With so much focus on the Auckland spatial plan at the moment, words of “step change”, “transformational” and “public transport led approach” being bandied around, discussion about new ways to fund this “step change” and “transformation”, and the excitement of a single Council looking at transport issues in a long-term way, it’s easy to forget that it was not even two years ago that we put together Auckland’s previous 30 year transport strategy. The 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy was actually tasked with the very job of taking a long-term vision of Auckland’s transport future. It was, in fact, the first RLTS to look at transport with a 30 year horizon in mind – the same horizon (with a couple of years difference) as the Auckland Plan is focusing on.
Previous posts, and an excellent column from Brian Rudman, have highlighted the credibility gap between the pretty words of the Auckland Plan, when it comes to transport matters, and the reality of where the money is proposed to be headed. But how does this plan compare to the 2010 RLTS? Did the RLTS have a big funding gap too? Is the Auckland Plan really a step change towards a public transport focused transport strategy, when compared to the RLTS?
There are quite a few graphs in the RLTS that provide us with a useful insight into where it saw the money going. This one is a good start, which compares the expenditure envisaged by the strategy over the next 30 years with the funding available: While there’s certainly a misalignment between the expenditure envisaged by the strategy and the funding available, overall there’s actually not a gap between the amounts. In other words, there’s enough money to deliver the RLTS, we just need to shift around what that money is spent on.
Another graph breaks down where the RLTS proposed to spend the $46 billion (presumably updated slightly due to inflation to become the $50b baseline used in the funding gap discussion) over the next 30 years: It’s fairly close to a 50/50 split between new roads and roads maintenance/renewals on one side and public transport infrastructure, PT services and travel demand management, walking and cycling on the other side. In short, the definition of a balanced transport strategy. We even see the funding split broken down by each of the decades covered in the strategy: Oh if only there was anything close to this level of detail available in the transport section of the Auckland Plan. Strangely the Auckland Plan seems completely devoid of such detail, perhaps because it would highlight something that goes against what all the pretty words of the plan are saying?
Thankfully, Rudman’s column provides some of the numbers to help fill in the gaps. With a couple of assumptions and a bit of maths we can start to make comparisons (not on a decade by decade basis sadly, but overall) between the RLTS and the Auckland Plan on that key matter – where is the money going? This comparison highlights quite a few surprises. Instead of the step-change towards public transport spending we see both PT infrastructure and PT services spending remain relatively unchanged from the RLTS – the small increases probably reflecting little more than inflation. There’s no distinction made in Rudman’s column between spending on Local Roads and State Highways, so we have to lump the two together, but that shows where the real “step-change” in the Auckland Plan is, and also highlights where the funding gap has originated.
Using this comparison, we can make a few helpful conclusions:
- The additional roads proposed in the Auckland Plan, compared to the RLTS, are the source of almost the whole funding gap.
- All the public transport projects proposed in the Auckland Plan and the RLTS are affordable under current funding arrangements, we just need to change around the allocation of funds.
- The Auckland Plan is not a step-change towards a public transport led transport strategy at all, it’s a step change towards spending billions and billions on new roads.
In fact, it seems like the 2010 RLTS was the real step-change document. The Auckland Plan just proposes to spend hugely more on motorways, a continuation of the transport policy which has failed Auckland for decades.
What changed? Where did all these roading projects come from? Given that it is clear we cannot build every thing everyone wants even if every proposed scheme is a good idea [and these road projects are of debatable value at best], don’t we have to be clear about priorites and direction? After 60 years of building and re-building the grand motorway plan for Auckland it will be functionally complete with the big Waterview connection and the total rebuild of the North Western. Isn’t it clear that we must focus our resources on maintaining this road asset and provide for growth and resilience by building the missing complementary [and booming] public transport systems?
Is it because vested interests are fighting against the very idea of change in collusion with our state institutions, as described in a recent comment by Mike:
NZTA holds the power everywhere. All the regions can do is recommend projects in their Regional Land Transport Programmes, ranked so that Strategic Fit (what the government wants) outranks the other two criteria of Effectiveness and Efficiency (=BCR), which are used to “inform” NZTA’s National Land Transport Programme. Ultimately it’s NZTA’s decisions based on MoT’s criteria based on the Government Policy Statement. Any local/regional input is a charade.
Is it a top down thing from Government, because they and their close friends just like motorways?
Brian Rudman’s Friday opinion piece in the NZ Herald hits the nail on the head when it comes to the problem with Auckland’s transport strategies, that we seem to ignore the low hanging fruit when it comes to making PT better. It also seems like he’s been reading this blog, as he makes similar points to this post in particular: asking the question of whether we really need to be spending such a vast amount of money on transport projects over the next 30 years, compared to what might we achieve through rather smaller scale improvements like better bus lanes. Here’s what he says about the low hanging fruit:
Like why doesn’t Mayor Len Brown wave a wand and remove the few offending car parks that are holding up the completion of the short rush-hour bus lane past Les Mills Gym to the Victoria Park Markets.
