TRAINSPOTTING: National: the new champions of Auckland rail?

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Last week news broke that the Government had come to the party on the Auckland city rail link (CRL). Sort of.

At an expensive luncheon put on by the Chamber of Commerce (held at Sky City, of course) the PM announced that central government would be getting behind most of the transport projects in the Auckland Plan. The vast majority are expensive, and unhelpful, highway projects.

How any of these projects will be funded has still not been explained, and rail still isn’t the priority. Key and Brownlee are talking about a 2020 start date. Never mind that buses will be over capacity by 2021 without the CRL. National hope to take credit for a popular project, without actually committing any funding to make it happen.

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This is clearly a vote-winning exercise, done to placate the big Auckland business interests who will benefit from the project. Unfortunately, they still haven’t grasped the critical paradigm shift – spending billions on new highway capacity isn’t going to help congestion or reduce transport costs. It will make things worse.

Today at an Auckland Mayoral Conversation event, Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economist (not known for being left wing or an environmental extremist) made exactly this point. The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build more highway lanes, people drive more. This incurs all sorts of additional costs, including but not limited to: congestion, forced vehicle ownership, need for parking, high fuel use, associated environmental costs and crashes.

We already have an extensive road network. Early on Sunday morning you can drive wherever you need to without a problem. The issue isn’t a lack of roads – it is too many people trying to use them at the same time. Investing in alternatives not only benefits the people who use them, it takes the pressure off our existing roads.

The absolute priority for investment should be walking, cycling and public transport. We don’t have any need for additional highway capacity or wider road lanes – if any thing many of our roads could do with a diet.

What about trucks? Don’t we need more highway links for trucks? Freight only makes up about 7% of vehicles at any given time, and 1% at peak. We have plenty of roads for freight and other commercial vehicles, the issue is commuters.

What about buses? Don’t they need roads? Obviously buses don’t need extra highway capacity – they need priority on our existing roads. And if we make them reliable and effective, we won’t need as much highway capacity.

Aucklanders aren’t wedded to their cars – it’s an abusive relationship they have been consigned to by successive decades of car-centric transport policy. Give them a decent public transport option, or better yet, safe walking and cycling, and many will take it. Even if it is only 20%, that is more than enough to ease peak congestion, and it will cost everyone much less than the status quo of increasing car dependence.

John Key and the National Government still do not seem any closer to providing real transport choice, even if they have realised that rail might be popular in Auckland. Their concession is a win for rational transport in the public discourse, but to get the urgent rail investment we need, New Zealanders will almost certainly need to vote in a new government next year.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Most things that will inevitably have to acted upon, like the environment and transport, have been put in the Never Never Land of tomorrow by this Goverment. For instance, under the present Government, rivers will not need to be cleaned up till Prime Minister John Key is in his 80s!They call this being pragmatic. I call governing a country for 8 or more years and then leaving it to the next one to make the hard decisions pure cowardness.

  2. National hope to take credit for a popular project, without actually committing any funding to make it happen.

    And without building it. You can pretty much guarantee that, if they were in government in 2020 it wouldn’t get built – more roads will instead along with the ever increasing sprawl.

    This incurs all sorts of additional costs, including but not limited to: congestion, forced vehicle ownership, need for parking, high fuel use, associated environmental costs and crashes.

    IIRC, Deaths in Auckland from excess pollution caused by the excess number of cars exceeds 230 per year. Adding more roads will add to that death toll.

    We don’t have any need for additional highway capacity or wider road lanes – if any thing many of our roads could do with a diet.

    I figure that the best thing we could do with some of the roads around Auckland is to put light rail going both ways down them and then making the space around them suitable for walking/socialising.

  3. Quoted from Julie Anne:
    “We already have an extensive road network. Early on Sunday morning you can drive wherever you need to without a problem. The issue isn’t a lack of roads – it is too many people trying to use them at the same time. Investing in alternatives not only benefits the people who use them, it takes the pressure off our existing roads.”

    And: “What about buses? Don’t they need roads? Obviously buses don’t need extra highway capacity – they need priority on our existing roads.”

    Absolutely correct, Julie-Anne, you point out the facts and realities. Indeed the government is once again selling the public a dodgy package, which is primarily about more highways and motorways. The second harbour crossing in shape of a tunnel would according to Key only need to be built for cars and trucks and buses, i.e. road transport.

    It was only the final realisation, probably advice he and the government received, that while digging a tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour, they may as well also dig a tunnel for a central city link for rail. They are getting a gigantic tunnel digger in from overseas to dig the Waterview tunnel. So when getting the same in again in say 20 years, to dig that harbour crossing, it may as well be used afterwards (or before) to prepare the tunnel going from Britomart towards Aotea Square and K-Rd.

    If Key had not accepted advice that a tunnel to the North Shore should be built, they would also not have agreed to the inner city rail loop.

    There is not much else in the package for public transport. If National were serious about more buses on the roads, they would put more money into modernising and extending bus fleets and services also. But they are not, are they?

    The time frame will allow them to leave the projects to be done by other future governments. Key is losing nothing at all by making such costly promises. It is just a first policy announcement with the eyes already on a coming general election, which may also be an early one, given the shakiness of the present government.

    Much hyped up pre election talk, little details re finance and no absolute commitment, that is what the government has presented. A feel good announcement for Len Brown and Aucklanders who want better public transport, none else.

    • The time frame will allow them to leave the projects to be done by other future governments.

      Thing is, IMO, if it was a National government at the time it wouldn’t be built.

  4. What, no bicycles? According to http://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/bike-futures/10549/ it’s more like 1000 in cars, 6000 in rigid buses, 8000 on bikes, 25000 in bendibusen, 10,000-50,000 in trains (per 3m lane, per hour).

    And bike infrastructure is cheap, even the clip-on under the Manakau Bridge was a tiny fraction of the cost of one of the extra moronist lanes on the other bridge.

    In Sydney I believe we’re getting more than 1000 cyclists over the harbour bridge in rush hour every day. But that’s including 5 flights of stairs because … well, stupid. Politicians seem to be very bad at bike stuff, or anything where there’s not a clear commercial constituency. I’m a big fan of any organised group, from the “Bicycle User Groups” to Critical Mass. Get 1000 cyclists together and make some waves! I wonder if you could do that with train users?

  5. If this Govt was committed to providing really effective public transport for Auckland they would cancel the expensive Puhoi to Wellsford Highway and their other roading projects and use that money to start work on rail projects now not 2020. There is one project I am currently promoting for CBT which would take rail to a large area of residential housing. The land is already set aside waiting for work to begin. In fact it has been for over 60 years. I am talking about the Avondale to Southdown line. We are suggesting they build this line in stages starting with the section from Pak n Save at Mt Albert to Dominion Road extn. This would bring rail to Owairaka, Wesley, Roskill South and surrounding areas. The success of the Onehunga service with 1 million passengers on the line in its first year indicates if new lines are opened there is public uptake. Another spin off would be that the pressure would come off Sandringham and Dominion Roads. Visit the Campaign for Better Transport website and sign the online Rail to Roskill petition

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