A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

One sentence that explains what’s wrong with the discussion about intensification

Yesterday Bernard Orsman had an in-depth article in the NZ Herald about new apartment developments on Great North Road. Orsman, to his credit, considers the issue from several different angles and speaks to people with a range of views. He also rightly observes that the developments are a key part of the “vision of Great North Rd being turned into one of the city’s great boulevards with bus lanes, cycleways and well-designed apartments”.

Unfortunately, the article’s positive contribution to Auckland’s discussion about intensification comes to a screeching halt right there in the sub-heading:

Developers and council planners have sidelined the community over building heights for some new projects, say worried residents.

In one sentence, the article frames the issue as a conflict between ordinary people – the “worried residents” – and two spooky bogeymen – the “developers” and “planners”. Readers of a left-wing persuasion will read “developers” and think “greedy capitalists!”, while right-wing readers will read “planners” and think “Soviet Union!”

This framing misleads readers rather than enabling a better discussion about new apartments in the inner suburbs. From an economic perspective, the bogeymen invoked by the sub-heading are nothing of the kind:

  • Developers are out to make a buck, obviously, but they can profit off a development if and only if other people want to buy the places they’re building. Developers generally respond to demand in the market rather than creating it.
  • Urban planners, who are themselves Auckland residents, are trying to balance out amenity for current residents with the housing needs of a growing city. If no new dwellings were being constructed on Great North Road, it would probably mean that they were failing to do their job.

Which brings me on to one last point: It’s pretty bizarre to imply that relaxing the rules to enable buildings to go to six storeys rather than four is a case of regulations gone mad. From the sound of things, it wouldn’t be financially viable to construct a four storey building, as that would require an elevator and other expensive internal features that couldn’t be recouped without adding additional floors. It’s a good thing that Auckland Council planners are willing to consider applications on a case-by-case basis rather than just mindlessly applying the rules!

A targeted transport rate?

An article in last Friday’s NZ Herald provided an interesting insight into where the investigations into additional transport funding options are at. This is the second phase of the project to close the supposed $12 billion funding gap over the next 30 years. The article highlights that effort has been focusing on analysing different forms of road pricing and is perhaps leaning towards a motorway charging scheme:

Evaluating road tolls and fuel-tax rises and traditional funding methods such as rate rises and targeted rates is the job of the group due to report to the council next month.

The Herald understands that the independent alternative transport funding group is leaning towards motorway tolls. It will also provide options for targeted rates and extra rates rises.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government’s pre-election position that there would be no regional fuel taxes or tolling of existing state highways in Auckland.

Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

I think tolling motorways could have some benefits but it also could have considerable downsides and we’ve outlined some of these before. The main problem with them is the potential for traffic diversion from motorways onto local roads. What also can’t be ignored is that a fairly high proportion of money raised from schemes like these goes into the administration of the system itself, this means it’s a fund-raising system that’s likely to be quite a lot less efficient than fuel taxes and rates. Some of the strongest proponents of motorway tolling has been the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and I suspect this is two fold,

  1. their members want to build, maintain and operate any tolling system
  2. their members want the additional funding that flows from the tolls to help build more infrastructure

One of the key problems with the alternative funding exercise right from the start has been the ignorance of whether we actually need to raise the additional funding for transport. The Integrated Transport Programme, which outlined the full transport programme over the next 30 years, included a huge number of incredibly costly and stupid projects included within its project list:

Knocking out $12 billion from the project list above is a pretty simple exercise – as we highlighted in our detailed analysis of the Congestion Free Network‘s financials. Therefore, based on the Integrated Transport Programme’s list of projects outlined above there is a very valid question about whether any form of additional funding is necessary. In addition even if a funding deficit still exists, if it was considerably smaller it might have allowed for some of the earlier dismissed funding options to be viable once again.

Another major flaw in many tolling proponents arguments that could have a significant impact on what projects get built is that any tolling or road pricing schemes are going to change demand substantially and as such it is likely to reduce or remove the need for many roading projects. Conversely it is likely to shift many PT projects up the priority ladder.

I guess the big question that we will all need to grapple with over the next few months, as the alternative funding group makes a recommendation to the Council, who then decides what they want to include in the draft Long Term Plan, is whether anything has changed since the ITP came out last year. It’s possible that two things have changed, which could mean a greater need for extra transport funding than we had previously expected.

