An article in today’s NZ Herald picks up on the funding squeeze for transport that I posted about a couple of days ago. For a start, it points out the irony of potentially significant funding shortfalls at the very time we’re seeing public transport patronage skyrocket:
Auckland Transport faces a tight funding squeeze as it struggles to cope with unprecedented numbers of commuters switching to buses, trains and ferries.
After overseeing a record seven million public transport passenger trips in March, the organisation fears having to cut service costs by $31.2 million in the next financial year because of savings sought by its two main funders, the Auckland Council and the Government’s Transport Agency.
This is a little unfair on Auckland Council, as the decrease in operating funding of $31.2 million is caused by a $16 million shortfall in NZTA funding and the assumption that council will cut that amount too. Funding of local transport projects is generally funded approximately 50/50 between NZTA and the Council (previously public transport was regionally funded while roads were locally funded, but with Auckland Council the distinction no longer applies). So the Council could always choose to either continue its funding (in which case the only shortfall would be from NZTA) or even make up NZTA’s funding share – if it so desired. The table below seems to indicate a $2 million operational funding boost from the council in the Annual Plan compared to what had previously been expected: All of the $16 million decrease in operational funding seems to come from the reduced NZTA subsidy.
The $16 million decrease in funding for operations is peanuts compared with NZTA’s savage cutbacks in funding available for capital projects in the Auckland region:
A capital projects wish-list of $674 million of public transport infrastructure and local roading proposals inherited from Auckland’s former regional, city and district councils will also have to be hacked back after a gloomy Government subsidy forecast.
Chief infrastructure officer Kevin Doherty has told Auckland Transport’s board that although the list assumed Government subsidies of $274 million, there was unlikely to be more than $147 million available, and possibly even less. He said the Transport Agency had indicated a combination of previously strong regional spending and lower than forecast revenue into the national land transport fund had depleted the amount available for subsidy distributions in 2011-12, the final year of a triennial funding cycle.
As I said the other day, this reduction in available funds for capital projects isn’t all bad news. Hopefully it might mean some really dumb projects get the cut – like Penlink and new multi-level carparks in Manukau City and Takapuna. The surprisingly large amount of money Auckland Transport was planning to spend on capital projects also reflects a lot of the former councils promoting big expensive transport projects in the last couple of years, when they knew they wouldn’t end up being the ones who had to pay for them. Penlink is probably the most obvious example of this. Mike Lee picks up on this point:
But council transport committee chairman Mike Lee, who is an Auckland Transport board member, said the council would be very unwise to cut public transport spending after years of patronage growth.
“That doesn’t mean throwing money away or open slather for subsidies,” he said. “It means ensuring expenditure is in place to meet the rising demand to maintain the momentum of recent years. Because going through my inbox of issues, complaints and questions, transport seems to be the major issue that is concerning Aucklanders.”
Even so, Mr Lee acknowledged that the region’s former territorial authorities had caused budget difficulties by “front-end loading” their long-term plans with spending on local roads “which they themselves couldn’t really afford. Obviously they hoped that if they threw it over to the Super City, they would get those items paid for”.
The really big issue that will need a lot of thinking about is how major projects that do make sense, like AMETI (in its revised form) and some form of Dominion Road public transport improvements, are going to end up being funded. Looking forward over the next 10 years, the government doesn’t seem to see itself as enabling NZTA to contribute much to these large and rather expensive projects. Will NZTA’s contribution to AMETI’s rapid transit aspect be able to be funded out of the local roads budget, or will it have to come out of the “Public Transport Infrastructure” budget that just about disappears over the next decade?
These are the consequences of the various Roads of National Significance being prioritised so much. I just can’t see how, if NZTA is spending billions on the Waikato Expressway, on tunnels in Wellington and the Transmission Gully motorway, or on the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”, they’re going to be able to make much contribution to projects like AMETI, Dominion Road or any other major local project. Which may mean that those local upgrades simply don’t happen.
There was a rather curious media release by Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule today – talking about the next Government Policy Statement and its implications for local road funding:
The importance of local roads to the growth of New Zealand should not be forgotten when funding decisions are made, says Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule.
Mr Yule’s comments come in response to the proposed direction of the Government’s Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding 2012/13 to 2021/22 (GPS 2012) released yesterday.
I’ve had a bit of a dig around the Ministry of Transport website and I certainly can’t find any release of the proposed direction of the next GPS (Even though Radio NZ seem to have a copy of the draft GPS). However, fortunately from the same OIA information that informed these two recent posts, I do have a very detailed document prepared by the Ministry of Transport that relates to local roads and how they may be considered by the next GPS. You can read that document here.
