Govt sponsored report backs the Auckland Plan

Interesting news out this morning of a report, paid for by the government and Auckland into the economic competitiveness of the NZ economy. While the whole report hasn’t been released yet, information has emerged about a chapter in it relating to Auckland. The report has been put together by Hong Kong-based Professor Michael Enright and another expert, Michael Porter. It appears that the report has been fairly critical of the current state of Auckland however positively it does suggest that we are going in the right direction, just not fast enough. The report follows on from a similar one from him done in the 90’s on the same issue.

Auckland, Professor Enright said, lacked entertainment and cultural facilities, still depended on cars to get around and needed to move the container port off the most important piece of land in New Zealand for an iconic building.

“We should ask, ‘What is the value of the Sydney Opera House to Sydney, or the Eiffel Tower to Paris?’

“While foreign impressions of Auckland are positive, very few foreigners can name a single thing that is distinctive about the city,” the report said.

Some of his strongest criticism was directed at the CBD, calling the $45 million upgrade of the Aotea Centre a “concrete jungle” and bemoaning the lack of a world-class entertainment or nightlife district, like a Times Square.

“Queen St, which should be the Champs Elysees, the Fifth Ave of Auckland, is deteriorating … there is limited outdoor cafe culture near the city centre.”

Professor Enright said Auckland’s first priority should be a mass transit system, including the city rail loop, followed by revitalising the CBD – calling the $45 million upgraded Aotea Square a “concrete jungle” – and an end to urban sprawl in favour of an “overall denser Auckland”.

That would lead to a “complete change” in what Aucklanders consider the ideal lifestyle, including giving up the house in the suburbs and the car.

Many of these ideas are contained in the Auckland Plan – a 30-year blueprint for the city – but Professor Enright said the plan was not bold enough and Auckland might arrive in 2040 prepared for 2022.

Personally I’m not convinced for the need for an iconic building on the waterfront, but in general I agree with many of the sentiments. As with my post this morning, I think that many of the projects in the Auckland plan are good but do need some re prioritisation. You can also hear a report on this from Radio NZ below.

Or listen here.

But naturally a report like this, which generally supports the council in the key areas of housing and transport doesn’t sit well with the Government. Steven Joyce has already criticised the report and blamed officials for organising it.

Or listen here.

Intensification and the Rail Network

Included with the City Centre Future Access Study documentation released late last year were the answers to a number of questions that the previous Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, had asked in mid 2011. As well as requesting the preparation of what turned into the CCFAS, Joyce requested the following:

  1. “Finalisation of the spatial plan and master plan including establishing achievable growth projections for the CBD
  2. Demonstration of a commitment to resolving current CBD issues, for example by improving bus operations and addressing capacity issues
  3. Evidence of rail patronage increases, particularly in the morning peak, residential intensification and CBD regeneration as a result of current investment
  4. Beginning implementation of large scale residential developments along the rail corridors
  5. Implementation of additional park and ride sites, and changes to bus feeder services” 

There’s a lot of really interesting information in Auckland Council and Auckland Transport’s response to these questions, but for this post I’m going to look at an element of the third question: evidence of residential intensification as a result of current investment.

To help get an understanding of the level of intensification past/current investment in the rail network might have stimulated, the report compares growth since 2001 in areas with good proximity to the rail network with growth in other areas that were already urbanised in 2001 These are the areas looked at: rail-caus

A couple of years back Steven Joyce suggested that most intensification in recent years had actually occurred away from the rail corridors, by saying this:

Yep, we should allow the city to increase in density (watch councillors run a mile when it comes time for the district plan changes), and we should support cost-effective transport options that support that. But we also have to understand that people like to live where they want to live, and provide cost-effective transport options (roads even!) for those people too. Amusingly, Auckland has increased in density in recent times. But largely not where the central planners said it would, (along the transport corridors) and instead in the beach-side suburbs. Fancy that.

I suspect that Joyce asked Auckland Council the question about where intensification occurred because he thought he’d be able to say “gotcha!” then the results showed that investment in rail had not had any impact on development patterns.

