One of the impressions I have of many of the government ministries is that they act on “you say jump, I ask how high” kind of arrangement. We seem to see this particularly strongly in the Ministry of Transport where staff appear to have gone to almost extraordinary lengths in the past to paint projects like the City Rail Link in a bad light while giving uneconomic RoNS projects a free pass, all of which is strongly in line with the positions taken by government ministers. (Note: MoT staff we know you read the blog so if you want to refute this feel free to provide information to the contrary)
So it’s interesting to see this article about a report by the Prime Ministers Chief Science Advisor suggesting a similar thing and recommending there be a similar position to his be created in a number of agencies including in the Ministry of Transport.
In a report on the role of evidence in policy formation and implementation, Gluckman reports a highly variable approach to the use of scientifically rigorous evidence in recommending, implementing and assessing the impacts of new public policy.
In some cases, senior public servants seemed to prefer “to work from their own beliefs or rely on their own experience.”
“At its extreme, I find this deficiency to be unacceptable,” he said, noting concern also about departments that rely “primarily on internal research of questionable quality and/or commissioning external advice that was not scientifically peer-reviewed.”
While there was excellent practice in some parts of the public service, but “some policy practitioners held the view that their primary role was to fulfil ministerial directives, rather than to provide an evidence-informed range of policy options on which Ministers could develop a position.”
“Surprisingly, this was held in some departments that most need to use objective evidence in their day-to-day operation,” Gluckman says.
Without naming names, he recommends the appointment of chief science advisors to the Ministries of Health, Education, Business, Innovation and Employment, Transport, and the Department of Internal Affairs.
It would be interesting to see what Gluckman – or someone in a position to push for evidence based policy – would say about current plans like the RoNS being built despite falling or flat lining vehicle ownership, kilometres travelled, licenses issued and even in many cases daily traffic volumes.
Equally it would be interesting to hear what they have to say about the impacts of current/proposed policies have on other areas like health, the environment or a number of other areas.
Of course this doesn’t mean the government’s policies would change but it would hopefully mean is much better information out in the public domain about the true impacts of the decisions that are made.
*** I recently wrote this post on the National Government’s LTMA Bill, which is currently before parliament. One of our readers felt sufficiently motivated by issues with this Bill to submit the following letter to his local National MP, in which he outlines his concerns. His local MP just happens to be John Key. ***
I really have a problem with the way aspects of the above Bill are re-aligning the objectives of Auckland Transport away from regional objectives set by Auckland’s elected Council representatives to those of National objectives set by nationally elected Politicians.
I am a constituent of yours and a long time supporter of the National Party, particularly its policies to reduce bureaucratic & Government intervention in our lives and enhance personal reliance. I am also a long time supporter of strong local government and supported the creation of Auckland’s single Super City Council. With the Council less than three years old and well before it has a chance to prove it’s worth it is not helpful to be hobbling it with legislation like this.
For me the biggest problem is that this legislation misaligns representation and taxation (as represented by property rates). The Council is clearly the rates collector so should be able to direct AT in how to spend its portion of those rates. If rate payers are dissatisfied with the direction of spend they can first lobby the Council then vote them out if necessary. When AT’s direction is set by the Government’s Policy on Transportation via NZTA it becomes a lot less clear as to who we should be lobbying and voting out should we be dissatisfied with the direction of spend.
I think there are probably other ways to ensure that AT’s activity and national objectives are aligned than this sort of draconian power grab legislation.
I look forward to hearing that you are reconsidering this legislative approach.
*** How say ye John? P.s. I emailed Nikki Kaye but have not yet received a response. If anyone out there knows Nikki can you please ask her to check her inbox? I know she’s busy, but you know, she represents Auckland Central. ***
In yesterday’s post Matt covered this recent article by Brian Rudman.
The crux of the issue is that the National Government – under the guise of the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill – is proposing to remove Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.
In the brave new world created by the LTMA Bill, Auckland Transport will have to develop a Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) that “is consistent with” the Government Policy Statement on Transport. In contrast, this RLTP need only to consider the regional transport objectives established by Auckland Council.
For those who are not used to Big Brother policy-speak, “consider” is what you do when you flip through a report looking at the pictures before turfing it in the recycling bin.