But before we get into the details of what that document contains, it’s worth taking a look at some further things Mr Yule says:
Mr Yule says the GPS 2012 released yesterday proposes to direct most funding to the state highway network and roads of national significance, to the detriment of local roads.
“Once again local roads, and therefore many smaller communities, lose out to roads of national significance. But this doesn’t have to be the case.”
Mr Yule is urging the Government to prioritise road funding with the big picture in mind. He would like to see a more equitable spend which takes into account the areas from where money is generated.
“If money is coming from local roads it should go back into local roads. We need to look at our roading network as a whole. At the moment there is a focus on state highways and roads of national significance. They may well be a vital part of the network but we also need to take into account the contribution local roads make to the New Zealand economy,” he said.
From reading through the various documents prepared by the MoT that will inform that next GPS one thing comes through extremely loud and clear – that the RoNS projects are placing an enormous financial strain on the transport fund, making it very difficult to find adequate funding for other things it’s meant to help pay for – like the contribution to local roads (which are paid for roughly 50/50 between NZTA and the local council). This is outlined below: It’s a pity that a part of the paragraphs outlined above has been excluded (to enable free and frank advice, as always), but one can logically ascertain what it’s likely to be saying – that taking money away from local roads to help fund state highway improvements seems to be simply transfering the congestion and safety problems from the state highways onto the local roads. This is pretty obvious in Auckland, where projects such as the widening of the northwest motorway are going to do nothing to solve the real bottlenecks on the roads feeding into the motorway: like Te Atatu Road and Lincoln Road. In fact, evening peak congestion on those roads is likely to increase as the widened motorway simply funnels more and more cars onto an already congested and overloaded arterial road.
One thing in the above section that did capture my interesting quite a lot was the assertion that traffic growth on local roads has increased more than on state highways in recent years. That’s illustrated very clearly in the graphs below: It would be interesting to see the 2010 traffic flows, let alone those so far in 2011 (NZTA monthly data provides more up to date information region by region, but only for state highway volumes).
When the data is broken down even further, it seems that local urban roads are where the highest levels of traffic increase are to be found – and particularly in the Auckland area: The next graph shows how much Auckland’s local road traffic dominates the VKT across all local roads in the country – I guess because in the smaller centres it’s difficult to drive too far without eventually ending up on a state highway: One interesting thing the document also looks at are measures of congestion – in Auckland it seems that morning congestion has worsened while evening congestion has alleviated somewhat over the past few years: The footnote (5) is relevant because it says that this is only congestion on the state highway network. Overall, one might conclude that our state highway policy of the past few years has been an utter disaster in Auckland. It goes something like this:
- We have spent vastly more on building new state highways: up from around $200 million a year in 2005 to around $500 million a year in 2010.
- Traffic on those state highways has remained relatively steady, grown slowly or declined.
- Despite the huge amount of extra money spent, and little new traffic, congestion on the motorways has only become worse (see graph above).
Moving along, the remainder of the document really focuses on the risks outlined earlier in this post of having a transport policy that focuses so much on building new motorways. A significantly greater chunk of the local road spend over the past few years has been dedicated to maintenance an renewal, rather than new projects – probably because there simply isn’t much money available to build new local roading projects. The MoT seems extremely concerned about the impact of these trends on the achievement of general transport goals – such as reducing (rather than shifting) congestion and improving (rather than shifting) road safety.
Personally I question the need for many local roading projects quite often – such as Penlink – and it would seem that the current Auckland Council may have a desire to spend less on new local roads in order to free up money for public transport improvements (at least that’s what their rhetoric seems to say, the Annual Plan reality looks quite different). But good arterial roads, with bus lanes, cycle lanes, safety improvements and whatever else is needed, really are the essential link-points in a city like Auckland. The motorway network is just about complete here, what we need is a well functioning arterial road system to support the state highway network (plus obviously a far better public transport network); rather than a growing mismatch between a hugely over-spec state highway system and a vastly underfunded local road network.
But yet again the Minister seems to see things differently, and would rather focus on building motorways between Cambridge and Taupo.