This would instantly aid the highly successful Inner and Outer Link buses to do their job. While he’s at it, he could copy the Sydney traffic law which forces motorists to give way to buses pulling out from a stop.
Neither the above proposals are as grand as a $2.86 billion rail tunnel, or a $5.3 billion harbour tunnel, but they are both cheap and easy to achieve, and would instantly improve the flow of the city bus fleet. No doubt if the mayor were to consult my fellow public transport sufferers, they’d come up with other easily implementable, bright ideas.
I agree that many of these little things could make a huge difference although I would point out that it doesn’t mean that some of those grand projects are important in their own right. When it comes to these larger projects Rudman also notes the imbalance between spending on roads and spending on public transport which is particularly surprising as Len Brown was elected mayor on a “public transport led” transport policy:
The most disappointing aspect of the transport section of the proposed Auckland Plan, is how steady-as-she-goes, be careful not to frighten the horse, this so-called “transformational” document is.
Certainly it talks the talk, when it comes to warning that Auckland is rapidly running out of space for more roads, and preaching the need to embrace public transport in our new compact, intensified, liveable city.
But wade through the figures and the reports and the spreadsheets, and the revolution is hard to spot. The plan seems to be to try to keep everyone happy, by offering up more roads to mollify the pro-road clique, while teasing the public transport supporters, with the promise of, but no funds available, such vital improvements as the city rail loop, the $1 billion Avondale-Onehunga-Southdown rail extension, the $600 million Northern Bus way extension and improved ferry services.
The roads-as-usual bias is highlighted in a breakdown of the proposed $63 billion wishlist. Over the next 30 years, building new roads and repairing the old, will cost $40.6 billion or around two-thirds of the total budget. Public transport spending will total $21.2 billion, of which only $7.6 billion is new capital expenditure.
When it comes to the funding gap, the shortfall for public transport is $5.8 billion or more than a quarter of the transport “need” list. The roads shortfall is a fraction less in money terms at $5.7 billion but only half as large as a fraction of the total roads budget.
The 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy proposed a 50/50 funding split between roads and public transport over the next 30 years. The Auckland Plan, released just a couple of years after the RLTS and supposedly with a more public transport led approach than Auckland has seen before actually shifts the balance of funding away from PT and back onto more roads with a ratio of about 65/35. The numbers above certainly suggest that the Auckland Plan is really turning out to be a hypocritical mess when it comes to transport.
The government has today announced some pretty big changes are being proposed to the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA). This is a pretty vital piece of legislation, forming the legislative framework around which most of the country’s transport plans, policies, rules and guidelines are created. The proposed changes to the legislation appear to seek to simplify things quite a lot – and I can definitely see value in that (currently we have a huge number of plans: a GPS, NZTS, RLTS, RLTP, NLTP and probably others as well). However, some of the changes are pretty scary in terms of their potential impact.
The Ministry of Transport has a useful summary of the proposed changes on this page (more detail is available on this page) and outlined below:
- Put in place a clearer, more straightforward, statutory purpose for the LTMA to drive better decision-making
- Significantly reduce the number of assessment criteria used throughout the LTMA
- Rationalise national level strategic documents and clarify their relationships with lower level documents, to allow for clearer national guidance
- Extend the role of the Regional Land Transport Programmes so they identify the outcomes, objectives and interventions proposed for at least 10 years, and remove the requirement to produce a separate Regional Land Transport Strategy
provide more flexible, less prescriptive consultation requirements
- Enable Regional Transport Committees (RTCs) to be smaller and more focused by removing the requirement to have appointed members to represent various transport objectives. RTCs can still use external advisers if they wish but this will not be prescribed by the legislation
- Create more flexibility in the LTMA to use borrowing to support land transport investment should future circumstances make this desirable
- Improve the tolling and public private partnership (PPP) provisions in the LTMA to reduce barriers to their use
- Repeal the provision for regional fuel taxes.
There’s always a tricky balance between making a system too complex, which potentially the current transport framework is, and leaning too far the other way towards a system that could end up with giant holes in it. It’s a bit too early to tell whether the legislative changes swing too far the other way, but there are a few issues which I have some pretty big concerns about.
Perhaps the most obvious concern relates to the balance between regional and national influence over transport decisions. Obviously this is a huge issue in Auckland at the moment, with Auckland Council having a very different viewpoint from the government on transport priorities. Legislative change that gives the government even more power to ignore the transport wishes of Auckland would be a giant step in the wrong direction. It will be interesting to see what the details of the legislation say on this matter – I’m suspicious that Steven Joyce is using this as a way of getting around the Council.