Comparing the level of growth in Census Area Units near the rail corridors with the level of growth elsewhere in Auckland would test Joyce’s assumption and also help answer his question – of whether the investment in rail upgrades had coincided with higher rates of growth in nearby areas (recognising of course that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

The results are quite interesting: intensification-rail-corridor

These results are reinforced by analysis of consents by type (looking just at the Auckland City Council area this time): consent-types

This shows that almost all “higher intensity” housing typologies like apartments and terraced houses constructed within the old Auckland City Council area over the past five years have been in the rail CAUs.

The report concludes that it would seem Steven Joyce was wrong and intensification has definitely been occurring at a higher rate in areas close to the rail system compared to other parts of Auckland:

Both population trends and building consent data indicate that intensification has occurred at a faster rate within the rail CAUs than elsewhere in Auckland since 2001. Development within the rail CAUs has occurred in a variety of different ways, reflecting different development markets in different parts of Auckland. Some important trends include:

  • Significant construction of apartments in the city centre.
  • A number of larger-scale intensive developments around inner parts of the rail network (e.g. Newmarket, Mt Eden, Kingsland and New Lynn stations).
  • New development areas around stations in the outer parts of the network (e.g. Sturges Road and Takanini stations).
  • General infill and small-scale intensification across the network.
  • Increasing household sizes in the outer Southern Line part of the network.

Combining analysis of population trends and building consent information with economic analysis suggests that improved rail services boost property values and therefore makes intensification more economically viable. It would appear that this process has happened in Auckland over the past decade, although in different ways in different areas – reflecting varying market characteristics across Auckland.

I think the way in which the report notes how intensification has occurred differently in different areas is quite important. I suspect the assumptions made by Steven Joyce (and others) around ‘apartments next to railway lines’ is an over-simplification of how intensification can occur. Apartments are clearly only market attractive in some locations and it’s unrealistic to expect them to be built right throughout the rail corridors any time particularly soon. However, other forms of growth such as general infill, new growth around some stations, small-scale intensification as well as apartments and terraces have happened and overall it seems clear that there has at least been a correlation between the rail corridors and a higher level of development over the past decade.

Not for the first time, it seems that Steven Joyce was wrong.

What really happened with Snapper/HOP – Part 2

Following on from my post yesterday on the Snapper/HOP mess, I felt that a lot of further questions remained unanswered. Phil Twyford attempted to get some answers out of the Minister of Transport in parliament:

While questions around why Auckland Transport decided to allow Snapper to become involved in the HOP scheme remain frustratingly unanswered (perhaps until I read a bit further into the mountain of information I have), a question that I want to look at in this post relates a bit more closely to the title of this post – why did things go wrong?

A useful starting point for looking at the answer to that question is the presentation to NZTA’s board I linked to yesterday. This covers the vexed issue of what’s called “treatment of third-party systems, kits or cards”. Before we get into the details it’s useful to remind everyone that an integrated smartcard ticketing system has three components:

  1. The back-office “system” which handles all the transactions and keeps track of everyone’s balance plus the trips they take.
  2. The ticket machines on the bus, including the card readers
  3. The cards themselves

There’s also a further layer sitting between the machines and the system but my understanding is that’s a relatively simple part of the system which just collects information from the vehicles/stations and then passes it onto the ‘proper’ system. It was clearly ARTA/AT’s preference for all elements of the system to be controlled by one party and this has been in the request for tender for the system. The presentation deals with this below:

As noted, there are different extents to which third party elements can be introduced, but each step leads to increased risk, complexity and therefore potentially cost. The first option is obviously to have everything provided by the one party – ironically what ARTA originally wanted and what we’re going to end up getting:

The most basic way of introducing 3rd party elements is the “device” or card reader. In early 2009, when the Regional Fuel Tax was cancelled and funding for the integrated ticketing system was put in jeopardy and then reduced, there was an acceptance that third-party devices may be required for buses – although Thales equipment would still be used on trains and ferries as part of the funded system. So the second option looks something like this: 