Auckland Council’s Draft Annual Plan includes a section on transport, outlining in broad terms the money the council intends to spend over the 2011/2012 year on transport. Overall, transport spending is the biggest section of Auckland Council’s budget – so I was quite surprised to see the lack of detail in the Draft Annual Plan on where transport spending is going. Particularly capital spending. All we see about particular projects is a list of “key projects”: Most of the projects listed above are public transport related – surely a good thing. But, as I have noted previously that doesn’t really seem to be where the money is going. In fact, most capital spending actually seems to be on roading projects. This is shown in the table below: It turns out that the Draft Annual Plan does actually provide more detail on individual projects. You just need to dig right to the end of the many-hundred page long document. In terms of capital spending, finally we have a list of projects proposed for funding and the amount of money they’re anticipated to cost. So what are the most expensive projects? Where will that $307m of capital spending actually go? It seems we finally have some answers – and the table below shows the name and cost of every project above $10 million: AMETI is mentioned in the “Key Projects and Priorities” above, so is the New Lynn TOD project. I’m not quite sure what the ‘Gasometer Site Investigation and Design’ project is, while ones below that seem to generally make sense. But what about the most expensive project of all – the “Weiti Toll Road”? That sounds awfully like Penlink to me.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the Penlink project, that’s not what really concerns me here. What concerns me is the secretive way in which the project is being pushed through. The “Weiti Toll Road” project is by far the most expensive transport project Auckland Council intends to fund next year, so why was it not included in the list of key projects and priorities? Because the Council and Auckland Transport wants to seem a lot more public transport friendly than they really are? That they know Penlink is an unpopular project and want to sneak it through?
It’s a bit strange really.
Although it will (justifiably so) be quite some time before we get past the initial human tragedy of last week’s Christchurch earthquake to think about the financial cost of the disaster, clearly it will be an extremely expensive disaster to recover from. This is outlined below, from a Scoop Article on the quake’s financial cost:
Last Tuesday’s quake, which killed at least 154 people, will cost as much as $15 billion, adding to the September disaster’s $5 billion bill, and equating to about 7% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Reinsurer Validus Holdings estimates the cost of the quake to the insurance industry will be as much as $10 billion.
A lot of the money will come through insurance companies, and their ‘reinsurance’ through the wider industry. That will be to the tune of around $10 billion. EQC also has money available to spend, but above and beyond that it seems the government will need to spend at least a few billion on works that are not covered by insurance schemes: generally in the form of welfare assistance packages in the short term, plus infrastructure rebuilding in the longer term.
Now that’s a lot of money for a government currently borrowing around $300 million a week just to stay afloat. Let’s remember that the Waterview Connection project and the widening of State Highway 16 to complete the Western Ring Route comes to around $2 billion. So if the government spends a few billion on infrastructure fixes in Christchurch, that will need to come from somewhere.
The Scoop Article linked to above has a few quotes from Finance Minister Bill English on the matter:
Finance Minister Bill English says the government will reshuffle its priorities to make sure Christchurch is rebuilt, and will look at all options, including curbing interest free-student loans and Working for Family tax credits which it previously said wouldn’t be changed.
Prime Minister John Key had already signalled the government will cut its new spending by as much as $300 million as it deal with a high level of foreign indebtedness that’s raised the ire of ratings company Standard & Poor’s.
The government will keep its spending focus on front-line services, and income support for people on low incomes, and continue to spend on “infrastructure and productive investment.”
“The earthquake means (tighter spending) is now absolutely necessary and we need to produce definitive results from that process,” English told a media briefing in Wellington. “We won’t change that recipe significantly, but we are going to have to test the limits of it.”
Whether the extra money should be found through more borrowing, spending cuts or an additional disaster levy (like what Australia’s doing) is a matter for debate that’s probably outside the scope of this blog. However, what is relevant are the potential effects on infrastructure projects – notably transport projects. This is discussed further:
English said spending on major infrastructure projects, such as Auckland’s central business district rail loop, may get pushed out, though the government won’t change its general approach.
“With the infrastructure projects, you’ve got some choice about the timing, such as the CBD loop in Auckland, and a year or two can make, over a longer period of time, a significant enough difference for us,” he said. “We’ve got some fairly big commitments we’d like to maintain, such as the ultra-fast broadband.”
To be honest, that’s about the most positive thing I’ve ever heard Bill English say about the CBD rail tunnel – that he actually foresees it happening in the future, it’s just a question of “when”.
In my opinion, the earthquake does change things quite significantly. There is no doubt that Christchurch will require a lot of expenditure when it comes to fixing up the infrastructure – and that’s fine. What it means is that we need to be really careful about the money spent on transport infrastructure – in short, we need to ensure we get good ‘bang for our buck’. Time for Operation Lifesaver instead of the holiday highway, time to take a good long pause to think about how badly we really do need another harbour crossing, time to think about more cost-effective solutions than Penlink. And so forth.
