Sorting Our Transport
Traffic congestion in Auckland is getting worse. With 800 new cars registered in Auckland each week, we are headed toward gridlock.
Every year Auckland commuters spend 20 working days stuck in traffic. On top of the huge frustration that causes, Auckland’s traffic congestion is estimated to cost billions of dollars a year in lost productivity and other costs.
With population growth expected to be close to an additional one million residents over the next 30 years, improved public transport options providing efficient alternatives are needed to stop Auckland grinding to a halt.
Given the population growth, trying to build our way out of congestion with roads alone will not work. It’s important that transport networks are available to serve new housing developments across the region in the next decade. As intensification occurs, it needs to be focused on arterial routes, transport hubs and town centres with multiple transport options.
A transport system that works
While some roading networks need to be completed and significant road maintenance costs will be ongoing, reducing congestion on our roads will rely on the provision of a coherent and efficient public transport system. Initiatives such as the northern busway and the upgraded rail system have achieved outcomes exceeding expectations. The key components Council will focus on are:
Improved commuter rail system
Completion of the project is essential and will allow the doubling of heavy rail capacity and improvements in rail travel times. It will significantly benefit commuters from the south and west of Auckland and has the major advantage of taking vehicles off the road.
Improving park and ride facilities in the outer parts of the network and regular feeder transport to rail and buses are vital to maximise the use of rail and will be a priority.
Electric trains, powered by battery, to Pukekohe will be a priority to eliminate transfer at Papakura. Extending battery electric trains to Huapai will be investigated.
A separated busway has been very effective in persuading nearly half of North Shore commuters to the CBD to abandon use of their cars and travel by bus. This saves peak hour travel times and avoids parking fees and difficulties. The northern busway extension further northwards will be a priority. The north-west and south-east are the most car dependent districts of Auckland and deserve to have the choice to use high quality transport systems. A grade separated busway should now be added to the North-Western Motorway.
The AMETI (Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative) project from Panmure to Pakuranga needs to be undertaken as early as possible, and extended to Botany, and ultimately East Tamaki and Manukau.
With bus congestion already occurring in areas on the isthmus such as Symonds Street (more than 140 buses per hour in peak periods) and double decker buses likely to be only an interim solution, Auckland needs to bring forward construction of a light rail system, yet presently it is not included in the 10 year plan but it should be. Busways should be convertible to light rail as demand grows over time.
Light rail can carry up to 450 passengers at a time, and is a quick, efficient way of moving people around the city. It is a more sustainable transport mode which minimises emissions and pollution. Its success can be witnessed in countless cities around the world.
Auckland Council must prioritise the development and signing off of a business case for an isthmus light rail system so that the resulting programme can be included in the 2018 LTP.
An initial light rail system should be introduced from the Wynyard Quarter and up Queen Street, Symonds Street and Dominion Road. Further expansion of light rail to East Tāmaki, Botany, Pakuranga and Panmure (down what will initially be a busway), across the harbour to the Shore and following the old tram routes on the isthmus can all be considered for future development as demand grows and resources allow.
Should evidence demonstrate that it is a more cost-effective alternative to heavy rail to the airport, light rail could provide the rapid transit link from the city centre to the airport, to meet the needs of currently over 3 million tourists a year (which is growing rapidly), and growing employment around the airport. It would also provide better access to people in Favona and Mangere Bridge to employment opportunities at the airport and city centre. Any planning of the next harbour crossing needs to include consideration of a light rail option.
Walkways and Cycleways
Completion of a walk and cycleway network around Auckland will add another alternative for people to move around the city, for work, recreation or tourism, without using cars.
From over 70 percent of secondary students travelling by bike to school in the 1960s, the figure for 2015 for students cycling to school has fallen to 3 percent.
During school holidays, morning peak hour traffic on the road falls by around 10 percent easing congestion significantly. Providing safe ways for school students to cycle to school will help ease traffic pressure as well as provide healthy exercise. We will encourage government to roll over the current urban cycleway fund.
