Despite the rhetoric, one of the biggest disappointments about the Auckland plan was in the area of Transport. Seemingly unwilling to say no to anyone, the Council included in it almost every single transport project ever conceived, effectively creating a massive, and expensive wish list. The mainstream media, the government and others would have you believe that the council under Len Brown was planning to spend up large on public transport but nothing could be further from the truth.
The plan proposed spending over $30 billion of new capital expenditure for transport alone and a similar amount on top of that for operating/maintenance costs. As we saw in the an early view of the Integrated Transport Programme, which was shaped by the Auckland Plan, from being a revolutionary focus on public transport, over 70% of new spending is going on roads. Sure that may be a better split than what has we have seen in the past, but it’s hardly revolutionary. One of the biggest supporters of this scheme is unsurprisingly the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID), a lobby group for the infrastructure construction, and finance industry.
The biggest problem is that based on current funding, there simply isn’t enough funding to pay for this wish list with estimates suggesting that we will be $10-15 billion short. This led the council to start thinking about alternative ways to raise funds to pay for these projects with a list being identified for further investigation:
- general rates
- targeted rates
- development contributions
- tax increment financing
- regional fuel tax and road user charge/diesel levy
- tolling new roads
- road pricing on existing roads (i.e. some form of network charging or congestion charging)
- additional car parking charges
- visitor taxes
- airport departure tax
Following on from that the council created what they called the Consensus Building Group. It was formed by representatives of a range of organisations and groups and tasked with coming up with some agreement on the way forward. We still don’t know exactly what they have been looking at, what if anything has been agreed. About all we do know is that despite initially agreeing to be involved, government agencies decided to boycott the process (although I believe some may have become involved later on). It does appear that things are getting a bit closer though as the council put out this press release yesterday suggesting that if we don’t invest, transport problems, like we experienced a few weeks ago, will only get worse.
The most interesting part is that a discussion document will be coming out at the end of next month with more info however in advance of that, a website has been created to discuss more about it. http://www.keepaucklandmoving.org.nz/
While it is pretty, it’s not a very user friendly site for those trying to access it on mobile devices, perhaps best to leave it till you are using a more traditional device. As you scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll, the page attempts to explain the problem. If you make it to the end, you are presented with a survey that amongst other things wants to know what you the focus of transport spending should be.
While it is good that we may be coming closer to having a consensus on transport funding, one thing still really bugs me about this entire process. The is still yet to be any debate as to the need of projects. Do we need all of the projects on the massive wish list or can we cull it down? Are there options for us to reduce the scope of some projects? e.g. Operation Lifesaver and improved local road links could cut back dramatically the amount that is proposed to be spent on Puhoi to Wellsford or the East West Link while still delivering most of the benefits.
I think that there is potential for billions of dollars of expenditure to be slashed off the wish list and that would dramatically change the debate. Instead of needing $400 million extra in spending each year, we might only need $50 million, or perhaps nothing extra at all. By not first culling and prioritising the list, we end up short changing the debate and potentially discounting options that would otherwise be realistic. For example if we know we need $400m per year then we are likely going to ignore an easy to implement option that only provides $20m in extra tax. Yet if it turned out we only need an extra $15m per year then that option might have been a more legitimate choice.
Whether you agree with me or not, go though and have your say on how any extra money should be raised and where it should be spent.
Note: I also predict that we will hear a lot more from the CEO of the NZCID, Steven Selwood telling us just how much we need every single one of the projects on the list, and possibly more.