However, I think we need to be careful about scaling back on infrastructure investment in Auckland too much. Over the next few years it seems very likely that Christchurch’s economic activity will be reduced as a result of the quake (although there should be a fairly good construction sector there for a while to come). In order for the country to pull itself out of the current economic downturn, I think there will be an increased reliance on Auckland to “pick up the slack”. While we may be able to do that without some of the previously proposed infrastructure investment, I think it would be short-sighted to stop or delay too many of Auckland’s projects.
There has been quite a lot of discussion in the last week or so about what the priority of the “Penlink” road is. This connection would provide much quicker access between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Auckland urban area, by cutting off a relatively huge detour vehicles must make at the moment. It would also provide the transport network with greater resiliency as there would be more than one way in and out of the peninsula.
A map showing the project is included below:
When it comes to ‘taking a position’ on transport projects I try to start off in a fairly neutral position and ask some key questions:
- Does the project ‘stack up’ in terms of its benefits outweighing its costs?
- Is it possible to achieve the project’s benefits (or a great big chunk of them) through a lower cost alternative?
- Will the project have significant adverse environmental effects and can they be avoided, remedied or mitigated?
- How does the project fit within our general transport strategy?
- Will the project foster more or less auto-dependency?
To answer the first of these questions, it’s always useful to get hold of the project’s business case – and I have done that for the Penlink project. In October last year, merely days before they got rolled into Auckland Transport, ARTA had completed for them a review of Penlink. That is the document linked to above, which provides a very up to date analysis of where the project is at.
The review sought to answer two main questions:
- Whether the PENLINK business case is robust and therefore justifies funding ahead of other projects in the programme;
- Whether the revised scheme satisfies the original designation requirements and is sufficiently robust to meet its objectives and future needs.
It seems like over the last few years there have been a few amendments to the design of the Penlink route, to provide the same level of functionality at a lower capital cost, and this review was to test whether the project makes economic sense (remember that NZTA seemed to put a big question mark around this matter in their NLTP). These revisions are outlined in more detail below:
So less widening at the Whangaparaoa end and the inclusion of electronic tolling gates.
If we look at our first question outlined earlier in the post, the business case document suggests that the project does ‘stack up’, with a fairly decent cost-benefit ratio:
The review document doesn’t provide much detail on how these numbers have been calculated (business cases rarely do for some reason, we’re just supposed to take the results as gospel), but it would seem as though – at a very basic level – this project wouldn’t be a money loser like the holiday highway.
In terms of our second question, about whether we could achieve the benefits of the project by way of a cheaper alternative, the review comments on this matter:
In short, the widening of Whangaparaoa Road between the Hibiscus Coast Highway and Red Beach road would alleviate many of the congestion problems likely to be suffered along Whangaparaoa Road if Penlink doesn’t proceed. This could be done at a much lower cost than Penlink and therefore has a much higher cost-benefit ratio. However, this would not achieve all the benefits of Penlink, such as a more resilient and robust transport network and the removal of conflict between commuting traffic and local traffic.
The concerns I have about the project probably fit within the last three questions I laid out at the start of this blog post. What would the environmental effects of the project be? Is this project a strategic priority compared with other things going on around the region (for example the project’s cost would be a significant contribution to the CBD rail tunnel or could provide light-rail along Dominion Road)? Does the project contribute to growing auto-dependency by encouraging further development in a fairly far-flung corner of the city and not offering dedicated bus lanes and perhaps not even a dedicated cycleway along its whole length?
I think overall I probably find myself coming to the conclusion that Penlink is a worthwhile project, but the real question is “when?” While it might have been the number one priority for Rodney District Council, when that was a separate council, I wonder how it stacks up against other necessary transport upgrades throughout Auckland. Furthermore, if many of the congestion relief benefits can be achieved by widening Whangaparaoa Road – at a fraction of the cost – then maybe it could be better to embark on that project first.
I noted in a post last week the weird mysteries in Auckland Council’s draft annual plan when it comes to what they’re going to be spending the transport money on. To refresh memories, here’s a table showing the council’s proposed capital expenditure on transport for the 2011/2012 financial year: The big mystery is the $307 million proposed to be spent on the “road network” in the 2011/2012 financial year. I can’t quite fathom why Auckland would need over $300 million of council spending on new roads over the next 12 months. I did wonder whether some of this money was going into projects that were technically local road improvements, but had a major public transport benefit – like the Dominion Road project for example. Perhaps some of AMETI could also contribute to the amount – but that’s a multi-year project that seems to be a while away from actual construction, when the real money starts getting spent.