Essentially the bus operators being able to decide what devices to use left the door open for NZ Bus to “choose” its sister company Snapper. But Snapper wasn’t interested in just providing the card reading devices, they wanted (at the very least) to also be able to use their card – so we shift along to option 3, with increased risk, complexity and therefore potentially cost:

I never liked the idea of this system because it would effectively undermine the whole concept of an integrated ticketing system where operators become irrelevant in terms of paying your fare. Instead you might end up with the an equivalent debacle to our mobile phone industry where you can pay different rates depending on the network of the person you’re calling or texting. I can imagine NZ Bus and Snapper also doing deals so that there were cheaper fares available on the exclusive Snapper Card rather than the Thales card, further undermining integrated ticketing.

Finally, the fourth option creates something like our current EFTPOS system with a whole pile of different ‘clearing houses’ and cards and devices. While this option is probably great for retail purchases and other uses for contactless “e-money”, the complexity and messiness would not be well suited to public transport:

The different options, as well as more detail on the system (such as which bits of it are centrally controlled and which bits are controlled by Auckland) is outlined in the NZTA board paper that sought funding approval for integrated ticketing (nearly $100 million of funding including operating costs).

It seems like NZTA preferred option 1 due to its lower cost, but was mindful that some operators (presumably this means NZ Bus and their close connections with Snapper) would not like this option. It’s a pity that some of this slide is blanked out – wonder what it says? Some reference of the Minister?

Interestingly, there’s then some discussion about a pre-emptive Snapper rollout – exactly what did end up happening. The presentation notes that while it’s not possible to show that the Thales system is better value for money than Snapper without “starting again”, it was possible to show that Thales was “better” and “internationally competitive” and that Snapper would not be free – rather around $75 million over 10 years (compared to around $135m for the Thales system).

To summarise what is quite a lot of detail it seems to me as though NZTA warned against making the system overly complex through Snapper’s involvement – because that would add risk and add cost. Yet because Snapper went ahead and launched and somehow talked ARTA/Auckland Transport into involving them, we ended up with the messy mixed system that NZTA had always feared. Of course then things started to unravel, rather like NZTA had predicted:

  • The Snapper/HOP (SNOP) Cards struggled to connect with the Thales “system”, meaning that they would need to be “swapped out” for normal AT HOP cards once the Thales system was up and running.
  •  Even using a Thales card and the Thales system, the Snapper readers weren’t up to scratch, leading Auckland Transport to eventually bite the bullet and go back to the original plan of having Thales supply all the equipment: cards, readers and the system itself.

Perhaps what all this really highlights is the mystery of why ARTA allowed Snapper to join the HOP scheme. This is where the issue of political interference from Steven Joyce sounds like it comes in – as referenced in yesterday’s post.  ARTA and NZTA had both wanted to keep the system as simple as possible because they were worried adding in third-party elements would add cost and delay. Ironically they were both absolutely proven right in the long run with Snapper – as a third-party – struggling with exactly the issues that had been foreseen.

It seems simply staggering for ARTA to go against the very thing they had been fighting for – a single system, or “Option 1” as described above – unless they were under considerable pressure to do so. Furthermore, it seems like ARTA went against their previous position even though they had both NZTA and the Ministry of Transport (I’ll get into their documents in future posts) supporting “Option 1” as the most cost-effective and low-risk approach. If ARTA’s change in position wasn’t due to political pressure from the Minister, I’d love to know what it actually was caused by.

What really happened with Snapper/HOP?

Back in August Auckland Transport kicked Snapper out of helping to deliver integrated ticketing in Auckland. Subject to any legal battles over whether compensation is due or not, this was the final line in a very sad and sorry tale about Snapper’s involvement in Auckland’s integrated ticketing system. A tale that goes back quite a few years.