The relevant section of the Bill is shown below (page 15).
Hence, the Bill proposes to establish a clear policy hierarchy, where central government’s GPS has precedence over Auckland Council’s transport objectives. The change in hierarchy is subtle but oh so significant.
The Bill then goes on to explicitly remove Auckland Transport’s ability (established in the LGACA 2009, when Auckland Council was formed) to delegate responsibilities for developing the RLTP (either in part or in whole) to Auckland Council:
Consequential indeed. The intended (and practical) effect of the proposed legislative changes is that Auckland Transport becomes an implementation tool for the National Government, rather than one of the Auckland Council. On a superficial level this immediately renders the term “Council Controlled Organisation” (CCO) something of a misnomer – Auckland Transport may as well just merge with the Auckland offices of the MoT and NZTA and be done with it.
I think there are, however, deeper and more fundamental issues with the proposed legislative amendments. In my opinion, one of the primary issues with the LTMA Bill – as it is currently drafted – is the degree to which it undermines the (already tenuous) connection between taxation and representation. This connection has been a bedrock of conservative political thinking ever since the American War of Independence.
More specifically, the thinking behind the LTMA Bill fails to acknowledge that it is the people of Auckland who collectively pay for transport projects in our region, by way of user charges and local taxes (actually Auckland historically more than pays for its transport projects – to the benefit of other regions).
One might argue, then, that Central Government does not actually “fund” transport in Auckland in any meaningful sense – they simply distribute hypothecated fuel excise duties that are collected from users. It is actually Local Government that does most of the “funding” – insofar as the money they contribute is collected not from users but instead via taxes. The collection and application of these funds are subsequently open to normal democratic debate.
In my view, one of the fundamental tasks of the Central and Local Government agencies involved in funding transport is identifying projects that align with the preferences of the people who might use, or be impacted by, the transport system. In turn, I have not seen much evidence to suggest that Central Government is better placed to represent the preferences of these people. In fact most people view transport as one of the key functions of Local Government.
There is also no reason to expect that preferences are homogenous at the national level. People in Auckland, for example, are likely to have different transport preferences from people who live in Rangitikei. The former probably walk/cycle and use public transport considerably more than the latter.
Differences in preferences are one reason why certain types of people choose to live in cities, and vice versa in rural areas. Put simply, people will partly “self-select” their location based on how it reflects their transport preferences. This might imply that Local Government is actually better placed to understand transport needs than Central Government.
Moreover, in most parts of New Zealand the majority of travel demands are regional or local, rather than national. The last time I looked, approximately 90% of the vehicles using Auckland’s state highway network, for example, were associated with regional/local travel demands. Put simply, most of our travel occurs locally or regionally.
All this seems to suggest that Local Government should have quite a bit of say on how transport funds are applied.
The underlying principle being invoked here is called the principle of subsidiarity. This principle is embedded in European Law and seems to hold general appeal across the political spectrum, for quite understandable reasons. In short, the principle argues for governance functions to be devolved to the lowest possible level at which they can be delivered effectively and efficiently.
Last year the NZ Productivity Commission – instigated by the National Government – produced this issues paper on local government regulatory performance. The paper discussed – and generally extolled – the merits of subsidiarity. The section of their report titled “Factors that may be relevant in allocating regulatory roles” (pg. 28) contains this cutesy diagram:
What this illustrates is that the “local customised” approach to public policy more accurately reflects differences in the population’s underlying preferences. And that – put simply – makes the affected people better off. In contrast, the “one-size-fits-all” approach to setting transport policy, which is what the LTMA Bill proposes for Auckland, is likely to result in some people – especially those who use public transport and who walk/cycle – much less happy.
I’d suggest the National Government has a major problem on its hands, and one that is entirely of its own making. How do National reconcile the LTMA Bill with the concepts of taxation/representation, as well as the more general principle of subsidiarity? In my opinion you can’t; what is being proposed in the LTMA Bill is nothing less than a naked power grab.
I’m actually rather outraged by what is being proposed here. As an Aucklander who is interested in transport, I’d like all the National MPs in Auckland to front up and tell us why they think it’s appropriate for Central Government to place their transport agenda ahead of Auckland’s democratically elected councillors.