After some discussion on the topic on the Campaign for Better Transport forums, we were helpfully directed to have a closer look at the 2009-2012 NZTA National Land Transport Programme for Auckland, which outlines all the projects in the Auckland region that NZTA will be funding during this three year period (the development of the next NLTP will be an interesting process over the next year or two). Page 9 of that document starts to potentially give us some of our answers to the question of “where’s the $307 million going?” as it outlines the new local roading projects that NZTA is planning on contributing to over the three year period covered by the programme: If we set aside AMETI for now, because it’s a multi-year project that has its final form very much up for debate, the next two most expensive roading projects are quite interesting: Penlink at $203 million and roading upgrades in Flat Bush at $80 million. Penlink is a project that has been proposed in various forms, and to be funded via various means, over the past few years. From memory, it was fully funded by the regional fuel tax until the current government got rid of that tax (and as a result Auckland’s any measure of transport funding independence). Here’s a map of the project: I can certainly see how the project would have benefits – offering a second access point to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and cutting a big corner off the way in which people get from the peninsula to the city. But it’s very expensive, and I do wonder how much of a priority its completion really is for the Auckland region as a whole. The table below shows some more details on Penlink, including some serious funding allocations in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 that haven’t happened – maybe they’re being shifted onto 2011/2012? It’s also worth noting that Penlink has only been given a “Regional Priority” of 90 – which I assume means that the region has 89 other projects of greater priority around. One might assume many of them would be a lot cheaper too.
What’s also interesting about both Penlink and the Flat Bush road upgrades is that the NLTP specifies that they’ll both only be funded if a funding plan develops which shows the current options are affordable and value for money. That would tend to suggest that neither project currently makes economic sense – especially not when compared to other projects.
It would be useful to have the $307 million the council is expected to contribute to new roads broken down into a “project by project” list. Particularly if we got an idea about the cost-effectiveness of the projects that make up this large chunk of money. It’s not that I’m saying we shouldn’t be spending $307 million on local roads in the 2011/2012 year – perhaps it makes good sense for us to do so. But perhaps it doesn’t? Perhaps the new political reality of the Auckland Council – with a stronger focus on public transport – might necessitate shifting some of this money towards other projects (like funding the rail station upgrades talked about a few days ago).
Or perhaps it could contribute to the $60 million that Auckland Council needs to save in order to keep rates increases below 5%. We simply don’t know until we see what the money’s going to be spent on and whether it represents good value for money. Hopefully we’ll see more detail on this soon.
Another major transport project that the Transport Committee’s agenda provides an update on is a link between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and State Highway 1, via a bridge across the Weiti River – a project commonly known as “Penlink”. This project has had a fairly turbulent history: first proposed as a toll road, then it was to be funded by the Regional Fuel Tax, then when that tax was abolished by the government, funding for PenLink somewhat disappeared again.
So it’s useful to have an update on where the project is at: Here’s an indicative map of the route: I’m not quite sure what I think of this project actually. On the one hand I think it offers a useful alternative to the existing road and really would make a difference for travellers between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and Auckland. On the other hand I worry that it could increase development pressure on areas around Stillwater, which plays an important role as a greenbelt between the Hibiscus Coast and the rest of Auckland.
I suppose that if the road is tolled, to the extent that its funding doesn’t take money away from projects elsewhere that might be seen as a higher priority, and we ensure that the land-use planning restrictions on urbanisation around Stillwater remain tight, then there’s no real reason to oppose a project like this. I wonder if it would be popular with a $3-4 toll? That would pay for a pretty significant chunk of the project’s construction cost I think.