The NZ Herald, and ourselves, have recently received a huge amount of information on the whole Snapper/HOP debacle – released under the Official Information Act. It may take a while to dig through the details of this all, but we shall give this task a go – because a huge amount of public money has gone into integrated ticketing plus a huge amount of time seems to have passed while we debate the whole issue. The Auditor General’s investigation into this whole shemozzle, which should provide us with some final answers around the whole sorry saga, is apparently on hold until Snapper’s legal battles with Auckland Transport have been resolved. So for now let’s just take a look through what we have – in particular looking at these two questions:

  • What were the reasons for Snapper originally not being chosen as the preferred tenderer for Auckland’s integrated ticketing solution?
  • What pressure, if any, did the government end up putting on Auckland Transport to allow Snapper to launch the Snapper/HOP (from now on referred to as SNOP) card early last year?

We’ll see what other interesting stuff we come across on the way.

A useful place to start is an NZTA Ministerial Briefing from September last year which provides some background information on integrated ticketing generally, but in particular the issue of branding and the inter-relationship between the SNOP card and other, future (at that point) HOP cards. Helpfully, the briefing summarises some of the technical details of the Thales system and how it differs from the Snapper system – so from the start we can begin to get an understanding of the potential difficulties in integrating the two:

From reading a bit more detail in other documents it seems that DESfire is what’s typically used for public transport based smart-cards. It does what is a reasonably simple job really really well and really really quickly. The Java JCOP is more commonly used for contactless cards purchasing small items. Like what Snapper does in terms of micro-retail payments.

Looking at another, more detailed, document – a presentation to the NZTA board – this distinction is highlighted further. The Thales system is designed around providing a really good solution for public transport and provides very fast read times by not complicating things too much.  The presentation, from 2009 and as part of the process of informing and educating the board about integrated ticketing before NZTA signed off on their pretty significant financial contribution towards the project, noted that the Thales system was of excellent quality and didn’t raise any concerns about ARTA’s choice of them as the preferred supplier:

The presentation has quite a lot of discussion around the extent to which third party equipment should be allowed in the system. There are a range of ways in which third-party equipment can form part of the integrated ticketing system – from different machines, different cards right through to separate systems and ‘clearing houses’. NZTA’s preference was to have as little third party equipment as possible, because this made the system a lot cheaper and a lot simpler.

So to answer our first question, it seems like Thales was probably chosen as the preferred supplier because their technology delivered better on the core goal of the integrated ticketing project: a smartcard for public transport purposes. Snapper’s different technology was more based around micro-retail. My experience with my SNOP card is certainly that it feels really really slow in using the card to have it register properly. I can put the card in front of the reader while still walking and find that it only registers when I’m just about to get beyond easy arm’s reach. With public transport efficiency so intertwined with reducing dwell times, slow readers are something you want to avoid.

The second question is perhaps the most politically sensitive, as touched upon in an NZ Herald article yesterday – the question of how much involvement central government might have had in persuading Auckland Transport to allow Snapper to become involved in the system even after they had lost the tender to Thales for being the preferred supplier. Here are the key points from yesterday’s article:

Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford says correspondence between Wellington smart-card supplier Snapper and the Beehive shows the Government forced the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority to let the company join the Hop ticketing scheme after awarding the main contract to its rival, Thales.

Auckland Transport has since dumped Snapper for allegedly missing performance deadlines, a claim which the company denies.

Mr Twyford says Government denials of political interference are contradicted by a letter from Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai to former Transport Minister Steven Joyce after a meeting in 2010.

Mr Szikszai wrote that he understood Mr Joyce’s “expectations are that … NZ Bus should be free … to implement Snapper equipment and join the Snapper scheme in Auckland.”

Here’s the letter that Mr Twyford is referring to. With the key extracts below: Perhaps reinforcing the likelihood of Steven Joyce wanting to get Snapper involved (perhaps hoping that the Thales solution would fail and Snapper would be able to take over the whole thing?) are a series of questions Joyce asked back in late 2008, when he had first become Minister of Transport and was obviously just coming to grips with the project for the first time. His questions were:

  • Why do we need a nationally transferable integrated ticketing system?
  • Why do we need to spend $100 million on an integrated ticket system for Auckland when Snapper has been provided for free and privately?
  • Can this project be stopped?