  1. We know from the agendas for Auckland Transport closed board meetings that a lot of work has been going on to update the Integrated Transport Programme and the list of projects. Hopefully this means a lot of the crazier projects (like $665m on Albany Highway or around $900m on upgrading Great South Road) have been removed or the figures corrected.
  2. We know from the LTP Mayor’s Proposal that a lower level of rates increase means less money available overall for transport from normal funding sources compared to what’s in the current Long Term Plan. At first glance, it seems like most of the good projects can be funded over the next decade but there’s still no word on how much can be spent on things like walking and cycling, or the timing of various bus lanes and interchanges needed for the new network.

So given we know motorway tolling is an idea with many flaws and that the government isn’t going to approve new funding sources like this anyway, but there might be a need for a bit more money for transport, it seems sensible to be looking at other options. Which, returning to Friday’s Herald article, seems to be what’s happening:

Aucklanders could pay a new charge on top of rates to fund transport projects.

A “targeted rate” is one option being considered by an independent group looking at alternative funding measures to plug a $12 billion-plus transport funding gap over the next 30 years…

…Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

The National-led Government changed the law in 2009. Acting Mayor Penny Hulse said the $2.4 billion city rail link had been included in a new 10-year budget and did not need a targeted rate.

It will certainly be interesting to analyse the details of the transport budget as they emerge in the coming months, to see what can be afforded in the baseline transport programme and whether any additional money is required.

Rail and congestion relief

A conference by the Traffic Institute – a group primarily made up of councillors and officers from a number of local authorities around the country to represent views on road safety and traffic management – held its annual conference earlier this week. There have been a few articles emerge from the conference and the one I’m going to focus on today is one titled Metro Rail won’t fix congestion which relates to a talk at the conference by Dr Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Metro rail systems such as Auckland’s proposed $2.4 billion link from Britomart to Mt Eden do nothing to reduce congestion in the long run, says a visiting international transport expert.

“With metro, all you do is create extra capacity,” Dr Dinesh Mohan told the Traffic Institute at its annual conference in Auckland today.

“Then, after two years, all the roads are congested again – and the metro is full.

“You just increase transport, you don’t reduce congestion.”

More total travel with the same amount of congestion/car use is exactly the point and primary purpose of the City Rail Link. The CRL network will move a lot more people around the region regardless of traffic. It’s also why we need greater investment in bus infrastructure both in the city centre and across the region as it allows us to get more use out of our road networks. The table below shows this, it comes from the City Centre Future Access Study released at the end of 2012. Regardless of the solution investigated (the integrated CRL and surface bus option was chosen as the best) vehicle traffic didn’t decline – although I think this is in part due to poor transport modelling.

CCFAS - City Centre Access
Of course it also means that if projects that don’t reduce congestion long term are not worth building then you can say goodbye to any future road widening programmes. Instead we’d look at getting a better outcome from the existing road resource, which leads us to this point.

“The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce road area, there is no other way.”

One way to do that was to allocate a lane along every road for buses, and another for cyclists and pedestrians.

Great we agree again, so when do we start? I look forward to a network of bus and cycle lanes made from reclaimed traffic lanes. Projects like painting new bus and cycle lanes often have very high economic returns due to being comparatively cheap to construct (often just some paint is needed) and benefiting a lot of passengers.

He also addresses climate change

Only 25 per cent of the “life-cycle” energy costs of underground passenger trains went on running them, but that left the production of concrete, steel and other infrastructure components contributing the remaining 75 per cent.

“Putting anything underground increases carbon dioxide,” he said.

I guess it’s a good thing then that the vast majority of the other ~90km of the Auckland Rail network ins’t underground.  As mentioned the point of the CRL is to unlock the latent capacity in the existing network so we can use it better. If we were building a full underground metro from scratch then he might have a point. But the City Rail Link is a mere 3km of tunnel turns that whole 90km legacy rail network into a highly efficient regional rapid transit system. To achieve the equivalent outcome with buses would similarly require a bus tunnel of some 3km, given that all the surface corridors are  busy carrying hundreds of buses already. But that’s not the end of it, a bus solution would also require the construction of three or four new busways, in addition to those already planned, to do the same job as the rail network with the CRL.

I’m pretty sure that a bus tunnel and three brand new suburban busways will result in a lot more emissions that a rail tunnel alone.

Also from this article he talks about his figures for carbon emissions being based on coal fired power plants which is something we have very little of.

So, he reasons, if you have a transport system that operates underground or is elevated there are huge amounts in investments in tunnels, bridges and so on. Much more cement, concrete, electricity (for air-conditioning, lighting and so on) gets used, all of which is related to life-cycle costs in which “anything that uses more infrastructure comes off worse”.

