OK I admit it: I was really harsh on ARTA yesterday, calling the Auckland Transport Plan – their flagship transport document for the next 10 years – an “epic fail”. The main reason I admit to being harsh on ARTA is because they would probably agree with me that the bits I pointed out as being pathetic, are most certainly pathetic in their eyes too. Furthermore, it’s incredibly unlikely – if not absolutely impossible – that between 2015-2019 we would only spend around $110 million on new public transport infrastructure. Yet that figure still did end up in their flagship document and I still think they deserve to be called on it, but let’s put that aside for now and perhaps focus a bit more on what the Auckland Transport Plan does and more specifically – what are some of the good aspects of it.
For a start, here are some of the highlights of the Auckland Transport Plan. Specific mention must be made of the inclusion of the CBD Rail Tunnel – I am rather excited by the wording “… has allowed work to begin on protecting and constructing the CBD Rail Tunnel”. While the funding for this significant job has not yet been put in place, it is damn good that ARTA are thinking about its construction within the next ten years.
In the draft ATP a much more vague reference was made to the CBD Rail Tunnel, which I attacked in my submission. Hopefully my submission played at least a small part in bumping this project up the priority list in the ATP. It is also interesting to see the CBD Rail Tunnel being accorded $2.4 billion in economic benefits. I wonder how its cost-benefit ratio would stack up against that of the Waterview Connection?
There are a number of other good bits to the ATP. My submission’s strong critique of the plan not mentioning peak oil, and its potentially huge effects on transport planning over the next decade, has been taken into account and the following section included in the ATP:
Sources of oil are finite. When oil’s maximum rate of extraction is reached globally, the rate of petroleum production will terminally decline, a phase known as oil depletion. Optimistic estimates of peak production forecast that global decline will not begin until 2020 or later, and assume major investments in alternatives will mean people in economies that are dependent on oil will not experience major lifestyle changes. They suggest the price of oil will increase quickly but then fall as other fuels and energy sources come into general use. Pessimistic predictions operate on the premise that peak production has already occurred or will occur shortly.
Proactive mitigation may no longer be an option and a global depression might result in the collapse of global industrial civilisation, potentially leading to large falls in population numbers within a short period. Fuel price volatility is the major effect of peak oil. Using 2007 inflation-adjusted dollars per barrel of crude oil for comparative purposes:
In 1980, the maximum price was $95–100
In August 2003, the price was about $25
By May 2008, the price was more than $130
Price peaked on 30 June 2008, at more than $143
With prices much higher than those that caused the 1973 and 1979 energy crises, there were fears of a global economic recession similar to that of the early 1980s due to the impacts that high oil prices have on the global economy (referred to as price shocks). This was realised at the beginning of 2009 when the combination of high debt levels and oil price shocks caused several western nations to declare their economies officially in recession.
The effect of oil price volatility on travel patterns differs over the short and the long term. In the short term, extreme fluctuations in fuel prices will cause moderate changes in travel patterns and transport mode shifts unless demand is reduced through planned conservation measures (such as pricing) and the use of alternative travel choices. If fuel prices remain high in the longer term, there will be major changes in travel patterns, population movements, transport mode shifts and land use. Such changes, in the absence of major technological innovations, could threaten the fabric of society. High population densities in cities will affect the use of inner city infrastructure and have a flow-on effect to critical industries such as agriculture, trade and tourism.
It is certainly good to see a transport document actually looking at the potential effects of peak oil. Generally the approach by governments all around the world is to stick their heads in the sand and pretend peak oil doesn’t exist. Our government is especially bad at this actually.
Further parts of the ATP also look at the potential effects of climate change on transport policy. This is another area where there is a massive disconnect between the macro-level “talk” about having to reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector, but where money is being ploughed into building more motorways at a seriously rapid rate. And no, building roads to ease congestion does NOT reduce CO2 emissions – it just encourages more cars to use the roading system.
