stance is really quite absurd. It’s not like Auckland was just asking for a huge wad of cash the government but instead just to be allowed to raise funds in a new way to pay more projects itself and the political risk in doing so sits firmly with the council, not the government. It makes me wonder what the government is so afraid of, that it will be so successful that Auckland improves faster and better than they’d like.

I’m not sure if this is just the reporting or if it actually reflects Bridges/the government’s views however if it’s the latter it’s concerning that he seems to be suggesting that the only role in PT is in reducing congestion rather than it enabling greater access to the wider city. It reflects that the government seem to see PT only as an option of last resort for the poor or those that can’t stand congestion rather than it having the ability to be a mode of choice. One such example is the Northern Busway which now gets high usage all across the day thanks to the investment to give it a congestion free and therefore a time competitive route.

He’s proposing a year-long negotiation with the council on an agreed 30-year programme focusing on reducing congestion, and boosting public transport where that reduces congestion.

Of course Len Brown seems to be acting like nothing’s ever happened with Radio NZ reporting that he still thinks the government might eventually change their mind and approve it. I think he’s dreaming if he thinks that and also if he thinks the government is going to respect the council’s transport plans. In fact given the time-frames involved it seems more like the transport accord is more of a way to buy some time on making a decision.

This news comes hot on the heels of a report from the OECD suggesting that Auckland/the government needs to consider road pricing but to help manage the congestion. They also note that more PT would be needed to give people more options and the ability to avoid the costs. Note: there’s quite a number of concerning aspects of the OECD report which I’ll cover in a separate post.