Fitting into this concern, to some extent, is another concern I have about the removal of the Regional Land Transport Strategy as an important document in the formulation of transport policy. While past RLTS’s did often seem to involve a lot of waffling and very little action, the most recent one did list major transport projects over a 30 year timeframe and discussed how they could be sequenced and potentially funded. Having a 10 year Regional Land Transport Programme as the only regionally-based transport policy/strategy seems inadequate to me: many of our larger transport projects clearly need to be assessed, discussed and sequenced over a longer period than 10 years. Yet again I’m suspicious that this change has occurred simply because the government disliked the most recent RLTS, because (horror of horrors) it proposed to spend around the same amount of money on roads as public transport over the next 30 years.
It’s also concerning to note that the preparation of this extended 10 year RLTP will be done by the Board of Auckland Transport, rather than involve elected councillors (as will happen everywhere else in the country). In the new Super City set-up, it was to be the responsibility of Auckland Council, and not Auckland Transport, to prepare the RLTS – reflecting the need for the wide-ranging strategy to have political buy-in. While the Auckland Spatial Plan will obviously serve this purpose to some extent, the proposed change will clearly take a bit more power away from the Council to influence transport decisions in Auckland.
The other changes, such as making it easier for toll roads to be established, enabling the borrowing of funds for transport projects (where the NLTF cannot cover their cost) and repealing the regional fuel tax provisions, are a mixed bag. I have nothing against toll roads – and I’d actually prefer to see tolls cover the cost of many of the new roads being proposed, freeing up funding for a more balanced approach to transport. But I am suspicious of the other changes: enabling borrowing for state highway projects seems like a pretty ugly path to go down: not enough money in the NLTF for the various roads of national significance? Right, let’s just borrow more money to build these pet projects. Finally, it does seem bizarre that the government dislikes regional fuel taxes so much (after all, the regions need to wear the political cost of applying such a tax) – presumably the problem is that such taxes give the regions more power over deciding what their transport priorities are.
Overall, while the desire to improve the simplicity of the transport policy framework is laudable, the details of the proposed changes to the LTMA seem to me as though they’re more based around a continued centralisation of power with the government over the transport decision-making process. In particular, the changes seem to be an attempt to stymie the ability of regions such as Auckland to have more say over their transport priorities. It does seem as though this is perhaps Steven Joyce’s revenge against Auckland for having such different transport priorities to that of central government. He’s going to do everything he can to legislate away Auckland’s ability to implement its vision.
I hope I’m wrong.
I’ve blogged on many occasions over the past couple of years about how important the Auckland Spatial Plan will be to Auckland’s future. Yesterday the government released its initial thinking on the Spatial Plan and what it thinks Auckland Council should focus on when putting it together. The full set of documents is available to read here – and I have only had the opportunity to read through the transport document so far.
But that is enough to have me extremely concerned.
The document is entitled “Transport trends in Auckland”, and generally seeks to give a bit of a background to the Auckland transport “situation” and then suggest areas that should be prioritised for investment based on the needs of the situation. Overall, it reinforces my worry that central government is particularly antagonistic to the former Auckland Regional Council’s thinking on land-use and transport matters, and doesn’t have much belief in the balanced direction of the Regional Land Transport Strategy.
It starts by outlining the government’s interests in the Auckland transport situation: These interests are fair enough at a broad level. Of course we want our transport policy to support economic growth and productivity. Of course we want to try to have central and local government reach common positions on future land use and transport matters. I hope the second one doesn’t actually translate to “we want Auckland to do what it’s told”. I have my suspicions.
After hammering the RLTS for wanting to spend far too much money on public transport, the paper goes on to justify why we apparently need many more roads: supposedly never-ending traffic increases: So public transport use declines and private transport use increases dramatically when you build yourself a motorway network while spending nothing on improving PT. What news is that? The more worrying thing is using very out of date data (what were petrol prices back in 2006?) to justify how Auckland should develop over the next 20-30 years. It seems a very backward way of approaching the matter.
When looking forward, once again there’s a mismatch between where the region sees things going (a far greater use of public transport) and where NZTA see things going (a much more modest use of PT). Given recent board papers by NZTA seeking to pave most of Auckland in motorways, I do wonder whether they have a vested interest in over-estimating future traffic growth:
A further graph in the document, that is quite interesting, shows the level of investment in Auckland transport infrastructure by government over the past 10 years. You can see for state highways, the amount of money has skyrocketed: The most obvious thing to read into the graph above is how enormously screwed over Auckland was 10 years ago – getting almost no transport investment dollars. With Auckland experiencing around 60% of the country’s population growth over the next 30 years it’s likely that significant investment will need to continue – the question is mainly what to invest in and how cost-effective the investments we make are.