Therefore, since most of energy in India is from coal, the carbon emission and energy consumption per passenger in the metro is higher than a bus

He then suggests that deep down everyone wants to drive.

“You must have congestion for the public to use public transport – if you don’t have congestion, you would be very stupid to use public transport, because you could get there faster by car.”

I guess someone better tell the thousands of people who catch PT off peak when the roads are flowing that they are stupid.  The reality is that many people will happily use PT if it’s fast, frequent and reliable (not necessarily in that order). Increasingly people are just fed up of driving, parking and congestion, whatever the time of day. Classic examples of this are on the Northern Busway where there are often queues to get on even after hours as this tweet from the other day highlights:

And lastly

Told about Auckland Transport’s goal of making trains circulate through the central business district rather than having to back out of Britomart, he wondered whether the planners had considered running buses in a circuit instead.

Asked where London would be without its Underground, he said that was an unfair question as the system was built in the 19th Century when there were no buses, which did not become efficient people-carriers until the 1950s.

Well yes buses have been considered in depth, in fact buses featured strongly in the 46 different options considered as part of the CCFAS and enhanced bus operations are part of the preferred option together with the CRL. Bus options included the options below and multiple variations of each one:

  • Best use of existing infrastructure
  • Enhanced Bus operation – this builds on the previous options with additional bus priority through things like double bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – both surface BRT options and ones elevated through the city.
  • Underground Bus – various tunnel alignments and operating patterns.

Overall it seems like his quoted comments are a case of him making a judgement about solutions for Auckland without having looked at any of the details. On the positive side it seems the Herald are finally calling the CRL a Metro Rail system rather than a just a rail loop.

Freeing us from traffic

Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”

We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.

Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.

Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.

But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.

Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.

If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.

In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.

The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.

If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.

This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.

In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.

If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.

We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this

before

to this

cheonggyecheon

The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.

One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.

Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.

Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.

Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.

That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.

I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.

So yes let’s start focusing on people.

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

City centre parking rates: economic literacy versus special pleading

This weekend the NZ Herald’s motoring correspondent Matt Greenop published an article denouncing the “insult” of parking fees. Now, at Transportblog we’re always up for a good debate over the merits of different parking policies, but this doesn’t add much to the conversation:

Parking used to be a doddle. Now it’s just another cost of car ownership that makes us feel we’ve committed a heinous crime against humanity by daring to buy and use our own vehicle.

Every little bit that gets added on to the cost of driving a car in the city is an insult — and the next insult we’re facing is another hike in parking fees.

From an economic perspective, this is a totally absurd statement. It completely ignores the supply and demand dynamics at play in urban areas. Parking takes up space, and as anyone who’s been downtown in the last decade has noticed, there’s a limited amount of space in the city centre. Demand for commercial and residential space in the city centre is increasing. The residential population tripled from 10,200 to 31,300 between the 2001 and 2013 Censuses; over the same time period, employment in the city centre rose by a quarter, from 81,000 to 100,100.

Using prices to manage demand for scarce resources is an efficient and sensible response. This is basic Econ 101 material, and we accept it in most areas of life. City centre office space is priced, and priced highly, due to the fact that a lot of people want to locate there.

It would be ridiculous if companies leasing space in the city centre to complain that a rent increase was an “insult”. And if they insisted on paying no rent at all, we’d recognise it as special pleading for a market-distorting subsidy.

It’s the exact same thing with parking. Essentially, the Herald’s using emotive language to demand a costly, distortionary subsidy for a small number of people.

If the Herald wants to avoid printing such embarrassing nonsense in the future, I strongly recommend that they run their articles by an economist first.

You really want more roads

Another great cartoon from Emerson in response to the governments package of rural roading projects

image

Time for the Canary Test?

Brian Rudman asks if it’s time for the Canary test.

A sitdown on crowded, polluted Customs St will show minister why Auckland needs money for rail link urgently.

The ping-pong marathon between Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Mayor Len Brown over the start date for the $2.86 billion City Rail Link staggers on. This week the mayor unveiled a commissioned PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report claiming the rail patronage and downtown employment targets set by the Government for the project were unrealistic.

It said the 20-million trip trigger point would be achievable only after full introduction of the new electric train service in 2016.

Last year, the Government said the project could start earlier than its preferred 2020 date only if patronage was on track to 20 million trips a year well before then and city centre employment was up by 25 per cent.

Mr Brown says the tunnel has to be started by 2016 to prevent crippling peak hour road congestion by 2020. And PwC says the 25 per cent employment increase is unachievable because of falling office vacancy rates and a shortage of new office space in the pipeline.