I haven’t posted for a while and Josh being a way gives me a chance to get back in the groove. One of the reasons I haven’t posted for a while is because I think our brains work about 10 times as fast as money is available and about 50 times faster than most policiticians brain’s move. I know what I think we should do and instead of talking about it want to put it into action, so for the record here is my basic plan for the next 30 – 40 years:
- Increase the viability of walking and cycling in the CBD by selling and developing 4 of the 5 five council owned car parking buildings (leaving the one under Aotea Square) and use the funding to complete the other parts of this CBD plan, the sites can be used for mixed use high rises and/or public space
- Two lane Nelson and Hobson St by changing the ramps
- Remove the lower Hobson St ramp and create a public square
- Pedestrianise High St and Queen St from Customs St to Victoria St
- Run a Dominion Rd light rail line up Queen St
- Increase shared streets across all non arterial roads in the CBD
- Strongly advocate for the CMJ to be “capped” or placed in cut and cover tunnels and the CBD and inner suburbs reconnected
- CBD tree planting programme
- Funding for artworks in parks and squares
- City and Sea project to be developed as quickly as possible
- As part of the Dominion Road upgrade in 2016 I propose a light rail route be built, using modern light rail vehicles and operating at 5 minute frequencies from 0600 – 0000 hrs, this is the busiest bus route in Auckland and identified as a QTN in the RLTS
- It is important to recognise the council currently has little control over the development of the rail network except for stations, the good work of upgrading stations begun by ARTA should continue until all are upgraded
Advocacy of the central government for the following things should occur:
- The CBD rail tunnel be aggressively advocated for, it is the most important transportation project in the country and will double the rail network’s capacity (the same as building a new 70+ km electrified rail network in Auckland), for a single piece of less than 5km of rail infrastructure.
- Ontrack be removed from Kiwirail and become a part of the NZTA, so it is able to access funding from the National Land Transportation Fund. Currently Ontrack’s funds for capital develop must compete with funding for Health and Education, etc from general Treasury funds, rail having no access to funding from the National Land Transportation Fund, nor are rail capital projects able to compete with roading projects for funding is crazy, as evidenced by the fact that Puhoi to Wellsford has easily secured funding and the tunnel seems to have no readily available funding option.
- Advocate for a completed rail network by 2040, consisting of the following projects in order; CBD tunnel, Airport Line, Eastern Line/Southdown to Avondale, North Shore
- The estimated value of Fuller’s Ferries is $45 – $50 million dollars, I propose the AT agency purchase Fuller’s. This will incur a $3 million p.a. interest cost but allow the council to make the investment in ferry stock expansion Fuller’s will not, due to 5 year contract cycles, it will also allow for wharf expansion throughout the Waitamata Harbour and to reduce the usurious fares currently charged Waiheke residents to prop up the rest of the network
- Investigating a traffic modelling study of whether reducing Auckland’s urban speed limit to 40 km/hr would increase traffic speeds overall and increase smooth flowing traffic and make pedestrians safer
- Continue and expand ACC’s footpath renewal programme
- Build new footpaths and walkways
- Walking safety initiatives
- The Bus system is by far the area where Auckland can make the biggest gains in motorised alternatives to the car. If Auckland achieves ARTA’s goal of 100 million trips via PT by 2016, 80 million will be via bus. However the potential for even greater growth in Auckland’s bus system is huge. Winnipeg a Canadian city with no commuter rail and no busways and a similar amount of bus resources per person to Auckland has ridership per annum 3 times higher than Auckland. Toronto with a similar rail and tram system and similar bus resources has 5 times the ridership. The difference is that these cities apply the “network effect”. The new Council should write into the AT agency’s statement of intent that the AT will review all bus routes to use existing resources to apply the “network effect” and use the powers in the PTMA to introduce an Auckland wide system within 18 months. Routes are organised into a “grid”, which then runs at high frequencies from 0600 hrs to 0000 hrs, a zonal fare system and easy transfers to allow users, once they are on the “network”, to move quickly around the city
- An aggressive bus laning programme of roads that form part the “network effect”
- Completion of the bicycle network outlined in the RLTS within 5 years. Cycle way projects have some of the highest BCRs of any transport projects in the country
- Bicycling safety programmes
- Completion of the Western Route and Penlink, further upgrades to existing arterial and rural roads as required
Focussing on completing of both the “grid” bus network (with full route bus lanes) and the cycle network within one to two terms is by far the most effective way to make a fundamental change in Auckland’s transport patterns.
Having finally got the 30 year Regional Land Transport Strategy completed, it’s important to look at the question “where to next?” This is particularly important to consider when you realise how the whole management of transport in Auckland is going to be revolutionised in the next few months, with the creation of the Auckland Transport CCO. This vast change in how transport will be run in Auckland is both a huge risk and a huge opportunity, as there will be the chance to start from scratch in some respects, but at the same time there is also the opportunity to build on gains made in the past few years.
With a potential vacuum during the changeover from ARTA and a pile of transport departments in each council roll into the new Auckland Transport agency, I think it’s important that there are some clear plans for what gets done in the next five years in particular. Obviously ARTA has its transport plans, and each individual council have their plans, NZTA have their plans and so forth, but for the first time in the near future we will see most of these plan come together (unfortunately Auckland Transport will still have no real power over the state highway or railway system) and we will have the opportunity to actually start giving effect to the very many plans and strategies that are sitting around.
