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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Brian Rudman has an opinion piece in today’s Herald looking at Auckland Transport’s recent light-rail announcement and hoping that the Mayor jumps on board to support the idea a bit more than he has so far.
The mayor is struggling to put together a budget that will accommodate his magnificent obsession, the $2.5 billion underground City Rail Link (CRL), without triggering a ratepayer revolt, so his testiness over Dr Levy’s light rail proposal is understandable.
But if Mr Brown wants to be remembered as the mayor who solved Auckland’s transport congestion problems, he should be embracing the light rail proposal as though it was his idea.
His single-mindedness over the CRL is admirable. Such projects need a 24-hour-a-day champion. But it shouldn’t blind him to the bigger picture – that the heavy rail network, while vital, is only a small part of the city’s overall transport system, and that regardless of how much money is thrown at roads and buses, which the majority of commuters use, increasing congestion will inevitably induce cardiac arrest.
The mayor’s attitude towards the project so far perhaps has more to do with his surprise that Auckland Transport had undertaken such a major piece of work without him knowing the details, as well as the risk that some CRL opponents may jump on light-rail as an alternative to CRL (I explained how they do very different tasks here). However, as there is clearly merit in the proposal, Rudman is right in suggesting that the mayor jump on board – at least in terms of supporting full investigation.
The potential Light Rail network?
Rudman also points out that we should not be surprised to see Auckland Transport come up with some big new ideas for how to solve future transport challenges, because the existing/previous plans tend to show things getting worse – regardless of how much extra funding is raised for transport:
This was spelt out in March 2013 when Auckland Transport (AT) revealed its Integrated Transport Programme, with the dire warning that even if the $34 billion allocated to transport in the city’s proposed 30-year plan was spent as planned, the end result would be gridlock.
Worse, AT admitted that even if the city funded the alternative $59 billion gold-plated plan the transport boffins wanted, the outcome would still be dire.
“Even with the fully funded programme,” admitted the report authors, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.
It was all self-explanatory. The mayor’s vision of squeezing 700,000 to 1 million people into the compact isthmus city by 2041 was going to put an unsustainable pressure on the roading network. There wouldn’t be room for the extra cars and buses.
The main arterial roads, such as Symonds St and Albert St, would be jammed with buses.
At the time, the mayor refused to see the futility of pursuing this inevitable endgame. He still doesn’t. Instead he appointed a “consensus building group” to select ways of extracting another $12 billion from Aucklanders through fuel taxes or road tolls, to help fund the gold-plated scenario.
The group proposes the inevitable mix of taxes, all of which the Government has indicated it won’t allow. Yet the mayor won’t budge.
Thankfully, AT now acknowledges the flaw in its earlier 30-year plan, and is suggesting a solution employed by liveable cities all around the world. Modern trams.
While we are yet to see all the details of the light-rail project, especially in terms of its cost and the extent to which it resolves future transport challenges, at first blush there is some compelling logic to the scheme in providing high quality PT to a part of Auckland that has huge existing patronage and will never be served by rapid transit.
Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland
Perhaps the issue here is more about the ideal timing and priority of light-rail, compared to all the other projects Auckland is planning in the coming years. For example, there is a lot of investment required to enable the new bus network to be successfully implemented, there are huge areas of northwest and southeast Auckland with extremely poor public transport and there is an under-utilised rail network because of the Britomart bottleneck (which CRL resolves).
However, timing and priority issues aside, the mayor should be congratulating Auckland Transport for coming up with new ideas and finally accepting that their previous plans just weren’t adequate to meet Auckland’s transport needs for the next 30 years. Rudman is right in pointing this out.
With Mr Brown hanging his legacy – and his re-election hopes – on fast-tracking the central city rail tunnel, he obviously sees light rail as an unneeded distraction. That ignores the fact that the existing 30-year transport grand plan is designed to fail for the majority of commuters forced to travel by car or bus – even if we could afford to build it.
The light rail proposal is the chance to go back to the drawing board. No one’s suggesting trams should displace the CRL. They’re just a possible missing link in the earlier flawed integrated transport plan.