Mr Brownlee remains unmoved by the PwC arguments. So what now?

Perhaps it’s time for Mr Brown to challenge the minister to the canary test. Challenge him to sit in one of the downtown Customs St bus stops at peak hour and breathe deeply of the noxious fumes.

Rudman goes on to talk about noise emissions from buses in the city centre. I don’t think it would just have to be at a bus stop. Sitting in Britomart would be good for breathing in fumes – although only for another 15 months or so. However one thing that perhaps Rudman perhaps isn’t aware of is that even with the CRL, the number of buses is set to increase in the city centre, it’s just that they will be from areas that aren’t served by the rail network running at higher frequencies than they do now. That means it’s going to be equally important to look at how we can improve the standards of buses.

What should be alarming Aucklanders is that the longer the CRL is delayed, the more buses and cars will try to cram into this de facto, roadside main downtown bus interchange. Not only will the noise and air pollution increase in Customs St, but it will spread out along the adjacent streets as the bus depot slowly expands. Lower Queen St, Albert St, Commerce St … the pollution will quickly spread.

Add the fumes from the expanding fleet of private cars squeezing into this increasingly congested bottleneck and the strip between the “world’s greatest harbour” and the centre of “the world’s most liveable city” will become, at peak hours, a fetid no-go zone.

While vehicle numbers have increased in the region/country, they have actually dropped coming into the city centre over the last decade or so and AT’s modelling is suggesting that the drop will continue over time as better PT is provided and the city is made more friendly for people.

modalshift-2001-2012

Arrivals in the CBD from the annual screenline survey

Back to the canary test, if he came sat in Britomart he could also see the thousands upon thousands of passengers who already stream off train services in the mornings. Pictures like the one below are now a common sight at Britomart.

And if Brownlee could be persuaded to come and see Auckland’s rail network in action in a bid to get a project over the line he wouldn’t have been the first to do so. Back in 2006 when double tracking of the western line was getting underway the initial plan for New Lynn was for the tracks to remain on the surface. Michael Cullen was dragged down to New Lynn by former Waitakere City mayor Bob Harvey to witness the impact that even a small number of trains caused to the local roading network. He eventually agreed to the tracks and station being put into a trench and although it was more a roading project than a PT one we still got a great integrated rail and station as a result.

Unfortunately the chances of getting Brownlee to witness our PT network in action are very small. He’s shown no interest in it so far and generally seems to avoid Auckland as much as he can. I know the Campaign for Better Transport have tried to have a meeting with him and he always says he is too busy – even Steven Joyce was at least prepared to meet advocacy groups. Interestingly enough Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Brownlee about being in Britomart at peak times last week in a select committee.

She also tweeted a few other comments from it that were interesting.

I think one of the fundamental problems we have with the discussion on PT is that in general politicians (from all parties) have a lack of understanding about the impact it has and the potential it provides. Unfortunately that’s not an easy problem to solve.

CRL back in the spotlight

After a few months of relative silence, discussion about the City Rail Link has been sparked again by a handful of articles.

The most interesting item is that the Mayor has had PWC look into the criteria set by the government to enable a start earlier than the government’s suggestion of 2020 after what would effectively be another review in 2017. I am yet to see the actual report and that will hopefully be made public later this week however Radio NZ have reported on it.

A report for the Auckland Council by the consultant firm PWC says the Government should drop inappropriate targets for rail patronage and downtown employment, and back an early start to the $2.8 billion project if growth trends are on track.

The Government has said a start earlier than 2020 could happen only if rail patronage and city centre employment hit pre-determined targets. Mr Brown wants a start to the City Rail Link (CRL) late next year or in 2016.
The report says the Government based its targets on the City Centre Future Access Study, which had a much narrower scope than a full assessment of the viability of the CRL.

Mr Brown argues that new central city property developments unveiled along the rail tunnel route underline the need for a start earlier than agreed by the Government in July last year.

He told a transport conference on Monday the rail link will be needed before the patronage and employment targets can be met, and the Government should be more flexible.

“If we are on trend and on track, then why wait ’til 2021 to confirm that in fact there is a significant lift in public transport and train usage in our city. Why not just clear the decks and jump in behind the private sector with the type of investment they are making around the precinct properties.”

There seems to be a couple of issues at play. The government are saying that they don’t think the numbers stack up till closer to 2030 yet PWC seem to be saying that the numbers the government are using can only be reached if the CRL is already in place. I think it’s certainly possible – albeit it challenging – for us to reach the 20 million target but I think it’s extremely unlikely we will meet the employment one. The key reason for this is that there simply isn’t enough office space set to come on stream in the next few years to enable that employment growth. There are also other factors at play changing the market, for example there’s an increasing trend to converting some older offices to apartments.

