It’s quite arguable that Auckland hasn’t had a good transport strategy in over 60 years – ever since the 1946 plan to invest in both expansions of the rail network and the road network was shelved in favour of around 50 years where public transport investment was almost non-existent and Auckland went down a rather nasty path towards becoming one of the most auto-dependent cities in the entire world. While we’ve come a long way in the last decade, there are many signs that the progress that has been made is fragile, and that we’re really only a couple of steps away from heading back to the roads-centric thinking that dominated transport planning in Auckland throughout most of the latter half of the 20th century.
So it is encouraging to see that the Regional Transport Committee today considered the release for consultation of a transport strategy – the 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy – that looks to build on the improvements that have been made to public transport over the past decade and take things one step further. It looks to truly revolutionise Auckland’s transport system away from auto-dependency and towards public transport led change. For those truly interested in every last detail of this, the RTC’s meetings agenda is available here while the full draft RLTS is available here.
A few weeks ago I commented that the RTC had made some critical last minute changes to the draft RLTS – namely having it say that the CBD Rail Tunnel should be completed by 2021, that route protection of the airport railway line should begin immediately and that a chapter relating to how transport is likely to be affected by energy issues like peak oil, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, should also be included. So let’s have a brief look at bits of the draft strategy, starting with a bit of the introduction: I think it’s excellent that a strong link has been made between transport and urban form. Over the past 20 years Auckland has done a lot of work to come up with the most suitable growth strategies for the region up until 2050, and it’s critical that our transport investment works with – and not against – these strategies. In my opinion there has been something of a mismatch between our urban growth strategies and our transport strategies up until now (we still build motorways to encourage sprawl while at the same time putting an urban growth limit on the city to limit its sprawl), so it’s good to see an awareness of the strong link between these two matters – and the resulting desire to ensure that the transport system assists in achieving our development plans.
Numerous different options were looked at in the formation of the RLTS as to what the overall thrust of the strategy should be. I am glad to say that it seems like we’re going with the most public transport friendly option and that (unlike the 2005 strategy which was a choice of lots of roads or lots and lots of roads) this option is actually very public transport oriented. Let’s have a look at that preferred option in a bit more detail: In terms of what this actually means, a breakdown of the likely projects within this preferred strategic option to be constructed between 2010 and 2040 includes:Now of course what really matters here are not fancy words, but a look at what money is available and where it will be directed. Auckland has a nasty habit of producing plans and strategies that sound all positive for public transport, yet when you dig a bit deeper allocate a huge majority of funding to roading projects. Furthermore, it is central government and not local government that holds most of the purse-strings when it comes to transport – although in the scheme of things the Regional Land Transport Strategy is a pretty powerful document. So it’s interesting to see what the RLTS has to say about funding issues: I’m glad that there is a growing realisation that a single pool of funds is required to fix Auckland’s transport issues, rather than different funding methods being used for different types of projects. Unless such a change to transport funding is made, I do fear that none of these large public transport projects will ever get off the ground – even though they are desperately needed.
I think we’ve just put together our best transport strategy in 60 years, although it remains to be seen whether Auckland will get the support it needs to implement the strategy. Let’s hope so.