Probably the best indicator of current thinking about what transport will be constructed, or have its planning advanced with a mind towards construction in the not too distant future, is laid out in ARTA’s 2009-2012 Regional Land Transport Programme. Keeping in mind that this only covers three years, and that we’re already one year into its timeframe, it’s a bit more shorter-term than what I think we need to be considering, but it’s still a useful starting point. Here are some of the major projects in the current programme:
Major local roading and State highway projects which are scheduled to be constructed in the 2009/10–2011/12 programme are:
- The Central Connector.
- SH1 Newmarket Viaduct.
- SH18 Hobsonville Deviation.
- New roading connections and improvements associated with the New Lynn rail trenching and transport interchange.
- Major roading projects in new development areas, especially Flat Bush, East Tamaki and Pukekohe.
- Bus priority programmes.
- Major pavement reconstruction.
In addition there will be significant funding in the following public transport areas in the three-year time period of the RLTP:
- Integrated fares and ticketing and the completion of the real time public information system.
- Significant rail station upgrades will take place during the RLTP period, including major new transport interchanges at Newmarket, New Lynn and Manukau. KiwiRail will continue its programme of signalling upgrades and double tracking. The Western Line double tracking is expected to be completed by June 2010.
- Electrification will build on the momentum achieved in Auckland rail over the past five years in which patronage has grown from just over 2 million to over 7 million passenger trips per year. Seat capacity will be increased by at least 12.5 % over the three-year period as a result of additional and longer trains in service as more refurbished carriages are brought into operation. The Government has given its commitment to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and is working with the region on the mechanisms to deliver an electrified rail network.
- Service improvements will be implemented on the Isthmus, Waitakere, North West Rodney, Manukau and Papakura including better connections to rail stations.
- Half Moon Bay ferry terminal upgrade.
- Hobsonville ferry terminal in conjunction with new housing development.
- Bayswater ferry terminal design.
- Birkenhead – installation of hydraulic ramp.
Major schemes proposed for study, investigation and design stage include:
- CBD Rail Tunnel.
- Crash reduction studies in Auckland City, Waitakere and Franklin.
- Freight Transhipment studies on the State highway network.
- Designation of Constellation to Albany busway extension.
- Albany Highway Corridor upgrade.
- CBD Waterfront access.
Extending this programme out by a couple more years would allow the new Transport Agency to be a bit more visionary, and also reflects that many of these projects (Hobsonville Deviation, Newmarket Viaduct, Central Connector, railway station upgrades etc.) are already under construction and are therefore not really relevant for considering what new projects should be prioritised over the next five years.
I think splitting the type of project up into roads, public transport and other (such as walking/cycling/other pedestrian improvements) is quite a useful start, and I also think that it’s useful to consider whether we would hope to be constructing this project within the next five years, or whether the main focus is on planning/design/consenting etc. Many of the bigger projects are obviously going to be mainly in the planning and design phase, and the important thing will be to ensure that everything is ready to go once we have the money available or once the need for the project becomes particularly clear.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the distinctions between projects can at times be fuzzy, particularly the question of whether a roading upgrade with bus lanes should be counted as a roading project or as a public transport project. I generally make the distinction based on the issue of “who benefits most?” By in large, new roads will benefit motorists the most, even if they have peak hour bus lanes, so therefore I would put that under roads. In contrast, turning part of an existing road into bus lanes primarily benefits public transport users, so therefore would be a public transport project.
OK well let’s start with roading projects, and as shown in the table below there is a particular focus on state highway projects already underway, or those that are likely to be underway in the not too distant future. The list looks fairly short, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that “other arterial road improvements” is quite broad, and there are likely to be a number of areas where arterial road upgrades are either constructed, or get close to being constructed, during this time period:
I don’t think anything is particularly controversial there, apart from perhaps the priority I have given to PenLink. I’ll have a think about that one a bit more myself, but my general thinking behind it is based on the current route to Whangaparaoa being a huge dogleg detour, and therefore the gains from constructing PenLink do see to be long-lasting and real. Note that I do not include the widening of State Highway 16 in my list, as I think it’s stupid for us to waste $800 million widening a motorway just to watch it fill up again with induced demand. Also unsurprisingly I think that just a Warkworth bypass and a safety upgrade of SH1 between Puhoi and Wellsford is needed, rather than a multi-billion dollar holiday highway.
