It’s a bit strange reading the draft Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) for the ARC from 2009-2019, when they’re not going to exist beyond the next 18 months. Though I guess it’s important as there will be a significant transition period between the establishment of the new Auckland Council and a point where they have all their own necessary plans and policy documents up and running. So perhaps the ARC’s plan will have a shelf-life at least slightly beyond the stage when it becomes operative.
In any case, I can’t say I’ll miss it particularly much. This is especially so when reading about the huge hole in their transport budget that has been created by the removal of the Regional Petrol Tax. Reading pages 4-7 of the chapter on transport is quite depressing stuff actually, as it makes one realise how close we were to integrated ticketing, electrification, upgrades of railway stations, the ordering of more diesel trains and more. And that all of that, while not necessarily abandoned (particularly in the case of electrification) certainly is unlikely to happen anywhere near as quickly as previously hoped (particularly in the case of integrated ticketing). This is outlined below:
The Minister also announced that the Government has decided in principle that KiwiRail should be the owner of the new Crown-funded passenger rail stock in Auckland and Wellington. He advised that the Government would be working with regional authorities in Auckland and Wellington to manage the transition.
With respect to other projects proposed to be funded by the Auckland regional fuel tax scheme, the Minister stated that PENLINK, ferry upgrades and integrated ticketing, will be subject to the usual funding processes through the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), and that NZTA had agreed to consider urgent bids for additional funding required for projects that are already underway.
The Government’s decisions have a very significant impact upon the ARC and upon the expenditure and revenue which can be included in this draft 2009-19 LTCCP. The Minister’s announcement provides certainty only in the following two areas:
• That the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax Scheme will be removed; and
• That KiwiRail will take over responsibility for the purchase of Auckland’s new electric trains, funded by the Crown.
All other aspects of the future arrangements for Auckland rail, and the potential for ARTA to secure additional NZTA funding for committed and planned projects, remain uncertain.
That’s a heck of a lot of uncertainty that is still around. I guess we’ll give the government the benefit of the doubt at the moment with regards to electification – at Steven Joyce has gone to great pains to say that he’s absolutely 120% sure electification will happen. However, I’m afraid that is only really half the story solved. The ARC still has some huge problems that won’t be anywhere near as clear-cut in their solution:
In addition to the purchase of electric trains, the ARC had planned to provide funding to ARTA of $257 million over the 10 years from 1 July 2009 for the support of its capital programme. This funding was to provide for the following:
1) Additional diesel trains $32.8 million
2) New rail stations and station upgrades including Newmarket, New Lynn and Manukau $82 million
3) Train asset renewals, train overrun protection, stabling and seed funding for level crossings $90 million
4) Multi-modal projects including integrated ticketing, real time passenger information, customer information improvements, upgrading and rebuilding ferry terminals $52 million.
With the removal of the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax Scheme, the ARC now has $55 million of funding available to fund the planned expenditure of $257 million, leaving the ARC and ARTA with unfunded capital expenditure of $202 million. The remaining $55 million includes distributions from ARH as well as ARC reserves.
This $202 million hole is impossible for the ARC to fill. Apparently it would require something like 15% rate hikes, which of course is politically impossible and would also be pretty unfair. So all those projects mentioned above are now really “stuck in limbo” until the government decides how much it wants to help Auckland out.
Gah, this is why I was a big fan of the regional fuel tax. It cut government out of the loop, it meant that Aucklanders were paying for projects that we were going to benefit from, it meant less “wait and hope” and put the ARC, rather than some roads-loving government, in charge of a big chunk of transport-related funds for the future. Now I agree that nothing has been cancelled yet, and the delays so far have probably been minor. But for that to continue we are relying upon a roads-loving government to look into the goodness of their heart and actually commit money to public transport. With a growing government deficit, I can’t see the government as being surprisingly generous any time soon.