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.

 

Thoughts on a Transport Accord

Over recent days and weeks the suggestion of an agreement between the Council and the Government – a Transport Accord similar to the Housing Accord agreed to in 2013 – have grown stronger and stronger. It’s easy to see why an accord would be desired from both parties. The council want a secure source funding from the government to help address the city’s growth. Similarly the government seem keen to have more definition around the cost implications but also there seems to be some political motivations at play. I think they want to be seen to be doing something and I suspect they may also want to get an accord signed before the main local body elections heat up as it’s likely transport will be a major talking point.

While there’s a lot of talk that an accord there’s not a lot of detail about just what it may entail. That’s because what work that has already happened is firmly behind closed doors and will likely stay that way for some time. The media so far have largely being playing the idea that an accord is primarily about agreeing on a set of projects and this has focused a lot around Simon Bridges interview on The Nation just over a week ago when he said he dismissed rail to the airport. I increasingly think that his comments reflect more of an ideological hiccup than any serious discussion that’s been had. By that I mean that when pushed to name projects that shouldn’t be on the list he retreated to the only one possible. For ideological reasons it had to be a rail project as criticising road or bus projects would have just made the rest of his comments seem absurd and it couldn’t be the CRL as the government have already committed to that – albeit not in the time-frame it is needed.

Thinking through what’s actually been said about the accord so far it seems that perhaps it’s not so much about specific projects but instead something more fundamental. Below are a few excerpts from recent articles. First from the interview on The Nation

What would a transport accord do exactly?
First and foremost, alignment. It would mean that— I think the questions you’re asking me would be answered. We’d have a sense of agreement on the problem, on the congestion numbers. We’d have a sense of the priorities and what we’re trying to achieve. Is it that fewer big projects, more projects around the city, or what is it? And then it’s that mix of projects that at the moment we don’t know.

And from Saturday in the Herald.

“It’s really about seeing if we can get better alignment between Government and council on transport priorities,” Mr Bridges said. “We’re conscious that we don’t want to make this too pointy-headed but it will be a quite complex, involved process, taking at least a year. We want to test each others’ assumptions and see if we can get alignment on the numbers.”

What we appear to be seeing is a continuation of the same kind of response from the government that was seen in the wake of the City Centre Future Access Study. Basically the government and it’s ministry’s don’t even agree with Auckland Council/Transport on key inputs into the decision making. That includes assumptions like how fast the city will grow (i.e. population or land use etc.), how costs and preferences will change and likely many other areas. They also don’t agree on the outcomes we should be focusing on i.e. should we be discussing congestion or access and how should the outcomes be measured.

The reason those aspects are so important is that sometimes even small changes in the assumptions you use or the outcomes that you need to achieve can significantly change the types of projects that will be needed. What’s more the less agreement there is between these fundamental issues the more changes there is for politicians to swing priorities without basis. An example is like the ruler in this video below. The ruler represents transport policy with the tip being specific transport projects while the finger represents the impact that politicians have. Currently we’re like the fourth example and swinging around like mad from even a little political pressure. Where a transport accord should hopefully be useful is to move us more towards the first example where there political pressure doesn’t exert that much change in policy

Essentially the process sounds like it’s doing a back to basics approach first and justifying each and every step and this time ensuring that all groups agree on the details. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing it does kind of seem like redoing much of the planning work that AT have already been doing over a number of years. Given the amount of work AT have already done I’d then expect the results to come out similar to what they have already shown in planning documents like the RLTP. I covered whether Auckland has an effective transport plan just over a week ago. Here’s one of the outcomes showing a substantial lift in public patronage over the 30 year window from the more expensive plan.

pt-patronage-modelling

Just how the transport accord will end is unknown however I would hope that at least at a technical level there would be some fairly close alignment in most of the inputs and outcomes needed.

In saying all of this I think that in any criteria there also needs to be recognition from the government as to just what Aucklanders say they want for their city. This is especially important if the people making these decisions are sitting in a desk in Wellington. We have a good idea of what residents want from the LTP consultation as shown below and it is backed up by other surveys that have been conducted over the years. Just measuring outcomes based on impacts of a few measures such as congestion or required vehicle flows could lead to distorted and negative outcomes such as removing pedestrian, cycle or PT infrastructure in a bid to find more space for cars, the very things Aucklanders say they want more of.