Looking at the positive aspects of the ATP a bit further, the “Long-term transport plan” that is detailed from page 27 to page 29 actually shows some vision about the projects that ARTA wants to see built in the future. The passenger transport and rail projects included in this “long-term plan” are detailed below:
So as we can see, the vision is there. The long-term transport network includes pretty much every rail line that I have ever thought should be added to the Auckland network (as long as the rapid transit corridor from Manukau to Panmure isn’t a busway). So the problem clearly isn’t with “the vision” – big kudos to ARTA for that. The focus now must be on making that long-term network happen – and happen soon. Unfortunately the only projects that are actually “set in stone” to happen from the lists above are electrification, some additional ferry terminals and the railway trackworks that are associated with electrification.
One further table that I found particularly interesting is shown below. It details the economic benefits to Auckland, in terms of reduced congestion, of each additional user of the public transport system – comparing additional users of the rapid transit (core rail & busway), quality transit (bus lanes) and local connecter networks. Definitely a useful diagram to roll out in front of the Minister of Transport occassionally I would think!
Now that’s it for the good stuff, as once we dig past the nice fancy talk about visions of long-term transport networks and so forth, and actually get into the nitty gritty things don’t look anywhere near as good as one would hope – as I mentioned in my post yesterday. However, I think this is actually the most interesting aspect of the whole entire document in that ARTA spell out quite clearly the current funding system doesn’t work. The image below shows how the current funding system operates – and I think shows quite clearly exactly why that system doesn’t work:
Quite simply, it is too complicated. Different things are funded from different means – below track rail directly from Treasury, above track rail from NZTA and ARC rates, State Highways directly from NZTA (which itself is funded from petrol taxes etc.), local roads from a mix between NZTA and local government, passenger transport from that same mix, while there are also some non-subsidised local roads thrown in for good measure. It’s all too damn complicated and has the outcome that projects end up not being prioritised by need, but rather by how secure their funding arrangements are. State highways have the most secure funding arrangements, as it is reasonably de-politicised (apart from the roads of national importance that Steven Joyce & his trucking buddies dreamed up) so therefore state highways can be easily prioritised. For other stuff, like a new railway line for example, the funding arrangements are incredibly complicated – with money potentially coming from treasury, NZTA, the ARC and the local council. While the division between the ARC and the local councils will disappear from next year it is still a hugely complex arrangement compared with the simple funding mechanism used by NZTA for building state highways. This inadequate situation is highlighted by ARTA as a major problem facing Auckland in the future as we try to embark on constructing some pretty major public transport projects:
Based on current (indicative) estimates of planned expenditure and available funding, a significant transport funding gap exists in Auckland. Three major projects – the CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport, and the additional Waitamata Harbour Crossing are not included within current funding plans. Furthermore, whilst financial prudence is important, council expenditure constraints have led to a significant reduction in local projects to make budgets balance. Councils have moved projects they cannot fund to beyond the ten-year funding horizon, masking a potential funding gap. We have effectively moved from a funding gap to an outcome gap.
The concern for ARTA is that funding is not adequate to deliver the full ten-year programme, and that the programme itself may be too little and too late to make acceptable progress towards Auckland’s and the Government’s objectives and targets.
A second major concern for ARTA is the fragmented and siloed approach to funding. More flexibility is needed to allow the redistribution of funds between activity classes. One way that ARTA supports for addressing these funding inconsistencies is to move towards a pool of regional transport funds that can be allocated consistently.
I could not agree more. The current approach to transport funding – where projects of a different kind have different funding arrangements – clearly does not work. It means that we cannot compare projects across different activity classes to work out which is the most needed. Why shouldn’t we be able to do a comparison of the CBD Rail Tunnel and the Waterview Connection as the best way to spend the $1.5 billion that both projects are likely to cost? Why shouldn’t they be competing for the same pool of funds rather than the Waterview Connection having a huge pool of funding to work with while the CBD Rail Tunnel – to be honest – doesn’t have a hope in hell of finding $1.5 billion for its construction any time in the next decade or two?
Money for transport projects comes from a variety of sources – general taxation funding treasury (who fund rail), petrol taxes that fund NZTA, rates from both city and regional councils, as well as other things like Ports of Auckland dividends and development contributions. Why shouldn’t all that money go into a single pool of funds and the various necessary transport projects for Auckland compete on an equal footing for that money? If we are ever to move forwards in terms of actually finding the money for big projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel then I think it is essential that this shift is made. The current approach means that it will be almost impossible to construct the significant transport projects this city desperately needs.