The government’s current position on all these matters is laid out below. It’s worth taking the time to read this all very carefully as I can see some enormous battles brewing between Auckland Council and Central Government over the spatial plan in the next few months:
To be fair, some of this makes sense. We do need to make better use of our existing transport resource – to use it more efficiently and effectively. For arterial roads this means getting greater numbers of people through them – in my opinion through more bus lanes, in the government’s opinion through more higher-occupancy vehicle lanes. However, I worry about other aspects, like the desire to spread development throughout Auckland rather than concentrating it at various nodal points (I discussed this matter in great detail a couple of weeks back). I also worry about playing off the CBD Rail Tunnel against another Harbour Crossing – it would seem the expectation here is that either would come after the Puhoi-Wellsford road is completed.
But most of all, I just worry about the whole backward thinking nature of the entire approach in this document. Where’s the analysis of how the world is changing in the next 20-30 years? Where’s the analysis of how higher fuel prices may change transport patterns? Where’s the analysis of whether concentrated or dispersed employment makes for a more efficient transport system? It seems, overall, to be a document based on 1960s transport thinking – predict and provide. Assume that car traffic is always going to grow (even though it’s currently not growing) and then work out where all the new and widened roads are going to go. I’m not aware of any other comparable city to Auckland undertaking this approach to transport policy internationally. Most are investing heavily in expanding their public transport networks, most are working out ways to reduce the dependency of their transport system on oil – which is becoming increasingly expensive. Most want to shape their cities in ways that are friendlier to people, not necessarily cars.
Why must we be stuck in the 1960s?
Reading through NZTA’s completely mental motorway plans the other day got me thinking about a phrase that often comes to mind when dealing with NZTA: and that is “Public Transport-wash”, or PT-wash. It’s a phrase that I think I came up with last year – playing off the term “greenwash” – to describe the process by which NZTA (or other agencies) emphasises the minuscule public transport aspects of a largely roading project, or a transport policy document, in order for it to gain wider support.
The Northwest Motorway widening is a classic example of PT-wash, with an enormous amount of the “talk” about the project relating to the shoulder bus lanes (even though they’re hopelessly inadequate, stopping and starting again at all motorway ramps), diverting attention away from the $800 million being spent on pointlessly widening this motorway. While certainly I wouldn’t want to see PT improvements disappear out of motorway projects, I think that NZTA need to be held accountable for the fact that the improvements they provide to public transport users are often pretty negligible (and the PT improvements are also usually a pretty negligible portion of the project’s cost) compared to the amount they “sell” these benefits.
I was reading through a piece put together by Paul Mees yesterday, on the difference between Melbourne and Toronto, and he says quite a bit about this issue being prevalent in Melbourne too (although he doesn’t call it PT-wash). The Melbourne 2030 transport plan was a prime example of trying to sell a plan as being balanced and promoting sustainable transport options, when in actual fact the vast majority of the funds get spent on roading: This is absolutely the case in Auckland too. If you look at public opinion on what Auckland needs to do to improve transport, you see massive support for public transport. Similarly, if you read our transport plans and strategies you would be convinced that we’re spending up large on improving public transport. Just look at the dominant projects detailed in the 2009 ARTA Auckland Transport Plan:
Out of these three projects you have five that are clearly for the benefit of sustainable transport options (electrification, CBD tunnel, New Lynn rail trench, integrated ticketing and walking & cycling improvements). There’s only one project that is for the total benefit of cars: the Western Ring Route. Even for a project like AMETI, you can see the “PT-wash” coming through in the massive emphasis of PT in a project that was – at that time – largely about building more roads.
Looking at the 2009 ARTA Auckland Transport Plan you’d be convinced that the bulk of Auckand’s transport spending over the next 10 years would be on public transport improvements. Yet when you take the time to look at the actual funding proposals it’s quite a different story: I’ve simplified the table down a bit to compare spending on new roads and new public transport infrastructure:
While this plan is somewhat out of date, I don’t necessarily think the numbers have changed too much since 2009. As you can see above, in the last four years of the Auckland Transport Plan (2015-2019) almost $1.4 billion was proposed to be spent on new roads, compared to just under $100 million on new public transport capital projects (this did exclude electrification).
At best, the mismatch between the rhetoric of the Auckland Transport Plan was misleading. At worst, it was downright devious – convincing the general public that it was a balanced, sustainable, multi-modal strategy while behind the scenes continuing the plough the vast majority of money into new roads.
It is worth being aware of “PT-washing”. In particular, beware of projects that make a huge noise about relatively minor public transport benefits – sure, they’re better than nothing but if the PT benefits are being “over-sold” it’s probably a sign that the agency promoting the project is trying to sneak through a project that will actually continue to make us more aut0-dependent. Similarly, beware of transport plans, policies and strategies that go on and on about how balanced, sustainable and public-transport friendly they are – but when you look at the funding, once again the vast majority is proposed for new, or widened, roads. The main reason I supported the 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy so much was because, for once, the pretty words were actually backed up by a balanced funding proposal: roughly a 50/50 split between spending on roads, and spending on other transport modes.