2015 LTP Final Changes in transport Investment

Lastly I also hope that a Transport Accord could lead to innovation in how we plan for transport in Auckland. I think it’s absurd that given the interrelated nature of the regions transport systems that we have different organisations planning local roads/PT, state highways and rail projects. While I know the various organisations do work together there still seems like there’s a disconnect that leads each organisation of focus on their specific areas rather than seek the best overall solution to Aucklands issues. Perhaps it’s time for at least the planning and financing functions to be joined into one team – even if physical implementation is left with the various organisations.

A Transport Levy for a more balanced Transport Plan?

Yesterday the Mayor Len Brown presented his amended proposal for the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP) which follows on from the public submissions and surveys. The most significant change from the draft that was consulted on is in the area of transport. Len seems to have heard the message that the government isn’t about to agree to tolling or regional fuel taxes to pay for the council’s massive transport wish list and that if it is going to happen, it will need a lot more discussion and work between the two parties.

As an interim step he’s proposed a three year targeted transport levy of $99 for residential properties and $159 for business properties – that’s roughly $2 & $3 per week respectively. That levy is said to be enough to fund just over $170 million worth of extra investment a year or about $500 million over three years.

As a comparison the LTP documents that talked about either motorway tolling or a combo of regional fuel taxes and rates was to raise enough money to cover around $300 million in extra investment a year. As such Len’s proposal represents just over the half of that.

We frequently criticised the council for its build all plan that would have required all that extra funding and called for a middle ground to be found that prioritised the projects that Aucklanders have repeatedly said they want more focus on – public transport and cycling. And of course we weren’t alone in this suggestion with Generation Zero creating the Essential Transport Budget (ETB) that explained this idea in more detail. Both the AA and the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development  (NZCID) also called for a middle ground to be found although they didn’t specify what projects should be included. The table below shows the transport area’s submissions to the LTP said should have more or less focus.

2015 LTP Final Changes in transport Investment

I think that aiming for enough money to fund $170 million and doing so through a targeted levy is probably a good outcome. It means there should be enough money to build the good projects we need while retaining some pressure to ensure the council and Auckland Transport focus on high value projects that will actually deliver good outcomes. I think one area there could be some contention with the transport levy is in the fact it’s the same flat rate for all residential/business ratepayers. That means there’s no differentiation based on property capital value like there is with rates and as such is likely to hit lower income households more than higher income ones.

The council haven’t released the full details about what extra projects will go ahead however Len did mention these ones specifically were included. All figures are over the next three year period

  • Busways to the North and Northwest
  • Increase walking and cycling funding from $14 million to $124 million (including $75 million from the Government and NZTA).
  • Increase the network wide safety programme from $28 million to $111 million
  • Bringing forward some PT interchange projects
  • Electrification to Pukehoke
  • Park & Rides at Papakura, Westgate and Silverdale
  • Tamaki Dr and Ngapipi Rd safety and amenity improvements
  • Improvements to Lake Rd
  • Road sealing budget in Rodney to increase from $3 million to $10 million

That seems like quite a good list but as mentioned we will really need to see the full details first before commenting further. Some of these – such as busways to the North West – don’t seem practical to be built in the next three years so any funding is likely to be around the planning work needed.

Now that some of the council meetings are also being recorded and published online you can now see the debate if you’re interested. The two video’s below include Len presenting his proposal however you can also see the councillors questions in the other video’s available here (Governing Body – Item 11). The transport part is in the first video and as part of it Len also confirms the government is open to working on a transport accord.

The second video above is also interesting as it contains the comments from Councillor Cameron Brewer. I say interesting as Brewer has a history of being quite hostile towards Len and his priorities however he now appears to be quite supportive and even called on Bill English to add a line into the governments upcoming budget for their 50% share of the City Rail Link (from about 17 minutes). He also put out this press release on his support for Len’s rates proposal and the transport levy.

As mentioned earlier the transport levy have given the council three years to work on getting the government over the line. It seems to me that once ratepayers have adjusted to the extra money on their rates bill that the levy is something we could see stay much longer than three years as an easier alternative to implementing other funding mechanisms such as tolls. This wouldn’t necessarily be a completely negative thing either as the reduced funding compared to the tolling/regional fuel tax options would hopefully help AT remain focused on high value projects that will improve accessibility by all modes.

Not everyone is happy though, Michael Barnett from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce has called the levy a lazy way to raise money.