I think we obviously need to give Ministers a bit of leniency in their first couple of months – as without knowing the details these seem like reasonable questions to ask. But they certainly do give us the impression that Joyce was favourable towards Snapper and unfavourable towards the ARTA preferred Thales solution right at the start of his time as Minister. Fortunately the Ministry of Transport recommended strongly against stopping the project – and obviously that never happened.

I’m still working my way through the documents, which are in chronological order, and I imagine there might be quite a lot of more interesting stuff in recent times when it became clear that Snapper was failing to get things working with the Thales system – leading to them being cut from the project. But that will have to be the subject of another blog post.

Thoughts/questions on Brownlee as Minister

My earlier post today was just a quick note to promote some discussion. I’ve also had the opportunity to have a bit of a think about what this might all mean. Here are a couple of key points made by commenters on the original thread:

  • Matt L pointed out that it’s potentially quite insightful that National have chosen to put such a senior minister in charge of transport. A lot of discussion had been around associate minister Nathan Guy getting the promotion, but that hasn’t happened. Does this suggest that National are a bit worried about transport being a potential weak point? I think that there’s some merit in this argument – that transport will be a challenging portfolio over the next few years as Auckland Council gets impatient over City Rail Link progress and lower petrol tax receipts make life more and more challenging.
  • Does choosing someone form the South Island, who very much seems quite separated from the Auckland situation, a slap in the face – as suggested by Patrick R? This is where I’m probably most worried about Brownlee – that he simply won’t be able to get his head around how different Auckland is to the rest of the country. I think that Joyce could have understood this matter, he perhaps just disagreed a bit on the medicine. I somewhat struggle to believe that Brownlee will even care much about Auckland needing something different to the rest of the country.

One thing that I have got worried about is in relation to that particular project known as the City Rail Link. Back in December last year, Brownlee was pretty keen to jump up and show that he disliked this project even more than Joyce did (2.15-2.25 of the video below, thanks to Matt L for finding it):

But regardless of this, I think it’s fair that we should give Brownlee a chance. Clearly he will continue with the main elements of National’s transport policy: the Roads of National Significance. Clearly he won’t decide to cut back Puhoi-Wellsford and chuck that money into the City Rail Link project. So we shouldn’t slam him for that, anymore than we would have done so to Steven Joyce.

So I’ll look for a few key signs over the next few months:

  • Where will things go on the additional four RoNS projects added into the mix in the Government Policy Statement earlier this year (Cambridge-Tirau, Hamilton-Tauranga, Hawkes Bay expressway & Christchurch SH1)? To what extent will solutions along these routes be guided by sensible analysis or to what extent will pre-determined solutions be “fitted” onto the routes like has happened with Puhoi-Wellsford?
  • What noises will Brownlee make about the City Rail Link project? Joyce has always left the door open a little bit, saying that he felt it was the most likely next rail project in Auckland and that it would be likely to happen at some stage. Will Brownlee be more positive towards it than this (actually trying to find some potential funding sources) or will he go more negative?
  • How might Brownlee approach the balance between central and local government role in transport? Will he be as dismissive of regional fuel taxes as Joyce has been? What will be his attitude towards Auckland Council looking at alternative funding options such as congestion charging?
  • If geotechnical problems between Warkworth and Wellsford turn out to be as bad as they sound, will he consider looking at abandoning that section of the “holiday highway”, or at least downgrading it to a large-scale safety upgrade of the route?

Finally, it’ll also be interesting to pontificate over the extent to which Joyce is still controlling things from behind the scenes.

The regional fuel tax

One aspect of the government’s proposed changes to the Land Transport Management Act (LTMA) is the repeal of a provision which allows regional councils to introduce regional fuel taxes. Already the process to create a regional fuel tax seems quite complex, as the government was able to unilaterally cancel the Auckland scheme back in March 2009, delaying projects like electrification, Penlink and integrated ticketing – which had been banking on that money. However, it seems that transport minister Steven Joyce isn’t content with his power to remove schemes, he wants to also banish the ability of council to even propose them.

