Minimum parking requirements in Parliament

Minimum parking requirements have been getting some long-overdue attention at central government level after the release of the Productivity Commission’s report recommending their removal from district plans.

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Finance Minister Bill English has also expressed his support for binning minimums. So last week Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter – a longtime advocate of removing MPRs – asked Housing Minister Nick Smith whether the government had any plans to legislate to remove them from district plans:

Smith’s responses were a bit evasive but there were still a few interesting points raised in the back-and-forth:

  • Smith said that it would be complex to legislate to remove MPRs as they are in district plans rather than the RMA. However, back in 2012 the government changed the RMA to specifically rule out blanket tree protection rules in district plans. So I can’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to do the same with MPRs.
  • He also said that the government was developing a National Policy Statement on Urban Development, presumably to encourage better, less costly rules. That’s the first we’ve heard of that – I wonder who they’re consulting?
  • Smith also criticised heritage protection rules as a barrier to intensification, which he described as “part of the answer”.

Overall a pretty interesting exchange, and it’s good to see the issue getting more attention.

Brownlee admits they ignore economic analysis when it suits them

Following on from the Greens walking and cycling to school policy last week, Julie Anne Genter was again asking about it in Parliament yesterday and the answers from Gerry Brownlee were quite insightful to the governments thinking while some were also quite comical.

You can read the transcript here.

To me there were three interesting parts in the exchange. Firstly the primary question which is based off this written question.

JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Can he confirm that by the end of this fiscal year the Government will have spent $1.5 billion on work classified as having a “low” benefit to cost ratio under its Roads of National Significance programme?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport) :The analysis the questioner relies on is provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The Government makes its own decisions, though, about value-for-money expenditure. It is not a slave to bureaucratic formula and therefore considers other matters in making its decisions. The Government considers the roads of national significance to be excellent expenditure.

Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice and it was a yes or no question, and I did not hear a yes or a no in the Minister’s answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, the Standing Orders are quite clear that no member can demand a yes or no answer. Again, I can understand why the member does not feel that it was adequately addressed, and I accept that. On this occasion, the question, in my opinion, has been addressed, but I will allow the member an additional supplementary question to try to tease it out to the member’s satisfaction.

Julie Anne Genter: For clarity, has he spent $1.5 billion on low-value work under the roads of national significance programme, as stated in his answer to written question No. 813, and is he now trying to justify that waste by calling it strategic?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The question the member asked me to respond to indicates the benefit-cost ratio on both the 6 percent and 8 percent discount rate for a number of roads. The roads that she is most likely to be focusing on are the Waikato Expressway, the Tauranga Eastern Link road, and the Wellington Northern Corridor. The Government considers those to be very important. They are strategic, and we most certainly do not agree with the Green Party that it is inappropriate or low-value expenditure

Basically Gerry just confirms what we’ve been saying for a long time, that the government is building what are in some cases very stupid roads because they want to. Now while I don’t agree with that being how we should build motorways, in itself it isn’t necessarily wrong. However it is quite different to how the government have portrayed their road building programme, which is that the RoNS are good for the economy.

Following that was this exchange related to freight movements.

Julie Anne Genter: Given that none of the spending on the roads of national significance has been high value and that nearly half the spending on walking and cycling in the last year was high value, would it not be a better use of taxpayer money to prioritise high-value walking and cycling projects?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: One of the problems the member would leave unanswered is what you would do with the volumes of freight that have to get moved around New Zealand if you required them to be moved by bicycle or pushcart.

Julie Anne Genter: In light of the National Freight Demands Study released last week, which shows that road freight has fallen since 2006 and that the expected rate of growth is less than was forecast when his Government began this roads of national significance programme, is now not an appropriate time to reconsider whether spending billions of dollars on projects that his own Government considers low value is the best use of taxpayer money?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point is that I dispute the analysis that the freight volumes have fallen. What I would say is that vehicle kilometres travelled have fallen, and that is largely due to a more efficient roading network, which has an excellent outcome for greenhouse gas emissions.