At least we know that PT-washing isn’t just an Auckland disease. For some reason it afflicts transport planners, policymakers and decision-makers in Melbourne too (and probably also in other cities). While they know, in their heart of hearts, that the public actually wants better public transport before widened roads – for some reason they can’t actually do it. But they recognise this mismatch and therefore try to deceive the public through over-playing minor PT benefits of huge roading projects and over-emphasising the PT aspects of transport plans and strategies, while continuing to spend up large on roads.
It’s time we called them on it.
As the year draws to a close I have been having a few discussions with friends about whether 2010 has been a good year for public transport or not. There are probably arguments either way.
On the bright side first
- Perhaps the biggest boost was the results of the Auckland Council local government election, and in particular the election of Mayor Len Brown on a very strong public transport platform. As well as the final result of the Super City election, I was also heartened by the emphasis we saw throughout the election period on the necessity to improve Auckland’s public transport system. For example, we saw survey results in the NZ Herald showing rail to the airport was the project most people thought we should prioritise.
- We’ve also seen the CBD Rail Tunnel business case released, showing an excellent cost-benefit ratio of 3.5 – once you include employment-related wider economic benefits (which, contrary to what Steven Joyce says, are also included in all the BCR calculations of the roads of national significance).
- We saw a number of railway stations open: including Newmarket, Grafton, New Lynn and perhaps most satisfyingly, Onehunga. 2009 was a bit of a ‘hard slog year’ when it came to PT: much work done but not many results to show for it. In 2010 we saw the results of that hard work, which has been great.
- The ARC came up with the 2010 Regional Land Transport Strategy, just before they disappeared. This is probably the best transport strategy Auckland has had in 60 years – although it remains to be seen to what extent it’s implemented.
- Patronage continued to boom: particularly on the rail network and on the Northern Busway. It’s only a matter of time before we achieve a million rail trips a month: perhaps in March next year, perhaps in September or October when the world cup is on.
Of course not everything has been great. On the down side:
- Steven Joyce’s reaction to the CBD tunnel business case was disappointing and exceptionally hypocritical considering his illogical support of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”.
- The relentless pursuit of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” has been disappointing, especially considering its cost-effectiveness seems to become worse and worse the more it’s analysed.
- The farebox recovery policy didn’t get much news, but over the long term could prove to be exceptionally destructive to public transport in New Zealand. Once again, it seems that this was an arbitrary decision from Steven Joyce to impose a 50% requirement with absolutely no supporting research.
- The emergence of a $30 million rail funding gap – entirely caused by the policies of (you guessed it) Steven Joyce.
- The whole bus lane ticketing saga. While Auckland City was certainly acting a bit daft, the Herald’s general crusade against bus lanes may end up being particularly damaging to the cheapest and fastest way of dramatically improving public transport in Auckland – extending the bus lane system.
On balance, I do think we’re in a better place than we were this time last year. Electrification is about to kick into its next phase and become visible, integrated ticketing (despite its many flaws) looks like it’s going ahead. We have a Mayor and Council who are willing to take the fight to the government’s transport policies if need be, and who appear to be strong PT advocates. This year could have a been a whole heap worse, that’s for sure.
Yesterday the Ministry for the Environment released a pretty important discussion document – Building Competitive Cities. You can read more about the document here, and it is possible to have your say on it up until December 17th.
The reason I say this document is important is because it will potentially fundamentally change the way we do urban planning in New Zealand. It forms part of the government’s second wave of RMA reforms – with the first being the “Streamlining and Simplification Act” that was passed last year. The name of that Act was a bit of a misnomer in some respects – as it added around 100 pages to the already very lengthy RMA – and it probably became better known as the legislation that banned general tree protection rules. When the tree protection rule changes come into force in 2012 it will be interesting to see what happens.
But anyway, as this document is particularly important for the future of urban planning – particularly in Auckland – it’s worthwhile having a decent read through. It will also be very worthwhile providing feedback, as from what I’ve read so far there are good aspects to the proposed changes (which are presented as ‘options’) but there are some pretty scary changes proposed as well.
The document looks at planning and urban design as well as infrastructure provision. One of the major problems in our current system, which is well recognised by the discussion document, is the poor integration that currently exists between our planning systems and infrastructure provision. Nowhere is this more obvious than when it comes to transport – where generally we continue to plan for urban intensification but build transport to support urban sprawl (not that the discussion document says that of course). Here are the major problems with the current system identified by the document – first with planning and urban design:
I would agree with many of the points that are raised here. It is particularly strange that the RMA largely ignores urban environments even though around 85% of New Zealanders live in towns and cities. Furthermore, there is complexity in the planning system – with different policy statements (both national and regional), different plans and different other strategies all being intertwined and interconnected in often confusing ways. I also agree that implementation tools are often proving to be ineffective: why has Auckland done so poorly to provide urban intensification at a decent standard over the past ten years, even though all our policies and plans focus on the need to do that?