Can Aucklanders not decide for ourselves what sort of transport projects our rates and fuel excise duties should fund? Or does Nanny National always know best? And I have not even mentioned land use and transport integration, which is another strong argument for retaining Auckland Transport’s obligations to Auckland Council.
If you’re as concerned as I am by what is proposed in the LTMA Bill then I’d suggest you send your local National MP (listed below [source]) an email and let them know how you feel, or possibly just point them to this post. Go well.
These days, no transport project gets built or policy signed off without first being run through a model. I’m not talking about a scale model but a mathematical computer model that is designed to estimate just how people might use a project or how much a project and/or policy will affect the transport system. To do this, these models take historical data like traffic volumes and land use and mix them with assumptions about the future to get a result. Things these days have gotten to the point where people won’t make any decisions without running it though a model, after all if the computer gives the answer, it must be right. Right?
The problem though is that while they are all good in theory, these models are designed by humans. Yes they may be very smart humans but that doesn’t mean that they or their models don’t have flaws. Thanks to the OIA request I received back from the Ministry of Transport, as well as information in the recent Auckland Transport board meeting, we perhaps have more info than ever before on how our modelling works and some of the issues with it.
Auckland uses two general types of modelling, these are described below:
Travel demand models cover the region and are concerned with broad travel patterns and flows. These are usually calibrated on observed data (base year) and are then used to forecast responses to land use and transport changes or interventions.
Operational models usually cover a smaller area, are more detailed, and are used to assess detailed traffic operations on a section, approach, lane or turning movement level. AT operates two general types of operational models, one being flow based (traffic as a “stream”) and the other being micro-simulation (each vehicle or unit is simulated travelling through a network).
Demand models are typically used for long range forecasting whereas operational models range from “now” options to medium range forecasts.
As mentioned in the description about the travel demand models, they are calibrated against a base year. That means the data is put into them and they are tweaked so that they deliver the same results as what actually occurred in that base year. Data from subsequent years would then be added to that. At the highest level we have the Auckland Regional Transport Model (ART 3). This looks at travel demand across the entire Auckland region however this is where the first major problem lies. It was last calibrated against 2006 data which means it is almost 7 years out of date. That might not seem like much but the last 7 years have probably seen more changes in transport behaviour than any time during the prior five decades. Note: The ART3 model is actually controlled by the council, not AT. AT do however control a Passenger Transport model (APT) which looks at the impact on PT however this is even worse with AT saying that it was last calibrated against 2001 data.
As part of the work before AT start on a new CRL business case, they have said that both models are going to be updated to a 2013 base year. Although considering that the modelling was also being used to inform the massive roadfest that is the Integrated Transport Programme, you would have thought it would have been a good idea to update it earlier. A few million spent updating it would likely have had massive implications on the outcome of both the CCFAS and the ITP.
Sow how did modelling work for the CCFAS? Well AT used both travel demand models and more detailed operational models. A diagram of how they interacted is below.
The ART3 model was used to produce initial results based on the employment, population and land use assumptions used in the project (remember these were agreed to by representatives of all organisations). That then kicks out data on vehicle and PT demand which is then fed through the APT model. One of the developments that came about from the CCFAS was a new function to address crowding on PT as after all, if people can’t get on a bus, they aren’t going to be able to use it are they? But here is where there start to be some major flaws in my opinion.
The people who were ‘crowded off’ the PT system were then added back into to the ART model as not being able to use PT. But they get added to the number of trips taken by car and the model then recalculates vehicle travel times with this extra traffic included. As the MoT said in its response to the report, there are no feedback loops to take into account the impact of the changed conditions. In reality people crowded off PT (and we know from the CCFAS this was affecting the bus network) would look for another mode of travel, change their travel time or perhaps not travel at all. While undoubtedly some will drive, the impact of them doing so might force someone else to change their mode, perhaps catching a non-crowded rail service instead.
The traffic results from this recalculated ART model are then fed into a Saturn model, which is a more detailed operational model, to get more detailed outcomes on the impact of the various options. Once again there were also no feedback loops from this stage either meaning that once again, the impacts of the congestion caused by the options were not fed back through the system.