Of course Gerry Brownlee has already dismissed the report.

Perhaps the project that will deliver the biggest single increase in office space also happens to be a project tied intimately to the CRL. Precinct Properties plan for the Downtown Shopping Mall involves building a large tower on the site with the CRL passing underneath it. Precinct are looking to start next year and that is one thing that will only add to the pressure to get on with at least the first section of the tunnel and at least getting it from Britomart, under the Customs St/Albert St intersection and to some point up Albert St. One of the benefits of Precinct’s plan is it no longer requires Auckland Transport to purchase the entire property for what would have likely been $70 million+. One reason that’s important is that while the purchase of the land is included in the project costs, the sale after the project has been completed isn’t subtracted in the economic criteria.

CRL Alignment

Other properties are being purchased though and the Herald reports that so far AT have spent $35 million on buying up properties along the route.

Properties worth $35 million have been bought to secure the route for Auckland’s proposed $2.86 billion City Rail Link.

Although it would not list them, Auckland Transport told the Herald it had bought 27 of 73 above-ground properties it needs to create entranceways to proposed underground stations and train lines along the 3.4km route from Britomart to Mt Eden. It also needs land for its major construction yard at Eden Terrace.

The Auckland Council-owned authority said the most expensive property it had bought was an empty site near Mt Eden Prison for just over $6 million.

It was bought “as an advance agreement with the final amount to be determined by the Land Valuation Tribunal”. The tribunal, under the Ministry of Justice, hears cases where buyers and sellers can’t agree on prices and terms.

I’m not sure how these things normally go but 27 properties seems like a decent number so far. Of course whenever we have the CRL come up we also get at least one councillor make a stupid comment and today was no exception with the prize going to Dick Quax.

Auckland councillor Dick Quax said it was wrong that properties were being bought before funding from the Government had been secured.

“We’re boxing ahead and we don’t have any money for it. It’s a silly thing to do,” he said.

In my view it would be sillier not purchase the properties as land values have continued to rise and by the time the government finally accepts the project and will likely to keep doing so. In fact even the government back when they were still opposing the project said it was worthwhile securing the route which means designating it and buying properties. It’s quite head in the sand stuff from Quax. It’s about as almost as silly as this tweet from Tau Henare yesterday suggesting that the CRL doesn’t do anything for West Auckland.

The last piece yesterday was this one on the council’s next long term plan (LTP).

Planning is under way to slash $2.8 billion of new spending at Auckland Council to control soaring debt and rates while pushing ahead with the $2.86 billion City Rail Link.

The fiscal shake-up will come at a cost to core council services, such as new libraries, swimming pools and playing fields, which face being pushed back or canned altogether.

An early start to electrification of rail to Pukekohe now appears highly unlikely and bus and ferry improvements could take a back seat to the rail link.

The Herald has obtained a copy of a confidential briefing by council officers to councillors, which outlines four scenarios for next year’s 10-year budget review.

The first two are based on updating the first 10-year budget and the second two are based on locking in rates at 3.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent over the next decade by cutting capital spending by $2 billion and $2.8 billion respectively.

Orsman seems to be trying to suggest that the CRL is solely responsible for the cuts to other areas of council spending however it has to be remembered that the council is only going to be covering about half of the costs of the project with the other half coming from the government. What the rest of the article does highlight is that the council are getting to a point where they are going to need to make some tough decisions on what projects they actually build. Carrying on trying to do everything simply isn’t possible so the council will need to prioritise what they do. This is something we’ve been saying for some time and is a basis to many of the things we advocate for including the CFN and walking and cycling.

One last comment from someone who spoke to Bill English on the subject recently

I was just at a function with Bill English. I had a bit of a chat to him in private about the CRL. His views on it:
“It will happen. Its just a matter of when”
“There is a bit of back and forth between the government and the Auckland council on who is going to pay what portion. Our argument is that the public as users should pay a little more, and the public through government taxes should pay a little less.”
“There are a number of milestones for starting the project that the council realise are just never going to be able to be met. So we are sitting down with them to work out a more reasonable structure for the whole project”
“Whether its 2016, 2017, or 2022, it’ll happen.”
He then asked me if i wanted it to go ahead. My reply:
“Absolutely. My vote this election will be decided based on it”
He didn’t seem to impressed and thats where we left our conversation