Cycle hire facilities such as those operating in New York, Paris and London will be piloted through private sector operators and, if successful, will be expanded.
Having car share opportunities (such as City Hop where cars can be hired by the hour) will encourage people to access cars when necessary without bringing their own into the city. Car sharing through Uber (and through the introduction of autonomous cars when the technology allows that) will provide further alternatives to the wastefulness of most cars having only one occupant during peak hour traffic.
Car sharing facilities in intensive housing developments and apartments will, in due course, become an alternative to families needing to own second cars and having to provide expensive parking spaces.
The Council will work with the Government and the private sector to speed up the replacement of petrol and diesel vehicles with new electric cars. Conversion of company fleets is an effective way of doing this. We will also work with bus operators to progressively convert the bus fleet to electric to reduce pollution.
The Council fleet of some 800 vehicles should be reduced in number and progressively be replaced with electric cars.
The Mayor will lead by example by replacing the current Mayoral car with an electric one. The Council will work to ensure that vehicle charging facilities are available around the city and consider other options to incentivise e-car use.
Ferries offer attractive public transport options for Auckland’s coastal areas. We will look at ways to improve frequencies and improve integration with other parts of the public transport system, and expanded services to coastal suburbs not currently serviced.
We need to look at integrating Auckland’s ferries into the public transport operating model. This will help to ensure competition where appropriate and bring ferry service contracts within the contracting model which applies elsewhere in Auckland’s public transport network.
The transport infrastructure we need to develop will be an asset for generations to come and the costs can properly be spread over a long period. With capital amounting to billions of dollars needed to build transport networks, rates are not an adequate or appropriate way to fund transport development. Nor is conventional borrowing to meet the costs feasible given the constraints placed on Council’s ability to borrow.
The key to being able to deliver more infrastructure is revenue – having sufficient revenue to, firstly, provide the headspace to be able to raise new debt and, secondly, to service that debt. Alternative funding sources are, therefore, the first step to solving the infrastructure challenges facing Auckland.
We need to negotiate with central Government an expanded version of its Housing Infrastructure Fund. An Infrastructure Bond Scheme, preferably raised by central Government, would allow access to capital at the lowest interest rate. The cost of servicing and repaying the capital cost of bonds would be met by both central Government and Auckland.
We will also examine provision of public/private partnerships to fund and manage the operation of the infrastructure where it makes sense to do so. PPPs and BOTs (Build-Operate-Transfer) enable new infrastructure to be built earlier than it would otherwise be with the assets transferring into public ownership in the longer term. While the overall financing costs can be higher than simply raising new debt, this can be offset by the economic impact from faster delivery of new infrastructure.
As central Government gets most of the revenue benefit from population growth, from GST and income tax, a fair share of that revenue should be returned to the local government coping with the costs incurred by growth. While central government faces new costs too (ie. building new schools, expanded health services), a new approach to revenue sharing would recognise the disproportionately high costs being imposed on Auckland by its disproportionately high population growth. Over the next 30 years, 50-60 percent of New Zealand’s growth is expected to occur in Auckland.
Earlier this year, Treasury advised the government that Auckland needs new alternatives to rates to fund transport. Ministers confirmed that is something the government will consider implementing. Auckland’s share of the cost of debt servicing should come from a form of road charging. This is more equitable than rates as costs fall on those who use the new infrastructure. Road charging also acts to influence commuter behaviour.
Initially this could be achieved by a regional petrol tax which is quick to put in place and relatively cheap to administer. Later, a limited GPS based, congestion-related road pricing, such as Singapore is soon to implement, could replace a petrol tax.
As Auckland mayor, I will continue to push for central government to, firstly, make appropriate contributions to the costs of new infrastructure and, secondly, give Auckland the tools so that we can pay our share without ratepayers facing huge rate rises.
On current investment levels, Auckland’s roads will become increasingly congested and gridlocked. That will cost our city and the Government billions of dollars in lost productivity and other costs for which we get nothing back – other than increasing frustration. It is not an alternative that central or local government can contemplate.