So in summary we have a regional transport model that was last calibrated against 2006, feeding into a PT model last calibrated in 2001 that just assumes that anyone who can’t catch a bus because it is full will instead turn to driving on already congested roads. It is these issues that I think led the MoT to conclude that the modelling was likely overestimating the demand for private vehicle trips while underestimating demand for PT trips. This is likely the reason why the model suggested that during the morning peak period, we would have almost 50% more people entering the CBD via private vehicle in 2041 compared to now while over the same period removing space for cars. For reference the annual screenline survey recorded less than 34,000 people entering the CBD by private vehicle in 2012 while the reference case for the CCFAS suggests over 49,000 will do so.
It seems that until AT start really addressing some of these glaring issues, modelling the true impact of the CRL will remain elusive.
In December the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The study came about after the government rejected the original business case for the City Rail Link and Steven Joyce asked for among other things, more information on the alternative options. Crucially the work on CCFAS also included representativeness from the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Treasury. The intention was to finally gain a consensus about the best transport solutions for the city centre.
Unsurprisingly to us, the CRL came out as the best solution but reaction from the government was swift in dismissing the study. The most frustrating part of the governments comments were from Gerry Brownlee questioning the assumptions and investigations undertaken as part of the study seeing as staff in his own ministry were deeply involved. It seems fairly reasonable to wonder, if they had concerns then why didn’t they raise them during the study?
So that night (13 Dec), I flicked of an Official Information Act request to the MoT to find out just what they knew. The request took a very long time and I only got it back a few weeks ago. It definitely wasn’t a small amount of info as there were over 250 pages worth (they wouldn’t provide me soft copies). I have however now read through it all as well as scan all of the pages and here is perhaps the most interesting bits. Note: due to the number of documents I have split it up into sections, in total they come in at just over 100MB so probably best not to try and read them from a mobile device.
10/10/2011 – (Part 2, page 9) The draft terms of reference for the study were sent to Steven Joyce for his comments along with the points raised by the MoT. Unfortunately the ministers comments have been excluded from the request.
04/11/2011 – (Part 2, page 20) Comments in a report to the minister that both the MoT and NZTA are attending fortnightly meetings project meetings which shows that they were very deeply involved right from the start.
23/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 37) Brownlee is now the minister and has been asked to sign a letter to Len Brown around the amended terms of reference (the final version he signed off on is here). Brownlee has refused to sign it as he wants a more detailed briefing on the project first. What is most interesting though is point 20 on the background information (page 40) where the MoT raise the suggestion that there needs to be a more “realistic target date” for the CRL. This is important as one of the key responses to the study from the MoT and government has been to talk of the project being more viable a decade later. Does this suggest they went into the study with that outcome already planned?
24/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 47) This is the additional briefing that was given to Brownlee and there were a couple of notable points. It mentions that the CRL would allow 5 minute frequencies across the network, something that AT won’t even promote for some reason. There is a section on the history of the project but seems to have some mistakes in it e.g. says the idea was first around in the 1970′s when in fact it has existed since at least the 1920′s.
19/04/2012 – (Part 3, page 4) The next few pages talk about kicking off the CCFAS project and includes the project and governance structures, this shows that MoT, NZTA and Treasury staff were very clearly involved in the project including at the highest levels. Also included is the proposed methodology that would be used for the project which includes discussion assumptions and how important it is that they are agreed upon. This is important as one of the key issues the MoT later objected to were the assumptions used.
20/08/2012 – (Part 4) One of the big changes to the study was a request by the MoT to do a detailed deficiency analysis on the transport system. This document is a presentation showing the outcome of this work. You can see from the email that it seemed to really help the MoT understand just how much of a problem the number of buses in the city centre would become.
07/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 1) A report to the minister advising of progress, of note is that the MoT say that the working group have agreed on the short-listed options for further study which were the CRL, surface bus improvements or a bus tunnel. They also note that they are providing comments on the draft versions of the report.
12/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 2) A small briefing given to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ahead of a meeting between John Key and Len Brown which again states what the short listed options were. It also points out that the CRL was likely to be the best option.
06/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 28) A letter from David Warburton to the head of the MoT thanking him for the way the staff from both organisations worked together. This is important in light of the upcoming comments.
09/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 30) Perhaps the first sign that there was trouble brewing. In a report the the minister, MoT officials complain that they haven’t been adequately consulted on some elements. This is despite them having been involved in various stages of the process right from the very start.