This relates to the freight study released last week, the outcome of which said that while the amount of freight being moved by all modes had increase, the tonne-kms (distance) had been dropped. There are a number of factors at play causing this however one of them is not due to the roading network being more efficient which implies road building to reduce distances (i.e. removing curves) like Brownlee suggests. Note: This is different from using the existing roads more efficiently through changes like allowing heavier trucks which is something that need motorways to happen.

And lastly

Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister understand that duplicating motorways to the Kāpiti coast or Wellsford does nothing to alleviate serious congestion in our city centres—in fact, according to the New Zealand Transport Agency, they make congestion worse—whereas investing in smart projects like walking and cycling to school take cars off the road, eases congestion, and improves public health?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It also very seriously inconveniences the people who pay for those roads, and their commitment to these projects will be seen at the ballot box.

So we can’t have more walking and cycling infrastructure as it might slow down car drivers by a few seconds, even if that infrastructure takes people off the road and helps to free it from congestion. Also as mentioned this morning, people simply don’t vote on transport at a National level when there are so many other important issues being discussed. If people did vote based on transport policy then I suspect we would be getting very different outcomes.

Lots of cycling news

There’s been quite a bit of cycling news in the last few days (including during today) so this post is really a bit of a combination of a few of these.

The Role of Cycling in Auckland

You will recall on Tuesday my post on The Role of Cycling in Auckland. Yesterday the report was discussed by the Infrastructure Committee who also heard from Cycle Action Auckland and Generation Zero who also spoke on our behalf. My understanding is that most of the councillors on the committee were quite supportive and the herald published this part from Chris Darby

Committee deputy chairman Chris Darby, a cyclist, said other comparative cities around the world but particularly on the Pacific Rim were well ahead of Auckland in developing bikeways which raised public transport patronage by widening the catchment of buses, trains and ferries.

“We have been failing Auckland miserably – cycling is a badge of a smart city and we really need to have that badge on our lapel.”

The initial recommendations were also strengthened and ended being

That the Infrastructure Committee:
a) acknowledge the importance of cycling in contributing to the vision of creating the world’s most liveable city particularly through enabling Auckland Plan Transformational Shift #3, “Move to outstanding public transport within one network” and Auckland Plan Transformational Shift #4, “Radically improve the quality of urban living”
b) working with the Auckland Development Committee, support greater financial commitment within the Long-term Plan for cycleways, including the preparation of an integrated regional implementation strategy.
c) encourage Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to explore innovative trial projects in the near-term that increase safety and attract a wider range of people to cycling
d) request staff to review baseline data monitoring and its adequacy in understanding cycling and walking contribution to transport, and further to provide recommendations on key performance indicators (kpi’s) that may then be incorporated into the Auckland Transport Statement of Intent (SOI)
e) endorse that the committee Chair writes to the Chairman of Auckland Transport forwarding the report ‘Role of Cycling in Auckland’ and communicates the Infrastructure Committee decisions on the need for a significantly enhanced effort to improved cycling infrastructure in Auckland.

At the end of the day we it’s really up to the council to provide the funding needed for AT to implement more cycle facilities so this is a good outcome.

Skypath

Hidden in today’s Finance and Performance Committee agenda was a discussion on providing additional $175,000 in funding to help complete investigations for Skypath.

  • In December 2013, the council approved a way forward for the investigation of the SkyPath project, a walking and cycle pathway to be attached to the Auckland Harbour Bridge. ATEED’s Chief Executive is sponsoring the project for the council group. ATEED is seeking additional operating budget of $175,000 in the 2013/14 financial year for investigation work that cannot be undertaken with internal resources. Some of the costs to date have been covered by ATEED’s working capital, with an understanding that the entire cost would be funded by the council.
  • In regard to the additional funding sought, approximately $50,000 is allowed for specialist legal input in addition to the in-house legal services, which is required due to the somewhat unconventional nature of the SkyPath proposal.
  • The project team also intends to provide a grant of $85,000 the Auckland Harbour Bridge Pathway Trust, which is a contribution to the preparation cost associated with the reports and assessments that the trust will submit in its resource consent application to the council. These materials (e.g. traffic effect report and images) will be of interest and use to the public and the Auckland Council group in future investigation and consultation.
  • Last but not least, approximately $40,000 in consultancy charge is allowed for as ATEED’s share of the total cost of the patronage projection review. The project team engaged Angus & Associates Limited to undertake surveys and develop a model to assess the likely patronage profile for SkyPath over a 20-year period. This essential work has and will continue to help understand the revenue projections to manage the council’s risks in relation to the potential underwrite. The majority of this work was undertaken in the second half of 2013. However, further targeted work is necessary in the next few months to investigate the likely peak or daily usage to assist the council in understanding these effects on the surrounding network and areas.