An article in today’s NZ Herald highlights that Joyce’s determination to rid the legislation of regional fuel taxes runs against advice from Treasury:

“Despite his perception of Treasury support for the overall purpose of the amendments, Mr Joyce acknowledged it would have preferred a more thorough legislative review…

…He said the Treasury had concerns about removing the existing legislation’s regional fuel tax provision without replacing it with an alternative funding mechanism.

Although the Treasury appreciated regional fuel taxes had some practical limitations, it believed retaining legislative provision for them “would send an important signal to the regions about being accountable for funding their transport decisions”.

But Mr Joyce said that would result in much higher prices and hand authority to local councils to spend Government taxation.”

I have somewhat struggled to understand why Joyce is so opposed to regional fuel taxes. They are obviously something that regional councils (including Auckland Council) would impose, so if they were wildly unpopular people could simply vote in a future local government election for people who proposed to get rid of the scheme. Furthermore, when the ARC implemented the old fuel tax scheme it went through a highly complex and detailed public consultation process – and was actually (and amazingly) quite popular!

I can only surmise that Joyce doesn’t like the ability of regional fuel taxes to give local councils more independence in how they fund transport projects and how they raise funds. Similar to his opposition to road pricing schemes, the only logical way to make sense out of how Joyce can both want local government to fund a greater proportion of public transport projects and simultaneously take away their ability to do so, is that actually he’s not particularly interested in seeing those PT projects proceed. Even if central government doesn’t have to pay for them.

I have noted in the past that I think central government has far too much power, compared to local government, when it comes to transport funding matters. People simply don’t vote, in national elections, on transport matters (I may be an exception to this rule) whereas they very much do have transport in the top of their mind when voting in local government election. A regional fuel tax would recognise the greater connection between local government and transport policy, giving them the ability to fund additional transport projects through a scheme that they take the political risk over.

Sure, regional fuel taxes have some issues in terms of whether particular petrol stations fall one side of the region’s border or the other, but I suspect the fuel tax would need to be set incredibly high for people to bother travelling many kilometres out of their way in order to avoid the tax. Furthermore, if all the regions took it up then the border issue would go away. In the USA there are a million different local taxes and they seem to survive.

So all up, removing the ability of local councils to put in place a regional fuel tax is an incredibly anti-democratic move whose only justification seems to be a desire to see transport decisions become even more centralised.

Transport in the next parliament

I discussed yesterday that early signs are not looking particularly great for public transport, as the government continues to plough ahead with its road-centric transport policies. Something else which is quite interesting is to start thinking about which MPs will be playing the crucial roles on transport matters in parliament.

Over the past three years Steven Joyce has been Minister of Transport, with Nathan Guy being his deputy for most of that time. Rumours are abound that Joyce will take over being Minister of Economic Development. Whether that means he will give up any of his current roles (Minister of Communications, Transport and Tertiary Education) remains to be seen, but I’m guessing that he’ll probably keep transport. Being Minister of Transport must be about the best job in government, as you have your own revenue generating machine (being the National Land Transport Fund) which is automatically assigned to be spent on transport. You don’t need the OK from the finance minister to spend a bit more on this particular pet project, you don’t need to worry about having your budget eaten away by demands for tax cuts, the health budget or whatever. I also think that Joyce has become so personally involved in the transport portfolio over the past three years that he’s really struggle to let it go.

For Labour, Darren Hughes and then Shane Jones proved relatively ineffectual in scoring significant ‘hits’ on Joyce over the past three years. Jones managed to co-ordinate what was a pretty damn good transport policy in the end, but in parliament often seemed to leave it to Phil Twyford, David Shearer or Jacinda Ardern to ask the hard questions. Who ends up getting the transport portfolio is likely to depend on who leads the Labour party (I’m currently a fan of a Shearer/Parker team with Cunliffe as finance spokesperson, uniting all the factions). Phil Twyford’s excellent performance in the Te Atatu electorate (with a campaign based around the Northwest Busway), his in-depth knowledge of the Auckland Super City and his general interest in transport may make him a good candidate for the role. Auckland’s the most likely place where we’ll see transport being a political issue over the next three years – so it’d be good to have an Aucklander in the role.