03/12/2012 – (Part 6, page 12) A briefing to Brownlee on the CRL. Unfortunately most of it is blacked out so we can’t see what was actually said. Some of the comments suggest that the MoT weren’t happy with the modelling and forecasts yet also confirms that MoT staff were closely involved.
04/12/2012 – For some reason I didn’t scan these page but it is repeated in the next part anyway.
06/12/2012 – (Part 7, page 3) This is the feedback that the MoT provided to AT. With some of the points you really have to wonder why they weren’t raised earlier. One particularly interesting point I noted, is below. It is perhaps the first time we have had a government official acknowledge that our modelling is likely to overestimate vehicle trips and under estimate PT trips.
This comes about because there are missing feedback loops between the congestion in the city and change in travel. It is an incredibly important revelation as resolving this issue is likely to vastly benefit the CRL. We will look at the modelling issues in more detail in another post. However despite that, the MoT then go on in the very next point to suggest in the surface bus option that the modelled congestion on Vincent and Albert St could be improved by scaling back the bus lanes. I also have to question this comment in particular.
My understanding of latent demand is, demand which exists but that cannot be fulfilled because a product or service doesn’t exist to enable it. Under that definition there is latent demand for the rail network, it just needs the CRL for the latent demand to be realised.
07/12/2012 – (Part 8, page 2) Following the earlier mentioned briefing to Brownlee, he obviously came back with some questions which perhaps show where his thinking is, asking about the east west link and and ferries. The most interesting part though is the letter from AT to the MoT regarding their feedback. It is quite clear from the letter that AT were not happy perhaps feeling a bit ambushed by the fact the MoT came back with so many issues so late in the process.
As you can see, there is a heap of information about the project as well as some insight into the MoTs thinking. I made the comment a few months ago that I suspected the government and the MoT went into the study thinking that they could prove that AT were wrong and that buses would be the best option. However that backfired and it seems interesting that officials only really started getting upset about the study and the assumptions made in it after it emerged that the CRL was the best option. These documents confirm that government officials were deeply involved in the study all the way through and for them not to have raised the major concerns they had until the last minute makes me highly suspicious. Adding to that they seem to have gone into the process with a predetermined outcome if the CRL was chosen, in the form of questioning the timing of it, something that ended up forming one of their key complaints.
Another interesting point is that some of the concerns mentioned by Brownlee in his initial response to the report (below), weren’t even raised by his MoT officials to AT which makes you wonder where they even came from.
“Yet the report underplays State Highways entering the Auckland CBD from the south, both SH1 and SH16, and how improvements to these might impact central city traffic.
“Completion of the Western Ring Route in 2017 will also draw many thousands of traffic movements away from the CBD, yet none of these major transport corridors is explored in detail.
“Also overlooked is that evolving workplace practices and emerging technology will most likely have a considerable impact on peak hour travel over the next 30 years.
“These may offer considerable gains for a fraction of the cost of the CRL.
If there is one positive to come out of this, as I mentioned the other day, it is that at least we now have MoT officials agreeing that there is some need for the project, what is in dispute is the timing.
The NZ Herald reports:
In a surprise announcement, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday asked the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to commence investigations into a motorway between Panmure and Downtown: along a very similar route to the alignment of the Eastern Highway that cost John Banks the Auckland City mayoralty back in 2004.
Mr Brownlee confirmed that the need to investigate this project further was the most significant outcome of a four-month review of the ‘City Centre Future Access Study’ by Ministry of Transport officials.
“In December last year the Auckland Council released the City Centre Future Access Study. At the time I highlighted some concerns that this study had not reviewed a wide enough series of options to deal with future access problems to downtown Auckland and I also highlighted some doubts over the extremely optimistic assumptions made by that study. Today’s announcement vindicates my concerns,” said Mr Brownlee at a media conference at Orakei point, where the six lane motorway is planned to pass through.
“The Future Access Study’s findings showed that while the CBD Rail Loop performed the best of the options considered, by 2021 and especially by 2041, congestion for private vehicles travelling into downtown Auckland at peak times would be significantly worse than it is today – even with the rail loop built. This is an unacceptable outcome, which is why I requested by officials to look into other options.”