Problems with infrastructure provision are also highlighted:
Many of these problems are also highly legitimate. It is weird that when it comes to designations, the actual decision maker is the very same agency that applied for the designation themselves (I mean they’re not exactly ever going to turn themselves down are they?) It is also quite unfair that compensation schemes are so inflexible – with probably the harshest part of this being that someone who has a motorway put through their house gets compensated, but someone who has a new motorway at the back of their section doesn’t – even though the noise and pollution may have wiped huge amounts off the value of their land.
However, some other “problems” highlighted in terms of infrastructure worry me in terms of what the suggested solutions might be. Does “Lack of national clarity and consistency of objectives, direction and standards” really mean that where councils and central government disagree on what infrastructure projects are necessary (like we’re seeing in Auckland at the moment) that central government should always win through? Also, in terms of “complex and inflexible approval process”, the main gripe seems to be that there are increasing demands to undertake detailed design at the notice of requirement stage – which is really just “route protection”. However, the alternative to this is pretty scary: that we might just get motorway designations without any idea of what mitigation is proposed or how high a bridge is proposed to be? The notice of requirement is the one opportunity the public has to participate in this process, and designations are so powerful I can see why people would want to know details of design: so that they can see how effects on the environment are being avoided, remedied or mitigated.
I guess to summarise, perhaps the main problem with the planning and infrastructure system is its complexity – this is outlined in the diagram below (see the appendices for what the acronyms mean):
Perhaps the most interesting thing to highlight here is that the document considers the relatively weak influence of the Government Policy Statement for transport (which is basically a roadsfest of motorway building) on the Regional Land Transport Strategy (a far more balanced transport strategy) to be something problematic. This is unsurprising, as the government made it quite clear they were disappointed that Auckland came up with a balanced RLTS and not a motorway-festival, but still potentially very dangerous for our hopes of achieving the kind of balanced transport system envisaged by the RLTS. If future versions of the RLTS (or whatever replaces it) need to give effect to the GPS to a greater extent, it will be very difficult for Auckland to start achieving its transport vision.
If we start to look at the options the discussion document proposes to fix the problems outlined above, as I noted at the start of this blog post there are a number of very useful proposals.
Looking first at efforts to make the RMA reflect the urban environment more, there are some good possibilities discussed:
Having some sort of very high level requirement that projects are assessed on their contribution to creating quality urban environments is a damn good idea. Of course there will be endless debate of what a quality built environment is, but having high-level directions in section 6 and/or section 7 that force councils to grapple with these issues when making plans (and when assessing consent applications) is a very good idea.
The next set of options worries me to a greater extent though – as we start getting into the vexed issue of central government trying to impose on local government the planning outcome that they (or their wealthy developer friends) want. Here are the options:
Option 4 makes good sense, and option 3b is something that I think is critical – in that we need to make housing affordability far more central to the way that we plan towns and cities than is the case at the moment.
However, option 3a is the stupidest idea ever. It basically would result in the end of our Metropolitan Urban Limits and a return to the days of letting Auckland sprawl forever. It is stupid because it assumes that urban growth demand has to take place on the edge of cities, even though all our planning documents – including a very detailed recent strategy produced by the ARC – shows that road-dependent urban sprawl is the most expensive option infrastructure wise, and produces the worst outcomes in terms of sustainability and economic benefits. Requiring local authorities to continuously have enough zoned land for 20 years worth of sprawl is also stupid because it completely neglects the issue of transport affordability. Someone living on the edge of the city may have a cheaper house, but they will probably end up spending 25-30% of their income on transport. This option must absolutely not proceed if we are to have a hope of creating more sustainable urban outcomes.
Shifting along, the document starts to talk about “spatial planning”, which is the real planning buzzword at the moment – and seems to me as a useful place-based way to bring together land-use planning and infrastructure planning. The options presented would either retain the status quo situation (where Auckland will have a spatial plan but it can be completely ignored by everything), or the following:
Effectively, the options under 6 relate to where the spatial plan would fit in the structure of the current planning documents I outlined in the diagram above, with 7 being the options that relate to the extent to which the final planning documents (generally the District Plan) needs to consider the Spatial Plan.