For the Green Party, they are rather blessed with options to be their transport spokesperson. Gareth Hughes has done an excellent job since he came into parliament, often making Joyce struggle in parliament and also working really hard to build support for the Green Party’s transport policies around the country. That said, of course the Greens now have Julie-Anne Genter as an MP – someone with an extremely detailed knowledge of transport issues and from a transport planning background. I’m thinking it’s probably most likely that Gareth and Julie will share transport – with Julie slowly taking on more and more responsibility as she gains experience.

The next three years will be really critical in determining the country’s transport future. Since 2008 many of the transport projects being delivered (both roads and rail) were effectively being ‘finished off’ from what the previous government proposed. This will continue, to an extent, with rail electrification in particular being a number of years away from completion. However, the legacy of Labour’s last three years in power over transport will slowly drop away – and by 2014 it really will be the current government’s policies shaping our transport outcomes. While that’s a somewhat depressing thought, when I look at the prospective opposition transport spokespeople, I at least think we’ll have a better quality debate over transport matters in the next three years than we’ve had over the past three.

What is the holiday highway’s BCR?

There was an interesting exchange in parliament yesterday about the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” – and in particular focusing on the issue of whether the Minister was confident the project still represents good value for money. Here’s the video:

Here’s the full discussion. I think of particular interest is the following:

DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied that the Pūhoi to Wellsford road of national significance represents good value for money and has had its costs and benefits adequately assessed?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : In regard to the Pūhoi to Wellsford road it is too early to confirm exactly what the final cost-benefit ratio will be. The New Zealand Transport Agency remains in the design and investigation phase and this work is ongoing. The most recent published benefit-cost ratio is 1:1, including wider economic benefits, and this can be found on the New Zealand Transport Agency website. Given the nature of the ongoing work, the exact cost—the “c” of the “b-c”—will not be known until the design is complete, and the New Zealand Transport Agency will continue to update me as this work progresses.

It is somewhat strange that this project has been dedicated a significant amount of funding without a final cost-benefit analysis having been prepared. Imagine what the government would think of such a process for an Auckland rail project?

There’s some amusing debate over the phrase “holiday highway”, as it seems Steven Joyce is getting rather annoyed by how much that name has stuck – but I think of most consequence is that it would appear there remain significant uncertainties over the final cost of the project (particularly north of Warkworth). That could have some interesting effects on the project’s final cost-benefit ratio – particularly it it’s very much hovering around 1 at the moment (with wider economic benefits included).

More transport discussion in parliament

Following on from yesterday, Labour MP Phil Twyford once again had a go at transport minister Steven Joyce in parliament today over the government’s transport priorities and their seeming misalignment with the priorities of the Auckland Council. It’s an interesting watch:

You can read the transcript here. If you listen/read carefully, there’s potentially a mention of this blog (along with AKT perhaps) in one of Joyce’s answers – even though the numbers referred to clearly come from this document, rather than from any blog.

Making transport an election issue

A couple of of months ago I wondered whether transport can be made into an election issue. Traditionally national elections are fought over issues like the economy, unemployment, health, education, taxes, crime and so forth. In fact, pretty much everything except transport – aside from transport nerds such as myself I doubt too many people choose their vote based on transport policy. This is something of a problem as most transport funding comes from central government, yet most of the time people voting on transport matters do so in local government elections.

Of course this is not to say that transport can’t get wrapped into other issues that people do vote on. Like ‘sensible’ economic policies, like environmental concerns and so forth. The current transport ‘stoush’ between Auckland Council and Central Government over priorities – with the council making the City Rail Link its top priority, whereas the government is more interested in motorway building – potentially represents an opportunity to make transport an election issue, in terms of creating a “the government doesn’t care about Auckland” line of discussion.

Already, it seems that opposition parties are polling a lot better in Auckland than they are elsewhere in the country, suggesting that there may be some discontent out there about these issues (especially as Auckland is typically quite politically neutral overall). Here are the results of a recent poll for the whole country:

Labour’s support dropped among decided voters by almost two points to 31.5 per cent – its second lowest since 1999.