In plans released today by the Ministry, a series of roading improvements are scheduled for construction over the next six years across Auckland – with the main goal being to alleviate congestion. These plans include construction of a six lane motorway from Parnell Rise at the bottom of Grafton Gully through to Panmure where the road will connect to the AMETI project, already under construction by Auckland Transport. To save on costs, the motorway will be built at grade rather than in a tunnel, an option previously considered when the Eastern Highway was being promoted by Auckland City Council last decade.
Other projects proposed for construction include a second level on State Highway 1 between the central motorway junction and Mt Wellington, as well as the Northwest motorway between Waterview and the city.
The Ministry’s report offers only a preliminary analysis of the costs of these projects, noting a likely ‘turn out’ cost of between nine and thirteen billion dollars. “We believe this is a small price to pay to rid Auckland of the daily scourge of congestion” stated Mr Brownlee.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown did not attend the media conference, but later released a statement saying that he was “outraged” the government seemed to be “taking over” the planning of transport in Auckland. However, Mr Brown also noted that he strongly supported all the findings in the report.
“Auckland’s population is due to grow by a million people in the next five years, so we need to invest in Auckland’s future. Today’s announcement is a huge step forward for the City Rail Link project.”
Government sources confirmed that today’s announcements are seen as an alternative to the rail loop project, not in addition to it. When this was put to the mayor, he was heard muttering “incompetent fools” before shrugging his shoulders, sighing loudly and stating that he would “continue to work constructively with the government on transport issues in Auckland”.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Michael Barnett stated that he “strongly supported” today’s announcement. “Congestion costs Auckland businesses $5 billion a year and finally there is an agreed plan to tackle this problem. Our only criticism is that the current plan is to have the Eastern Motorway completed by 2017 and a second level on the southern and northwest motorways by 2019. We think that both projects simply must be completed by 2015 at the absolute latest!”
NZ Council for Infrastructure Development Chief Executive Stephen Selwood also noted his strong support for the transport package announced today. “We’ve been working closely with the Ministry of Transport over the past four months to come up with a solution to Auckland’s traffic problems that can be implemented in a way that most benefits our members, I mean most benefits the Auckland public,” said Mr Selwood, from his desk at the Ministry of Transport’s offices in Auckland.
The announcement was not met with total support however, local resident Anthony Pearce said that he had thought the Eastern Highway was “dead and buried” after it cost Mr Banks the 2004 Auckland mayoralty. “Little did I know that much of the designation was never removed!” wailed Mr Pearce. “At least they’ll never be able to get consent for a six lane motorway through the Purewa Valley and across Hobson Bay!”
Environment Minister Amy Adam confirmed that, with the current changes proposed to the Resource Management Act, consenting for the project would be “not a problem”.
Construction of the motorway causeway is set to begin in June.
This is a guest post by John Polkinghorne
The Ministry of Transport, bless ‘em, actually have a lot of interesting information on their website if you know where to look. One of the things they do is carry out a Household Travel Survey, which surveys 4,600 households in various parts of New Zealand each year. There’s plenty to look at, and you can check out various results at their transport survey, but for today I’ll look at a summary they put together on public transport use – taken from here.
The thing that stands out to me is a table showing the percentage of people who use public transport in NZ’s major cities. From this, 53% of Aucklanders surveyed hadn’t used PT at all in the last year. This put us on par with Christchurch and Dunedin, both of which are significantly smaller, neither of which have rail, and neither of which are particularly PT-oriented cities. We’re well behind Wellington, where only 27% of people hadn’t hopped on a train or bus at least once. Remember that (greater) Wellington is around the same size as Christchurch, and both cities are less than a third the size of Auckland.
Wow, that’s not a good start. How about people who haven’t used PT in the last month, but have in the last year? 17% of Aucklanders fell into this camp, in line with the other cities except for Wellington.
So, by this point, we can see that only 30% of Aucklanders had used public transport in the month before they were surveyed. We were in between Dunedin (26%) and Christchurch (34%), and well
behind Wellington where 46% of the people had used it at least once.
The last few lines of the table below are asking people how many days in the last month they had used public transport. I won’t dwell on it except to point out that half the Aucklanders who used PT in the last month hadn’t used it very often. Only 14% used it on 5 days or more, ahead of Dunedin (11%) but behind Christchurch (16%) and Wellington (27%).