As long as we have a good spatial plan (ie. as long as the Auckland Council has the ability to choose a public transport led compact city future) then integrating the Regional Land Transport Strategy and the Auckland Regional Policy Statement into that one spatial plan could be a very good thing. It would be impossible for them both to continue to ignore each other, as has happened over the past decade or so. Of course, on the other hand of the reforms effectively force the Auckland Council to come up with a spatial plan that promotes sprawl (by having to always have 20 years worth of vacant urban-zone land to sprawl onto) and entrenches auto-dependency (by having to give effect to the Government Policy Statement) then the result will be a complete and utter mess.
A potentially tricky part of these changes relate to the extent to which appeals to courts should be allowed on the spatial plan. A number of options are presented:
In the first phase of the RMA reforms last year, there was a huge outcry over the original proposal to ban appeals on District Plans, other than on matters of law. In the end the government backed down on that proposal.
There are two clear sides to the argument: one is that allowing appeals makes the process of plan-making exceedingly lengthy and often the result is an ugly compromise that pleases nobody and retains a lot of stupid rules to please the parties that tend to appeal the most (the Westfields of this world). On the other side of the argument, if you don’t have appeal rights on plans then a council could effectively zone a place next door for heavy industry and you wouldn’t be able to challenge it in court.
My feeling is that because appeals are allowed on District Plans, which are the ‘nitty-gritty’ details of how the spatial plan will be implemented, it is probably not necessary to also have an appeals process for the high-level strategic stuff that the spatial plan is trying to achieve. The spatial plan is strategic and more general than a District Plan – and ensuring that it can be bold, that it can be implemented quickly and that it doesn’t end up being an ugly compromise are all important. So I can probably live with limiting appeal rights to points of law only.
A possible outcome of the changes could be a simplification of the interaction between plans and policies into something like this:
Bringing everything together into that Spatial Plan could result in some pretty exciting outcomes – in terms of finally integrating what we do for land-use and transport. But it does mean that the spatial plan has to be excellent, otherwise we’re pretty stuffed.
Where I get worried again about the changes are in relation to the extent that central government wants to inject itself into planning – which has traditionally been the realm of local governments. Furthermore, it would seem that the particular area that the government wants to increase its influence over is the formulation of transport policy at the local level. Is this Steven Joyce’s ultimate revenge on the ARC for coming up with a balance RLTS rather than a roadsfest I wonder? These are the recommendations that seek to increase the role of central government in Auckland’s planning system:
Now certainly I can understand and agree with the need to promote alignment between central and local government on these matters. It really is crazy how different the government’s transport vision is for Auckland, compared with what Auckland’s transport vision for our own city is. But really, is that the problem of local government – or is it a problem because central government is ignoring most of what has happened at a local government level in Auckland for the past decade?
If there is to be better alignment between the two levels of government, then one feels that this should result from both parties coming together – not on having regulations that effectively mean that central government can overwrite pretty much anything that Auckland itself wants to do. As I foresee it, there’s no way that Auckland Council will come up with a spatial plan that’s acceptable to the government: because in areas like transport there is just such a massive gap between the priorities of the two. But is that wholly the problem of Auckland Council that it doesn’t share Steven Joyce’s roads focus? I tend to think not – so this is an area that requires quite a bit rethink.
This post is probably getting long enough, so I will leave the remainder of the recommendations to a future post. But to briefly summarise there are definitely some good elements of the proposed changes. I like the integration that a spatial plan will bring, I like that more thought will go into adapting our planning system to the urban environment – as that’s where most people live and where most development occurs. But there are some big worries in here too: the promotion of urban sprawl as a supposed solution to housing affordability problems simply ignores recent research in the Auckland area that suggests sprawl is actually the most expensive option which produces the worst outcomes.
The other thing that worries me a lot is what I effectively call a “takeover” of the planning process, and in particular of local government’s role in transportation policy, by central government. It’s difficult to not come to the conclusion that this results from the government’s frustration that Auckland’s elected local representatives don’t share the same roadsfest vision that they do. But I wonder – is this Auckland’s fault, or is it their fault for being so out of touch with what the people of Auckland are so strongly supporting?
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.
The 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy was today formally launched (downloadable in two parts: one and two). I have blogged about the RLTS on a number of previous occasions as it has slowly wound its way through the process of becoming a reality. Before I turn to the strategy itself, it is worth noting that this strategy is very different from all previous RLTS’s in that it covers a 30 year time period, rather than a 10 year one. This strategy is also able to focus much more on what projects are to be undertaken over the next 30 years to actually achieve the vision of the strategy. It also comes out at a really crucial time, with the reorganisation of Auckland’s local government just a few months away now. The RLTS sets the framework for what should happen in Auckland over the next 30 years, but in reality it remains to be seen whether that will happen. In that context it is clear that a top quality strategy is absolutely needed to reflect the difference between this RLTS (both in terms of its timeframe and the critical juncture of Auckland’s local government history we sit at) and previous ones.