“I would hope that the capital raised will go to fast-track the big inter-generational Auckland projects that will make a measurable difference to reducing congestion.”

“The last thing Auckland needs from this proposal is for the ‘interim levy’ – really a targeted rate – to become a permanent fixture in Council’s revenue provisions,” said Mr Barnett.

Auckland still needs to see serious action by Auckland Council to seek new revenue sources other than ratepayers, make smarter innovative use of its $40 billion-plus asset base and achieve efficiency savings by focusing spending on core activities.

“The use of ratepayers this way – while an interim measure – is outmoded and will be seen as unfair to the many property owners who make little use of the transport system or are retired and asset rich but have little spare cash.

It also seems that Transport Minister Simon Bridges isn’t happy with the mix of projects the council has planned based on his responses in Parliament yesterday. He repeated variations of the text below a few times, just which projects he thinks should be prioritised is unknown though.

What I certainly can say is that we are always interested in ways to reduce congestion in Auckland and ways to improve public transport. In fact, what we have seen so far in terms of Mayor Brown’s preferred plan in Auckland does not do that sufficiently in the 2030s and 2040s. We want to work with him, with the council, and with Auckland to make a better, more optimal plan that does deal better with congestion and public transport.

There are also some more comments by Bridges in this article.

Overall the Mayor’s announcement yesterday is a good outcome however as mentioned we really need to see a list of just what projects are in and which aren’t.

One million, five months

I highlighted this yesterday and now Auckland Transport have officially announced that rail patronage has passed 13 million trips which is up from 11 million in March last year. By my calculation that puts patronage for Feb at about 1.2 million trips although unfortunately AT say they don’t have the exact numbers yet as are validating data from the likes of event travel suggesting the results could go even higher.

Patronage vs Target - Feb 15 (2)

 

In a separate press release from Mayor Len Brown he highlighted that it’s only taken 5 months to go from 12m to 13 million trips. Below shows how long it’s taken to reach other patronage milestones and as you can see, with the exception of the 11 million figure – which was partly impacted by the RWC and change to HOP – there’s been a downward trend meaning that in general it’s taking a shorter and shorter amount of time for new milestones to be reached. There’s obviously a limit to that at some point and it’ll be interesting to see just how low that goes.

Months to Milestones

At 5 months for the next million trips it suggests we’re going to hit 14 million at around July which seems eminently likely considering that AT say more six-car trains have started rolling out on the eastern line from this week with more coming soon and Len’s press release it notes

… and that will continue to increase with the Southern Line roll-out complete by the end of this month and the Western Line roll-out completing the transition to electric trains by the middle of the year

I certainly can’t wait for them to be rolled out – although I’m getting increasingly concerned that for the Western Line in particular that it simply won’t be enough until AT eventually get around to putting 10 minute frequencies on the line – something that was promised way back in 2010 and has yet to happen.

Along with that headline figure they also highlighted a few other stats, in particular that the average patronage on a weekday in Feb was 51,500, up 10,000 on Feb last year. In addition, now during the morning peak 12,500 people are using trains to get around. I’m not quite sure how many of them are going to Britomart but likely more than half of them.

The electric trains are definitely driving a lot of patronage. AT say that the number of people using trains from stations with fully electric train services is up 50%. At Panmure patronage has doubled and at Manukau it is up a whopping 176% (from a low base). As a comparison patronage at New Lynn which hasn’t seen any real change in services for years was also up strongly on last year at 24%

However while AT and the mayor are celebrating the rail result – and rightly so given the focus on the CRL – they in some ways have buried the lead a bit. In the very last sentence of their release they say:

Overall total public transport boardings have increased by more than 9% for the twelve months to the end of February, an additional 6.6 million boardings taking the annual total to 77 million.

I suspect most cities would think that a 9% growth in patronage across the entire system is a crazy level of increase. Perhaps more impressively total patronage for the previous 12 months at the end of November just passed 75 million trips and here we are 3 months later and the result is 2 million trips higher. In addition it also suggests we’ve now once again reached the (low) level of 50 trips per person per year. The last time Aucklanders each took an average of over 50 trips on PT was in the late 1980’s (as a comparison Wellington has 74 trips per person).

Auckland total patronage & per capita 1920-2014

I’m quite interested to see what our reader’s views are for when we will hit the next milestones. My guess is July and December for rail patronage and maybe we’ll see total patronage top 80 million in the next few months. Put your guesses in the comments.