I understand there was some fairly robust discussion and I’ve had it reported that George Wood was mischievously trying to mislead the committee. He seems to have a real problem with Skypath and perhaps he’s talking the same line the Northcote Residents Association use that cycling can only be provided over the harbour if an additional road crossing is built. The extra funding was approved 15-4 with George Wood, Dick Quax, Cameron Brewer and Sharon Stewart opposing it.

On the issue of the Northcote Residents Association, it appears they’re continuing to run misleading information themselves in their latest newsletter. There are a couple of major ones

The Draft Issues register – despite it appearing that the issues are all outstanding, I have heard that they have all been addressed as part of the process currently going on, many of which were done last year.

Questioning Patronage Numbers – this continues to be a line that the residents use despite the numbers having been produced and checked by independent consultants. I believe another round of work is going to be done do this again.

Parking – For some reason the residents seem to think that they own the public roads and have the sole right to them. This is simply not the case however I also understand that the one of the most likely options is a residents parking scheme similar to what exists in St Marys Bay and that would address the problems.

Additional Harbour Crossing – the residents like to claim that when an additional harbour crossing happens that it would free up a lane for pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge. However if it ever happens an additional road based crossing could be decades away and even then the NZTA have said Skypath will still be needed and will become a walking connection with any extra lanes freed up being for cycling (like in Sydney)

Greens Policy announcement

I posted this morning about the greens walking and cycling to school policy. Julie Anne Genter questioned Gerry Brownlee on it today in parliament. To be honest I can’t see many kids cycling alongside a RoNS to get to school. I’m also unaware of any cycling facilities being provided in many of the RoNS projects and in the case of Waterview, most of the cycling provision is only being done because the Board of Inquiry forced the NZTA to do so. Also have to love cry at the last answer.

AA on cycling

What a brilliant ad from the UK version of the AA. Also good to see the NZ AA supporting it too (although with a hi-vis mention)

Steven Joyce on the CRL in Parliament

Julie Anne Genter questioned Steven Joyce in Parliament today about the City Rail Link. Perhaps the most laughable comment is when Joyce claims they are speeding up the project, not slowing it down. If they were speeding it up then at the very least they would be looking to have it started at the same time the council is wanting for it to happen.

Antarctic transport policy?

Wow there’s so many bits of news I want to comment on today and I don’t have time for them all so as it kind of relates to my post this morning I’ll go with this one. In parliament today Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Gerry Brownlee about his stance on emissions and transport. It was following this news story from TV3 where he said”

I think climate change is something that has happened always, so to simply come up and say it’s man-made is an interesting prospect

So here is the debate today

The transcript is here.

This was what I thought was the best bit.

Julie Anne Genter: Can he name one place in the world where carbon emissions have reduced or where peak congestion has reduced as a result of new motorway construction?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As far as I know, I would be correct in saying—because there are no motorways there—the Antarctic.

 

Brilliant question and one that left Gerry stumped because the reality is there isn’t anywhere that has built its way out of traffic congestion or emissions. Although perhaps Brownlee suggested it because in his mind hell would have to freeze over before he would accept that urban motorways don’t solve emission and congestion issues.

Steven Joyce claims it’s the trains fault

Steven Joyce has made some pretty crazy statements over the years however his answer in parliament yesterday surely has to rank as one of craziest. He was being questioned by Labour MP Jacinda Ardern in relation to how the film industry is performing and the odd part starts at about two minutes in.

