On Thursday the Council will make some final key decisions on the Annual Plan for the 2014/15 year. Quickly skimming through the documentation (27MB) it doesn’t seem like there’s likely to be huge changes from the Draft Plan in terms of what the money gets spent on (hopefully the somewhat strange numbers in that draft have been fixed up). Perhaps the one exception is a brief mention of Auckland Transport deferring around $50 million of capital expenditure – which appears to be CRL property acquisition but it’s hard to tell for sure. This might be as a result of them no longer needing to buy the Downtown Shopping Centre site but once again it’s difficult to tell for sure.
What the Annual Plan report does highlight is a bizarre request from Auckland Transport to lower their patronage targets over the next three years – particularly the rail patronage target. The current targets which were already lowered last year and the proposed targets are shown in the table below:
I touched on the proposed change in patronage figures in a post a while back on the AT Statement of Intent, which we haven’t heard much of since then. Presumably the targets all need to match up so whatever ends up in the Annual Plan will end up being the SOI targets.
Rail patronage isn’t the only target that Auckland Transport are trying to get reduced. Page 221 of the Budget Committee’s agenda highlights a few other patronage targets that a change is suggested to. These include reducing the overall target from 78 million boardings down to 74 million, bus (excluding Northern Express) from 56 million down to 53 million (the biggest suggested reduction) as well as a smaller decrease for the Northern Express and a small increase for ferries.
But of course the focus is on the rail patronage numbers because the government has set a requirement that these number track towards 20 million before they consider bringing forward their support of beginning construction of the CRL before 2020. Signalling a 2.7 million trip reduction for the 2016/17 year seems to suggest that Auckland Transport have little confidence in the ability of electrification, integrated ticketing and the new bus network (which will focus much more on feeding people into the rail network rather than competing against it) to deliver a catalytic change in the level of rail use in Auckland. This is particularly strange when Lester Levy is talking about how historic electrification is, and the Mayor is highlighting that electrification is a key step towards reaching the patronage goals.
What’s even weirder though is that rail patronage is tracking really well in recent months. March was a record month for rail (if you exclude the Rugby World Cup) while February also performed way above last year’s totals and I’d heard April was tracking well. In fact, Auckland Transport look like they might actually reach their 2013/14 rail patronage target of 11.4 million boardings – when it seems the main justification provided for lowering the future targets is that a lower baseline is expected. If the current target is met then it would leave Auckland Transport only needing to increase patronage by around 700k yet by the end of June next year all but the Western line should be plied by electric trains (running at better speeds).
You can see the blue line tracking back up towards hitting the red line of the current targets:
Lowering the targets is a sure fire way of the councillors telling the government that the city isn’t really serious about the CRL or about improving PT Patronage in general. We also know this is a message that the Ministry of Transport will pick up on. The recent performance and the impact of all the improvements proposed to the rail network over the next few years means that the current targets are highly achievable and quite possibly on the low side.
Hopefully the Councillors on Thursday tell Auckland Transport to bugger off with this attempt to lower the patronage targets.
There’s another side effect to all of this. Less projected patronage also means Auckland Transport have projected they will get less fare income and that has contributed to $15.6 million funding shortfall. The other big culprit in the shortfall is lower than expected parking revenue. Partially mitigating this, Auckland Transport have come up with $10.5 million in savings/revenue from
- the deferral of capital expenditure mentioned earlier
- improved contracting
- changing the way they fund asset replacement for the electric trains
- and most interestingly increasing parking charges in the CBD which will raise about $5.5m more.
Increased parking charges in the CBD for both on-street and off-street parking. This will bring the charges for council owned parking buildings more into line with prices currently charged by private operators.
Pricing carparking more in line with what the private operators charge is a very good thing as AT have essentially be holding the market down for some time. Parking costs can also have a big impact on patronage with higher prices encouraging more PT use. I wonder if that impact was factored into AT’s lower projected patronage.
In addition Auckland Transport received a paper on the annual fare review at their last closed board meeting, I wonder if the outcome of that is related?