After months of silence, Len Brown has started talking about the City Rail Link again. In an opinion piece in the Herald yesterday he talks about the need for the region to get on with building the transport infrastructure it needs like the CRL and associated with that the funding mechanisms to pay for it all.

The second major issue – transport and how to pay for it – is something we will need to work on for the next two decades.

Our transport infrastructure is already under stress. We must begin work on some key projects such as the additional harbour crossing, access to the airport, transport links to South-east Auckland, upgrading arterial roads and busways, investing in walking and cycling, and upgrading our ferry service.

The level of investment needed to cope with Auckland’s growth is considerable.

One thing I am pleased about is that he has started to articulate some of the benefits of the CRL and why it is needed, there are of course other benefits that he doesn’t mention, things like faster journey times but at least it is a start. The council and Len much more actively selling the project is something I have been suggesting needs to happen for some time.

Unblocking Auckland’s transport system is one of the keys to unlocking New Zealand’s economic potential. We need a much more efficient system for businesses to operate effectively.

As a trading nation, transport is our lifeblood. We cannot afford to have our products and workers sitting on blocked roads. A more efficient transport system is crucial if we are to reduce our carbon footprint, and improve the environment.

Our transport system must be integrated. Yes, we need new roads, but we know from past experience that new roads clog up almost as quickly as the bitumen sets. Unless we are investing in alternatives now – in a single transport system, involving trains, buses and ferries with an integrated ticketing system – perish the thought of driving across town in 2030.

The City Rail Link is crucial to this. It will essentially “complete” Auckland’s rail network, and effectively double the capacity of the rail network across Auckland. By turning Britomart Terminal into the through station it was designed to be, it will allow more trains to move around the entire network more frequently.

Combined with our new, clean and fast electric train fleet arriving next year, it will mean more trains stopping at your local station or transport interchange, with less time in between services.

Considerable analysis has been done on this link. There is significant public support for it. We know we need to get on and build it but what we do not yet know is how we will pay for it. The cost is significant, and we will need to look at a variety of sources.

So far, the Government has declined to contribute to the project, leaving the council to consider other sources of funding for this and other projects. Rates, obviously, are the principal source of funds for local government and will form part of the solution, but they are a blunt option and we need to always be mindful of issues of affordability. We must investigate new funding avenues. I want to consider a range of solutions.

He then goes on to talk about some potential funding options and has this nice little line for the likes of the AA who complain about road taxes being used to fund PT projects.

Yes, as the AA tells us, road users already pay for the costs of new roads, but they also stand to benefit considerably from reduced congestion with any shift towards public transport.

Of course while the funding issue is far from sorted, one thing the government did agree to last year was the council seeking a designation for the project. AT’s Chief Executive report to the board in December had this to say about what was happening.

Preparatory work to support the lodgement of the NoR to protect the CRL route continued in November. This included communications and stakeholder engagement planning to support this process, and a detailed review of the NoR material previously prepared for KRG/ARTA. The Terms of Reference for a CBD Access Study to respond to the Minister’s request was finalised by the Project Team and is now ready to be released to tender. An engineering delegation from CNTIC (China) visited Auckland and Christchurch in November. AT met with CNTIC and discussed the CRL tunnel construction.

Its good to see things are continuing, even if it isn’t as fast as we would like but even so I suspect that over the course of the year we will get a lot more information about both the designation and the funding options.

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  1. I get annoyed by Len Brown saying that this project’s cost simply gets added to the cost of all the existing transport projects we have going on. The whole point of investing in PT is to avoid having to spend even more on roads right? So if we build this project we should actually be saving money by not having to build a whole pile of roading projects – right?

    But for some reason that argument is never made, the CRL comes across as totally unaffordable, and we keep building more roads.

    1. Yes I agree, there is a lot more in both words and actions that could be said/done to better promote the CRL but I think part of the problem is that Len and the council are trying to keep the road lobby semi happy as if they came out and said “no more roads” then they would have a much bigger s#*t fight on their hands. A classic example would be that if you dismissed a new harbour crossing but kept on with the CRL and other projects like rail to the airport you would have most of the residents of the north shore revolting against the council regardless of how sensible the idea might actually be.

      1. The problem with that scenario Matt is that we end up bankrupting ourselves by building all these stupid and unnecessary roads. Or having to go down the really unpopular path of congestion charging to pay for both PT projects and all the stupid unnecessary roads.

        In other words, the bullet will have to be bitten at some point in terms of unpopularity. What do people hate more? Cancelling a few roads or increasing rates enormously or introducing congestion charging?

  2. By the look of the comments on the Herald website, Len Brown has some major battles to win for the CRL when the public (or at least those willing to comment on the Herald’s website) are skeptical of its benefits and reluctant to increase rates or go further into debt. His path is particularly difficult in Auckland where regular PT users are in a minority, and in a country where PT is not a high priority.

    His best approach is to use current PT improvements to increase the proportion of voters who are regular PT users, capitalise on local opposition to major road projects, and demonstrate good returns from the investment to date in PT, such as the number of road lane-equivalents now of PT. In Australia both Melbourne and Sydney have reduced fares for Sunday travel, and train frequencies of every 20-30 minutes on Sundays. This helps swing over the occasional users and families into regulars and build political support. Electric train systems have low enough operating costs to run these frequencies on a Sunday, and sometimes these trains are quite crowded. There has also been advertising on trams the “one tram is equivalent to 180 cars”. These techniques will be every bit as important as planning studies in building political support.

    1. According to all opinion polls, as well as (supposedly) feedback on the Auckland Unleashed discussion document, the CRL has very strong public support. Obviously that will be tested when the big question of “how do we pay for it” comes home to roost – which is why it’s good that the mayor is starting to tentatively highlight once again why it’s such an important project.

      I just wish that we would be presented the options for our transport future more clearly. There seem to be three:

      1) We keep spending the vast bulk of our transport budget on roads, and get pretty much more of the same. Auto-dependency, congestion, pollution and so forth.
      2) We spend around the same amount of money, but shift a big chunk of the road spending onto public transport. This obviously means that many of the roading projects proposed in the Auckland Plan don’t happen.
      3) We spend up large on both roads and public transport, meaning that either rates go up a lot or we need to find new revenue sources like congestion charging, tolling, betterment levies or whatever.

      It seems like the mayor leans towards option 3. But it would be nice if we could explore option 2 to a greater extent. Do we really need all those additional roads?

  3. Sorry – no photo. The ads were part of the “Think Tram” project of the Victorian government, and had a photo of a street with 180 cars on the left half, and the same street one tram and no cars on the right. It was a way of making car drivers behave more considerately toward trams. I can’t find any links to the ads on the internet.

    An ad campaign on trains and buses would help reinforce behaviour when someone tries out PT. External ads on buses are seen by car drivers. A campaign should not be overtly political about the CRL, but should be a way of boosting PT useage and lowering traffic congestion.

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