The key part is also in the transcript below:

Jacinda Ardern : Why are venues like Studio Auckland, which was 100 percent full until a few years ago, now the quietest it has ever been, and why is Studio West, which was fully tenanted for much of the past 12 years, now getting one booking query a month with the owner, stating that this is the worst he has seen the local industry in 20 years?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : As I say, I acknowledge that some companies are finding it a little bit difficult. I understand, though, in relation to one of the venues the member raises, that one of the particular issues is that it is associated with a railway line nearby, and, of course, Auckland Transport has increased the frequency of trains hugely so it is not as popular as it once was. But I have to say it is a little ironic to be questioned by that party on the health of the screen industry when it was that party that wanted—

Now just so everyone is clear, the studio he is talking to is out west near Glen Eden and is located near to the rail line. You can see it on the map below.

Film Studio West location 1

I’m also not claiming that the train noise isn’t having an impact as I’m sure our noisy diesels can definitely cause problems. What I did find odd is the claim that the issue has come out due to increased frequencies. The reason for that out west we still have only 15 minute peak services – the same as we have had for years – and off peak we only get half hourly services.

So in the graph below I have added up from old timetables how many trains go past the studio within each half hour period of the day. What it shows is that the number of trains going past the studio on a normal weekday is not that different from what it was over 5 years ago with the only difference being that the peaks have been extended slightly.

Trains past Studio West

If we were getting 15 minute frequencies through the middle of the day (which would be great) then yes that would be a dramatic change but until that time it seems like Steven Joyce is just using his dislike of trains as an excuse for what are likely to be other issues. I guess the good news is that in a few years things will be much quieter with the new electric trains running around. I wonder if the benefits to the film industry was listed in the business case for electrification?

CRL and the CFN in Parliament

Gerry Brownlee was asked in Parliament today about the City Rail Link and the costs of delaying it.

The fact that Brownlee claims it the project isn’t being delayed is staggering. The council and Auckland Transport have for a long time being planning for construction to start in 2015 and to be completed with trains running in 2020/21. The government’s announcement in June that they would support it was that they won’t even start a new business case until 2017 and won’t start construction till 2020. That represents a 5 year delay and as Julie Anne pointed out, adds a cost of $100 million per year to the total of the project for a total additional cost of $500 million.

The figure comes from this presentation to the Transport Committee at the beginning of the month. It also points out that many of the benefits that make the CRL look better in the longer term are due to the travel times and congestion getting worse. That would leave us with the situation where we have to sit waiting for conditions to get worse before we can start working to make them better. That’s sounds like ambulance at the bottom of the cliff thinking to me.

CRL - Why 2021

We and the Congestion Free Network also got a mention from Labour Transport Spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway (I wonder who will be the new transport person in the shake-up they will be having?). Gerry has refused to meet with us or the Campaign for Better Transport multiple times now with the response being that he is too busy each time we ask. I wonder how many times he has met with the AA, NZCID or other road lobby groups? Might be time for an OIA on that.

Julie Anne Genter and Bill English in Parliament

One of the most frustrating things about the process the CRL has gone through is not that the government is forcing it to go though extremely rigid analysis, but that it doesn’t require other projects to do the same. Bill English was questioned on this today by Julie Anne Genter but never seemed to be able to directly answer the question. I will say one thing though, he at least wasn’t dismissive of the project.

Also in the news about politics and the RoNS. National’s Northland MP, Mike Sabin has come out yesterday extolling the virtues of Puhoi to Wellsford. Yet at the same time he has confirmed some of the voodoo economics that seems to surround this, and many of the RoNS projects. He claims:

“The Greens would scrap this project in favour of Auckland’s rail loop, because they see it has better cost benefits than the Puhoi to Wellsford project, yet NZTA estimates this RoNS will benefit Northland’s economy in order of $35-$45 million a year, giving a cost benefit ratio of 2 to 1.”

Well let’s just look at that a bit closer. $35-$45 million a year seems fairly significant but in the context of this road is nothing. Being generous let’s say that the benefits start coming in as soon as the project starts and we use the normal 30 year assessment period, ‘et’s also ignore any of the benefits being discounted. That would give us benefits in the range of $1.05 billion to $1.35 billion over a 30 year period. Yet the road is expected to cost around $1.6 billion and that was before the recent announcement that the shorter and easier Puhoi to Warkworth section will cost around $1 billion. I don’t know how on earth you can get a BCR of 2 to 1 when the benefits achieved are less than the construction costs but that is why they are called voodoo economics.