Fortunately, I am pretty sure it delivers. While it’s certainly not perfect, the strategy is most probably Auckland’s best transport document in 60 years – and quite carefully looks towards creating a balance between outlining the step-change that is needed to be made to transport in Auckland, while at the same time ensuring that it’s a realistic and achievable strategy – not just some pie in the sky document that will become nothing more than a door stop. Here’s the foreword: It’s good that the CBD rail tunnel gets a strong mention in the foreword. After all, it is Auckland’s most important transport project for the next 10 years in my opinion.
The executive summary of the RLTS provides a good outline of the RLTS’s vision, which I think manages to be both visionary and yet sensible/achievable at the same time:
Of course visions are just fluff without actions to make them happen. And unlike many previous regional land transport strategies, this one actually has a pretty decent line-up of important projects that are considered necessary to achieve the vision and give effect to the more general words of the strategy: It would certainly be good to bring forward the timeframe for completing a few of those big ticket rail projects, particularly rail to the airport, but at least for the first time these projects are actually on the books. Whether or not they actually happen, and when they happen, is going to of course be dependent upon funding. And it is when we get through to the issue of funding that actually giving effect to the RLTS becomes a bit more challenging.
The graph below compares the amount of money estimated to be required for each type of transport investment (in blue) and the funding available (grey). It’s a bit worrying to see that hugely more funding than currently available will be needed for public transport services (subsidies) and rail improvements, while for state highways there’s far more money available than required.
If we can shift that big chunk of excess state highways funding into public transport then hopefully we might see some of the big ticket projects in the RLTS happen.
Overall, while I probably need to have a bit more of a detailed read through the strategy to be sure I can give it a wholehearted tick, it does in general look pretty good. However, the key will be its implementation – and in particular how the future Auckland Transport CCO hits the ground running to implement the strategy. That’s probably one of the biggest tasks for public transport advocates in the next few months, to keep this strategy centre-stage, to ensure that we can achieve the vision it sets out.
The Avondale-Southdown rail corridor is a rather strange aspect of Auckland’s transport system (or possible transport system) in that it has been designated for rail purposes for over 60 years, but has never really got anywhere close to being constructed. It first shows up in the 1946 transport plan for Auckland:
In more recent times the line has been proposed as part of the wider upgrade to Auckland’s rail system that is the preferred option for getting rail to the airport. Last year when the ARC was putting together the background analysis of what major projects should be included in the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the Avondale-Southdown rail line scored quite well in terms of its anticipated patronage. This is shown below: In the final version of the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the railway line is anticipated to be constructed in the 2031-2040 stage of the strategy, although the dates on these later projects are incredibly variable. So while it’s not going to happen any time particularly soon, there will most probably be a day when we eventually construct this line. But, as it doesn’t really go from the CBD to the suburbs like normal railway lines – instead cutting directly across the Auckland isthmus – how could it be made into a line that is useful for passenger rail services? Well I have a couple of service patterns that I could having this line could enable, both of which would be pretty damn useful for Auckland.
The first is shown in the map below, and is effectively a Henderson to Manukau City service, via Auckland Airport. This service pattern is most interesting in that it doesn’t go anywhere near Auckland’s CBD, but as it does pass through Henderson, New Lynn, Onehunga, the Airport and Manukau City Centre I reckon it could be pretty popular: There would be a pretty complicated junction at Onehunga to enable a variety of service patterns, including of course an Airport to CBD train operating via Onehunga and the Southern Line. In terms of this particular line, I think that it’s likely there would be three stations along it (in addition to Onehunga) – most probably near Stoddard Road/Richardson Road intersection, near Dominion Road (a Mt Roskill Station) and near Hillsborough Road (a Hillsborough station).
The second service pattern that you could run along the Avondale-Southdown Line would be a huge isthmus loop, which would incorporate the inner parts of the western and eastern lines. In an ideal world both the western and eastern lines would be four-tracked so that this loop service would stop at all stations while other trains (from further west and east) running along the inner parts of their lines would only have to stop at major stations – saving them significant amounts of time. Having a full isthmus loop would be a great way to tie together the rail system, creating a true network where it was easy to get from anywhere to anywhere along the loop. I think it would help support pretty large-scale intensification at major interchange points along it – helping to reduce our auto-dependency. Here’s a map of where it would go (obviously it assumes the CBD rail tunnel will be built already):
The line would obviously also be useful for freight trains trying to avoid the Newmarket pinch-point.
While it seems we’re 20-30 years away from this line being a reality, it’s useful to start thinking about how it might work and what its advantages for passengers might be. In the past I have been a little half-hearted in my support for constructing the line as a priority, and I still do think higher priorities exist elsewhere, but when we do get around to constructing it we will have the opportunity to use the link to help create a true rail network in Auckland. It could be very useful indeed.