These results for Auckland are pretty poor, by any stretch of the imagination. As New Zealand’s largest city, and keeping in mind that public transport should be better utilised as cities get bigger, Auckland is dragging the chain.
I was genuinely quite shocked that public transport use in Auckland is not much higher than in Dunedin. Aucks is more than ten times the size of Dunners. I studied in Dunedin for the first 18 months of my Bachelor’s and never used public transport once. A lot of students would have been the same – the vast majority live within walking distance of the university. I would imagine that PT use by tertiary students is much higher in Auckland than in Dunedin, and (given Dunedin’s large student numbers, compared to its size) that’s probably the only thing that puts us above the southern city in terms of how often Aucklanders use public transport.
Coming in behind Christchurch is pretty embarrassing too, and not a little surprising. As mentioned above, Christchurch is a third the size of Auckland, and doesn’t have rail. Christchurch is a flat city which lends itself well to walking and cycling, and Cantabrians tend to do more of both.
Wellington is leaps and bounds ahead of Auckland, but I think we all knew that. I think these results are a pretty telling scorecard, and, to put it mildly, Auckland doesn’t look too flash. The majority of Aucklanders never use public transport at all, and most of those who do don’t use it very often. Two basic questions come out of this:
- Why don’t Aucklanders use PT very often?
- How do we improve PT usage in Auckland?
Questions that are answered in a number of different posts in this blog! A redesign of the network, and rail electrification, should help boost patronage over the next few years. But the thing is, we should really be aiming to get to where Wellington is now in the short to medium term. Anything less is short-changing ourselves in my opinion.
Central government has put together an official response to the Council’s Auckland Plan. While in many areas there’s support and agreement, one obvious place where the two views don’t match up is in relation to transport. Discussion around the government’s position on the Council’s transport plans for the next 30 years is quite extensive, but a little bit hard to comprehend. Firstly, this section of the transport response can’t even quite get right the proportions between intensification and expansion the Auckland Plan signals:I had thought the final position of the Auckland Plan on this matter was to provide for either a 70/30 or 60/40 split, with the goal being to achieve the 70/30. Reading back up the govt response a bit actually confirms this matter, so I assume the mistake in this section is just another example of the Ministry of Transport being useless:
Moving along, it become obvious pretty quickly that the government response is pretty much based on the results of various transport modelling exercises undertaken, which suggest that despite us building a huge amount of additional transport infrastructure over the next 30 years, congestion is still going to get worse. We’ve questioned previously the accuracy of this modelling, with the Council also highlighting that it might be worried about some of these future projections, but despite this it seems for now, the modelling is gospel: I’ve yet to see a city build its way out of congestion, so in a way perhaps these numbers aren’t particularly surprising. Remember that the final version of the Auckland Plan proposes to spend around 57% of transport dollars on roads over the next 30 years compared to 40% on public transport. Perhaps a split giving more to public transport might lead to a better outcome. But for some reason I don’t think this is what central government’s response is hinting at.
Adding to this, the response then takes a particularly strange step in criticising the Council’s efforts to raise additional money to try and construct the big projects to at least ease the extent to which congestion worsens over the next 30 years:The focus on ensuring value for money is achieved from the transport package before embarking upon looking for additional funding sources is sensible, but once again I would suggest that central government should be careful not to be throwing stones while living in the glass house of the RoNS programme. Plus a couple of the projects which are likely to provide least value for money are also roading projects: namely an additional harbour crossing (a BCR of around 0.3 last time we looked) and the “East West Link”, a $1.5 billion solution to a $100 million problem. Yet I once again somehow doubt this is exactly what the government’s thinking while writing this feedback.
I suspect this argument isn’t going to go away any time soon. But it’d be good if central government would tell the world what it thinks the transport solutions for Auckland might be – a Dominion Road motorway perhaps? All their criticism without any useful suggestions, plus criticising the spending of extra money while at the same time presumably criticising the lack of spending and its resulting congestion, when put together it just quite bizarre.