In terms of public transport projects, obviously my list is rather longer – perhaps because that’s an area where I have greater interest, or perhaps because we really are coming to the end of roading projects in Auckland that need to be undertaken, and most of the remaining list of transport projects are related to improving public transport. Looking at the projects I would want to see under construction (or implemented might be a more encompassing term) I think what should come across most obviously is that they’re mostly about buses. There are two big rail projects within the next five years: the completion of Project DART and rail electrification. That should keep us busy enough, along with some platform lengthening, perhaps the addition of a Parnell/University station and the very much needed third track between Wiri and Westfield.
The reason I have focused so much on bus projects in the next five years is because they are relatively quick and easy to implement: as Human Transit’s latest blog post notes, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and faster to put some paint on a road (bus lane) than it is to build rail. So there are key bus-based projects, like getting an interim QTN (Quality Transit Network – read bus lanes) up and running between Panmure and Botany (and also between Botany and Manukau I should probably add), upgrading Dominion Road: hopefully to light-rail but potentially in the shorter term just to having better quality bus lanes, getting a QTN operational along the SH18 corridor as that develops, and perhaps most critically: getting bus lanes in operation along all the nominated QTN corridors. This shouldn’t be a particularly expensive project, it just needs some willpower. Other important projects for implementation include a complete redesign of the bus route system, so the it better reflects the integrated ticketing system we will have and so that it takes advantage of the “network effect” benefits I have described previously. There are probably some other ferry upgrades that will be required, hopefully taking advantage of integrated ticketing and a simplified bus route structure to encourage people to catch feeder buses to their ferries.
In terms of design/consenting, here’s where more of the “big ticket items” emerge, such as the CBD Rail Tunnel, rail to the airport, the extension of the busway to Albany and the southeast Auckland RTN (hopefully in the form of a Howick/Botany Line). The Regional Land Transport Strategy highlights many of these projects for construction in the 2020-2040 period, except for the CBD rail tunnel which is recognised as crucial for construction by 2021, but I think it’s essential that the routes for all these projects are protected and that they are pretty much “ready to go” as soon as the funding and political will is there to push the go button. Not future-proofing or protecting the routes of important transport projects can lead to disaster, if someone builds something really big in the way, so I think it’s essential there’s a really big push to sort them out as soon as possible. I also think that extensions of the little tram network we will have hopefully created between Wynyard Quarter and Britomart will become increasingly sensible in the future, so doing the background work to extend the system along Tamaki Drive and Dominion Road seems sensible to me. Finally, in terms of projects that would be at their initial investigation phase, I have put a North Shore railway line and the Avondale Southdown railway line into this group. These projects are likely to be some of the later “big ticket items”, but it’s still useful in my opinion to be analysing them and working out which routes/options we would want to proceed with.
Turning to walking, cycling and other projects, these are projects that are mainly about improving the lot for pedestrians and cyclists. There are a few “big ticket items”, like the Harbour Bridge Cycleway idea which seems to be proceeding quite well, but many others are just about changing around existing areas to make them more pedestrian friendly. Rolling out the shared streets idea more and more is an example of that.
The great thing about walking and cycling improvements is that they generally aren’t particularly expensive. For just a few million you can get many kilometres of cycleway, whereas by comparison the Victoria Park Tunnel project costs nearly a million dollars a metre to build. Some of the other projects to implement, such as lowering the speed on non-arterial routes, wouldn’t cost anything (apart from signage) but would contribute significantly to making our city more friendly and livable I think. In the longer term, I really do hope that bigger and potentially more challenging projects such as pedestrianising parts of Queen Street and Quay Street can be possible. If we had a tram running up and down Queen Street, to connect our Wynyard Quarter tramway with a Dominion Road one, that could mix quite well with an otherwise pedestrianised street.
Well anyway, that’s my idea of a transport plan for Auckland over the next 5 years. It’s a lot of work, but then the new Auckland Transport agency will be sucking up a lot of money so it should be able to achieve a plan like this, at least the parts that it can control. There’s generally nothing much new in my plan, apart from the Howick/Botany railway line and my tramway ideas, but instead it’s all about implementing what’s in the RLTS and in ARTA’s 10 year “Auckland Transport Plan“. In terms of the focus on buses, this is because doing so is a “low hanging fruit” – potentially big benefits for relatively low cost. But at the same time, I think it’s critical the big ticket items are progressed, at lest in terms of getting all the design and consenting done so that once funding is available they are ready to go.
I am sure I’ve missed things, or that there are parts of this plan people disagree with. So it’d be great to get some feedback on it, so I can refine it and hopefully eventually turn these basic ideas into something that might really make a difference.