As I briefly noted in my previous post, I helped make a presentation on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport at today’s meeting of the Auckland Council Transport Committee. The presentation can be read in its entirety here, and a powerpoint presentation of what I showed the Transport Committee (which is a summary) can be read here. Here’s the executive summary of the report:
The Campaign for Better Transport considers that Auckland’s transport plans and strategies have a missing element: something to link together the high-level strategic documents and the day-to-day list of projects to be investigated, consented and built. This five year transport plan seeks to fill that gap, providing a projects-based analysis of what transport improvements should be undertaken between now and 2016.
The plan seeks to be realistic in terms of funding constraints, and ‘gives effect to’ the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS).
Major roading projects that are underway, or soon to begin, will largely be completed during this period. This includes projects such as the Victoria Park Tunnel, the Newmarket Viaduct replacement and completing the Western Ring Route. Subsequent to these projects, the plan considers Auckland’s motorway network to be complete. Further roading upgrades are likely to focus on improving arterial routes: particularly for freight and public transport, as outlined in the RLTS.
The RLTS lists a number of major rail projects to be undertaken within the next 30 years. This plan considers that the first of these projects, the CBD rail tunnel, must begin construction by 2016: in accordance with the RLTS’s desire for the project to be completed by 2021, or earlier if the project is to be completed within the timeframe sought by the mayor. For other major rail projects, the focus for the next five years should be on securing designations, undertaking full investigations and preparing business cases for each project.
The plan considers that, in terms of implementation, much of the focus within the next five years should be directed at improving the bus network. Approximately 80% of public transport trips in Auckland are by the bus, while bus improvements can often be made at a fraction of the price of other projects. The plan outlines that the Quality Transit Network (QTN) should be completed by 2016, and the bus network generally improved and simplified to make catching the bus more convenient, faster and easier to understand. Implementing integrated ticketing with free transfers is an essential element of this process.
The plan also focuses on improvements to walking and cycling, in particular completion of significant parts of the regional cycle network by 2016. Pedestrian improvements to the CBD are proposed, as is greater integration between land-use and transport planning: which is likely to be a challenge in the new council structure.
A number of “quick wins” are suggested and the plan also looks at what the Transport Committee’s contribution to the Auckland spatial plan might be.
Overall, the plan provides a sound, but at the same time visionary, approach to improving Auckland’s transport system between now and 2016. It maps out what is likely to be necessary in order to start implementing the RLTS. The plan represents a fundamental shift away from focusing on road-building to a more balance transport policy between road-building and public transport improvements. This follows through on the same fundamental shift being detailed in the RLTS.
The plan is summarised in the powerpoint slide below:
While a lot of focus is (rightly) on the big rail projects, I have long thought that it’s important we don’t forget about ‘quick win’ projects. In particular, a lot of effort needs to go into improving Auckland’s bus system. If we hope to achieve 100 million public transport trips by 2016, then even with big rail improvements around 80 million of those trips will need to be on the bus – up from around 47 million at the moment.
Of course, funding is always the biggest question when it comes to any transport plan. Nothing ever happens if there’s no money available to make it happen. The general approach taken by this plan is that we roughly spend enough on transport, we just need to be smarter about what we’re spending that money on. This is outlined in the slide below: Unless rail capital projects have access to funding by NZTA, I think that it’s very unlikely we’re going to see important advances on the big rail projects. So one thing that I implored – through this plan – the Transport Committee to really focus on is finding a solution to this illogical situation. From the feedback received earlier today when I presented the plan, I am hopeful that the rail funding issue will be explored further and given a high priority for resolution.
Turning to the details of the plan, these are best found on pages 7 to 12 of the main report, but to summarise the plan goes through road, public transport and walking/cycling/liveability improvements and identifies which projects should fall into each of the following three categories:
- Projects that will either be completed or will be under construction by 2016.
- Projects that should be fully designated and ‘ready to go’ by 2016
- Projects that should be investigated throughout the 2011-2016 time period.
With the completion of the Waterview Connection project in around 2015/2016, Auckland’s motorway network will essentially be complete – so the plan sees few additional “new roads” projects extending beyond this period. As per the recommendations of the Regional Land Transport Strategy, the focus is likely to be on prioritising freight traffic for the economic benefits that will bring, and prioritising public transport so that we can use our existing roads more efficiently.
While I am certainly a big public transport supporter, it is not just for this reason why I think it will no longer be possible to build more roads to cater for Auckland’s future population growth. Rather, as Auckland is largely ‘built-out’ and any roading projects for construction are becoming extremely expensive ($2 billion Waterview Connection + SH16 Widening, $400 million Victoria Park Tunnel etc.) it’s simply unlikely to be economically feasible to build many more roads in Auckland in the future.
Turning to public transport, the plan has a clear distinction between bus and rail: with much of the ‘implementation’ focus being on improving the bus network while we ensure all the background work is done to ensure that the big rail projects are ‘ready to go’ when either the funding is available or when the project is necessary and economically viable. Here’s the slide about improving the bus system: The beauty about many of these improvements is that they’re very cheap to implement and can create significant benefits. Simplifying the bus system might actually save money; realigning routes to become feeder services to the rail network will certainly save money as route duplication is eliminated. Solving bus congestion in the CBD might also save money, especially if it involves providing additional bus priority measures to help get buses into and out of the CBD faster. The problem with improving the bus network is not money, it’s about willingness to take a few risks and make a few changes, and perhaps most especially it’s about having the courage to take on the bus operators: who certainly seem to be far more of the problem than they are the solution.
A significant part of the plan is also a renewed focus on making better transport decisions to enhance the liveability of Auckland. These are outlined in the slide below: Interestingly, the proposal to turn Hobson and Nelson streets into two way boulevards: rather than the massive one-way motorways they are at the moment, got a lot of support from councillors on the Transport Committee. Further information on how that might be done can be read here and here. There was also some support for the idea of lowering speed limits on non-arterial local streets.
The plan proposes some “quick wins” – ideas for improvements to be made that are unlikely to cost too much or take too long to achieve: All up, I thought the presentation went fairly well and that the Transport Committee received it quite well too. The whole plan is to be forwarded to Auckland Transport for their information and comment, while on the NZTA/rail funding issue, the council is to prepare a bit more background information and I think it’s fairly likely the issue will be raised with NZTA and the Minister of Transport.
The next step is probably to revise, fine-tune and update the plan a bit, and then present it to the board of Auckland Transport in the New Year. So suggestions are certainly welcome in terms of ideas about how this plan could be further improved.