NZTA is funded from petrol tax and road user charges, which obviously comes from cars, trucks, vans and buses using fuel (or travelling kilometres) along our roading network. The theory is that this creates a relatively ‘user pays’ situation, with money raised from road users being spent on projects that benefit road users (including public transport, walking and cycling, which obviously reduce the number of cars that would otherwise be on the road).
There are two types of roads in New Zealand, state highways and local roads. State highways are owned and 100% funded by NZTA – building them, renewing them and maintaining them. Local Roads are owned by local councils (there’s a rather weird legal situation in Auckland where I think the council own the road but Auckland Transport manage it on their behalf) and are funded roughly by way of a 50/50 split between NZTA and council (generally rates) funding. So already we clearly have a situation where roads are subsidised by ratepayers as part of councils’ 50% share in funding their construction, renewal and maintenance. But let’s leave that aside for a minute.
What’s interesting in this situation is that you effectively have Central Government charging (by way of fuel tax and road-user charge) road users for using a piece of infrastructure that’s owned, maintained and renewed by local government. In essence, it’s a somewhat strange situation – an analogy might be that I own a theatre: I built it, I maintain it and I look after it. But people using my theatre actually pay someone else for the privilege: not me. Obviously, the unfairness of the situation is largely resolved by NZTA part-funding local roads – in our analogy giving me back about half of what it costs to renew and maintain my theatre.
A good way of measuring whether local councils are getting their “fair share” of NZTA’s money is to look at the split of actual travel (and therefore technically revenue) which happens on local roads versus state highways and then compare that with the split of spending on local roads and state highways. We already saw that in Auckland the split in travel is approximately two-thirds on the local road network and one-third on the state highway network: If we were to take a fairly strict “user pays” approach to road spending in Auckland, there’d be an argument for roughly a two-thirds/one-third split for local roads and state highways. With public transport largely on the local road network, arguably the split could be even higher.
Where I’m getting with this relates to an amusing document released under the Official Information Act to Green Party transport spokesperson Julie-Anne Genter, which she has passed onto bloggers on this site. It relates to a Ministry of Transport response to Steven Joyce last year, when he was seeking some technical justification for shifting even more money into state highways at the cost of money that would usually go to local councils. You can see this point outlined in the paragraph below:
Unfortunately for the Minister, the actual figures tell the complete opposite story. We learn that the local road share of travel is increasing (very slightly), but bizarrely we see that the state highways share of expenditure is increasing – a huge mismatch:
The table clearly highlights that over the past decade there has been an enormous increase in state highways spending and a much slower increase in local road funding, even though the share of VKT between the two has stayed relatively constant. Back in the early years of last decade we can see that there was a reasonably match-up between VKT and expenditure, but since around 2005/2006 that has changed enormously due to the huge ‘spend-up’ on state highways.
In effect, what we see is local councils now pretty much subsidising state highway projects, in particular the big budget items of the Roads of National Significance. Meanwhile the amount of money available for local roading projects is getting squeezed harder and harder, with less spent in the 2011/12 year on local roads than was spent in the 2006/07 year. With the 2012 Government Policy Statement proposing a further big increase to state highway spending, while putting the squeeze on local road spending, it really does become obvious that our local roads are getting screwed over.
P.S. the Ministry (wisely) suggested that such a table not go in the cabinet paper!
I can’t say I was too surprised to read this Radio NZ article yesterday:
A Ministry-commissioned report last year by consulting firm The Institute of Economic Research found 21 of 60 pieces of advice to the transport minister and the Cabinet were communicated in a borderline or poor way.
While it noted the Ministry’s comprehensive technical knowledge, it said there had been lapses of judgement.
The Ministry is required to save almost $1 million a year and since the 2010/11 financial year the number of policy staff has dropped from 107 full time equivalent employees to 90.
Ministry spokesperson Gareth Chaplin says despite this they can improve their policy advice by working together.
The report cited one paper that seemed intent on embarrassing the transport minister by reminding him of officials’ advice from the distant past and his comments from two years ago. The report said this type of telling off makes officials look churlish.
Other reviewed papers were deemed pointless.
The Ministry’s ignorance of the impact of higher oil prices, their willful disregard for a seven year trend of near flat traffic volumes and the hatchet job they did on the City Rail Link business case make me very unsurprised to hear that there are concerns about the quality of MoT’s work.
You can listen to the accompanying radio piece here.