This follows a three-point drop the month before. Its lowest was in July 2008 when it polled at 30.8 per cent.

National remained steady on 52 per cent in the poll of 750 eligible voters – enough to secure it 65 seats in Parliament and govern without requiring support from other parties.

But compare this to Auckland:

Labour does get some good news amidst the pre-election gloom of the poll – it made up ground among Auckland respondents where it had 38.6 per cent support, a four-point lift.

The gain was at the expense of National, which dropped from 52 to 47 per cent in Auckland.

While the creation of the Auckland Council was, in my opinion, an undoubtedly good thing, it has annoyed a lot of people who were quite attached to their old councils. So perhaps it is something of a “last straw” for some that the government now seems dead against working with the council. To some extent that obviously overplays things, as National is still ahead of Labour in Auckland, though the gap between the two is far far less than in the rest of the country.

It seems that Labour might be waking up to this fact that, at the very least, they may be able to get a good result in Auckland. There are three key electorate seats they have a chance of winning back: Auckland Central, Maungakiekie and (perhaps least likely) Waitakere. So it was interesting to see a line of questioning from Labour in parliament today on this “Auckland versus Government” issue:

PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he endorse the transport elements of the draft Auckland Plan; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : It is not appropriate for me to endorse or otherwise any aspect of the draft Auckland plan at this time. The Auckland spatial plan is the Auckland Council’s plan, and the council will be consulting the community on it. The Government strongly endorses the process, but its role is to provide input, not to formally endorse it. With regard to transport elements, the Government will continue to consider individual projects on their merits if the Government or its agencies are called on to provide funding assistance. In this context it is important to remember that central government is currently contributing over $1 billion a year towards Auckland’s transport needs.

Phil Twyford: Can he confirm the New ZealandHerald’s report that he and Ministers Hide, Smith, and Heatley, at their 26 August meeting with the Auckland mayor and Auckland Council, could not stop browbeating the councillors over the draft plan’s commitment to urban intensification in a way that was “intimidating and small town”?

Hon Tony Ryall: What’s wrong with small towns?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I do not know that we should be picking on small towns. I point out that that was a view of a prominent left-wing politician from Auckland, who might have a slight conflict of interest, and it was reported by a prominent left-wing columnist from Auckland, who might also have a certain interest in this matter: a certain Mr B Rudman.

Phil Twyford: Does he accept that the alternative to a compact city supported by a modern public transport system is an Auckland that sprawls endlessly and a traffic jam from the harbour bridge to Whangarei?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not know that I would want to make too many comments on the Auckland plan at this point, but I would say that we on this side of the House believe strongly in people having the right to determine where they live and the way in which they want to live. We think it is an important principle, provided, of course, that they meet the cost of those decisions. I think that is an important point to make. I understand that Mr Twyford might have a strong view that everybody should live on top of each other, but others might disagree.

Jacinda Ardern: Is the city rail link his No. 1 transport priority for Auckland?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is not, actually. The current priorities for Auckland are many and varied. They include the Waterview project, which the Government is building currently, the Victoria Park Tunnel project, the electrification of the rail in Auckland, the Newmarket Viaduct, and a number of other very important investments in Auckland. Currently, the central business district rail link has a benefit-cost ratio of about 0.3, and I think that we can all say that it probably needs to have an improvement in that before any responsible Government would seek to invest in it.

Phil Twyford: Why did his Government go to the trouble of creating a unified Auckland when it is very clear that the Government is determined to undermine and block Auckland Council’s plan for a world-class transport system and a compact city?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is simply incorrect. It is an important project for a unified Auckland. I think it is a very important project, and Auckland Council is currently consulting on its new spatial plan, which is a very important part of the unified Auckland process. I think it is great that it is doing so and that people are getting the opportunity to comment.

It does seem rather ironic to bring all of Auckland’s councils together so they could stop bickering with each other and get on with things, only to have nothing happen because now it’s central government bickering with the new council.