And while they’re fitting trams into the new model would be a good time to shave the unaffordable $12 billion blowout off the overall budget.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could compare the merits of this light-rail scheme (or the many other important projects on AT’s list) against the marginal state highway projects the government is throwing billions at over the next few years?
I made my way to town this morning for the official opening of the Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways. Perhaps because we’re only two weeks out from the election the government pulled out the big guns with John Key turning up to cut the ribbon along with Len Brown and Barb Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. The ceremony itself took place under the Wellesley St underpass which was presumably a precaution from the rain that threatened but which thankfully didn’t eventuate.
There were four speakers who spoke about the project, Ernst Zöllner – the regional director for Northland and Auckland, John Key, Len Brown and Barbara Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland. I managed to get a recording of most of them so rather than repeat what they said they are below.
I missed recording the start of his speech but it was about how the Grafton Gully project came up very highly on all of the NZTA’s criteria.
There were quite a few interesting comments from the Prime Minister. He said the NZTA were ahead of the politicians on cycling issued and have driven them to do more for cycling. He talked about the Dutch experience and how they haven’t always been such a cycling friendly place and the big one I thought was him stating his support for Skypath
Like Ernst I just missed the start of Len’s speech however he started by talking about how views on transport in Auckland were changing rapidly and referenced the recent poll and was talking about how a huge percentage of people now want investment prioritised around PT and active modes.
Speeches over and it was time to cut the ribbon to officially open the route.
and a quick photo op ride along the cycleway.
It was then time for us to get our bikes and have a go. Of course being a cycling event a ton of people turned up with their bikes and the bike racks for guests were overflowing.
I’ll do a separate post looking at the cycleway itself including photos and video.
This Thursday the mayor is releasing his first proposal for Auckland’s Long Term Plan, the 10 year budget for the city. Last week I blogged about the budgetary pressures the council is facing, and the risk of large cuts in public transport investment. However there is still potential for Auckland to progress the Congestion Free Network and important cycling investments in a rates constrained environment if we prioritise those projects and push back some of the very expensive roading projects with limited benefits like Penlink.
Generation Zero are running a mini campaign this week to encourage people send Len Brown a message that the budget needs to invest in public transport and cycling. Their email ask is at down below, and you can send an email to Len Brown using a simple online tool here: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan
Hey, all the work we’ve done together to push for separated bike lanes, the Congestion Free Network, and the frequent bus network all hinges on one big decision this Thursday.
Mayor Len Brown is right this moment making up his mind about what projects get prioritised in Auckland’s 10 year budget known as the Long Term Plan.
Tell him now to: make the CRL the number one priority; prioritise the city wide rapid transport network; triple the cycling budget; and not proceed with expensive projects with little regional benefit.
There’s real pressure on the Mayor to hold rate increases in his budget to between 2.5% to 3.5%. Transport infrastructure represents nearly 50% of the budget so this funding is the most at risk. This means as a city we need to make some serious decisions about what we prioritise to fund over the next 10 years.
The choice has been made simple for him by his advisors. He’s been advised that he can not deliver all the projects in the Auckland Plan, therefore he needs to find a middle ground.1
That middle ground is the Congestion Free Network.
The Mayor therefore needs to do four things with the Long Term Plan:
- Make funding for the City Rail Link his number one priority.
- Prioritise the construction of the city wide rapid transport network including new busways and rail links as seen in the Congestion Free Network.
- Ensure there is a tripling in the funding for cycling to $30 million a year so Auckland Transport can complete the City Cycling Network.
- Make sure only road projects with large regional benefits proceed by excluding expensive projects such as Penlink and Mill Road.
Click here to send a message to Mayor Len Brown right now urging him to follow our four recommendations.
The long term effects of a lack of investment would lead to ever increasing congestion and ineffective public transport, exacerbating the many problems our city already faces with transport.
Truly transforming our public transport network over the next 10 years means moving forward with the City Rail Link, North Western, Upper Harbour and South-Eastern Busways and Rail to Roskill, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.
On the other hand low value roading projects like Penlink2 have nothing to do with an outstanding public transport network.
Excluding these low value roading projects and prioritising an outstanding public transport network would help us get the right outcomes.
The choice is simple. The Council has already put in writing that their objectives over the next 10 years are to move to outstanding public transport within one network, and to radically improve the quality of urban living.
If Auckland wants to truly transform itself into a liveable low-carbon city it needs to prioritise high value projects that deliver on the Council’s own objectives.
Send a message now to tell the council to deliver on it’s own objectives: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan
The future of our city is in our hands.
A statement you won’t often hear on this blog is “I agree with Cameron Brewer” but you will hear it today. It’s in response to an his statements in this article in the Manukau Courier:
Public transport could get another boost if mayor Len Brown’s light rail loop for Manukau gets the green light.
“We want to run light rail from Manukau up through Clover Park, all along Te Irirangi Drive, up to Highland Park, up Panmure Highway and back to Manukau,” he says.
“The idea of getting mass transit into suburban areas is to give commuters flexibility.
“The key thing about running rail down Te Irirangi Drive is that people already complain about the traffic lights holding them up.
“The trains would run down the median strip in the road and they would take priority over cars.”
Light rail costs about an eighth as much as heavy rail to install, he says.
The trains would have a tighter turning circle and carry fewer people than the city’s new electric trains.
“Right now they are in the investigation stage. We really want to do a loop like that in Sydney.”
Brown is keen to get the project done quickly but says there are still many unknowns so no cost has been given.
He’s also keen to get smaller 20-person electric buses running between Manukau and Middlemore Hospital.
“It would also be great to build them here in Auckland and get the investment having a positive economic impact throughout the whole project.”
If I am reading things correctly it would be something like this.
The section from Panmure to Manukau would not be able to use the existing rail lines due to the gauge of the tracks and the fact that the tracks are/will be full with existing passenger and freight trains. It would also be pointless to duplicate that when it has a considerable amount of capacity in it for quite some time. As for the rest of the proposal, breaking it down the section from Panmure to Highland Park is quite useful due to the huge amount of people living in the area however it does stop short of going a bit further to Howick. Similarly I think the North/South route, particularly the part from Botany to Manukau is useful and is actually listed as eventually being part of the rapid transit network. The median strip along Te Irirangi Dr is huge and supposedly was intended to be used exactly the purpose of running light rail down it.
and from above where you can see it’s wider than the two lanes either side of it.
However while those two routes are useful I’m not sure how well they go together. For someone going from Botany to Panmure that’s quite a detour unless Len is intending this to be on top of the existing investment that is meant to be going in to the AMETI busway. It seems hard enough getting funding for that let alone this which at about 20km in length would surely be at least $300 million, probably more. Not only that it distracts focus from what are in my opinion much higher priorities like getting the CRL funded and getting the new network bus implemented properly – by which I mean with fully supported infrastructure like bus lanes and upgraded stops and interchanges. And it’s for this reason I agree with Cameron Brewer.
Councillor Cameron Brewer says the city’s bus infrastructure needs improvement before any light rail projects can get the go-ahead.
“I think the mayor needs to focus on getting the money for the $2.8 billion City Rail Link. This additional project is just not feasible in the foreseeable future.”
I view the mayor’s proposal as kind of like trying to run before you can walk. The other useful thing about getting the bus network sorted first is that it can start building up patronage which would make any future light rail network more successful. It’s also worth considering what the new network proposes for the area which is effectively the red and purple routes (the green route from Otara to Botany was upgraded to a frequent following the southern network consultation).
It’s also worth pointing out what we’ve proposed for the area as part of the Congestion Free Network.
We’ve proposed these be busways like what is going to be done as part of AMETI as to us the most important thing is getting the quality of the service in as fast as possible. One of the great things about doing this with bus infrastructure first is that it doesn’t preclude light rail in the future but allows us to start getting benefits from congestion free PT corridors quicker and cheaper. So yes perhaps light rail in the area would be great in the future however the priority now is getting some basics done properly. In my opinion this suggestion from Len is an unneeded distraction at this time.