One of the key discussions with the Long Term Plan (LTP) is around whether we should implement motorway tolling or increase Rates/Fuel taxes to pay all of the transport projects on the council’s plans.
As a quick recap for any new readers, the council has come up with two transport plans for the next 30 years. The Basic Transport Network is effectively the base case and is what the council say they can fund based on their level of rates. In the basic network most of the money goes to keeping roads maintained or PT running and that doesn’t leave much money for capital development – although thankfully the CRL is included in that. The Auckland Plan Transport Network is essentially the “everything plus the kitchen sink” option and would require additional funding to be able to build it. For the additional funding piece an independent advisory group looked at various options and ended up two of them:
One of the key issues I have with the debate is that it’s being presented as an all or nothing decision that needs to be made right now. I would like to see a debate about whether we need the full future Auckland Plan network or if we as a city would rather further cut some projects and divert the cash that’s freed up to help cover what’s left. However even if that happens we’re likely to need that is likely to leave us needing some form of alternative funding.
In this post I’m not going to debate the options for raising additional funding but I do want to highlight some more of the details in this post from Jarrett Walker we mentioned on Sunday titled whether you should vote for a transit tax. Now our funding discussion isn’t just about transit however many of the points seem fairly valid.
In his role as a consultant Jarrett says he’s been asked many times on whether there should be a new transit tax. From that he’s noticed some fairly predictable patterns in arguments which he has used create some points that need to be kept in our mind.
- In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues.
- As transit demand grows, you sometimes need a major project.
- Not all rail projects are about improving transit.
- Who is for and against? (But don’t overreact!)
- But the transit agency looks so wasteful …
- But the managers have such big salaries!
- Will transit reduce congestion?
- If you’re still confused, vote yes.
Though-out all his points Jarrett makes a number of great points. I’m just going to cover a few of them so head over to Human Transit for all of them.
1. In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues.
This problem is mathematically inevitable.
As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America. This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit. In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population. Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing. But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service. Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.
Auckland is growing quickly and a lot of demand for that growth is in or around the city centre where there are some of the best PT options available to people
2. As transit demand grows, you sometimes need a major project.
As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel. Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses
These big projects require huge lumps of money. So as transit demand grows, its revenue needs don’t just grow faster, they grow in a lumpier way, with big chunks of money needed at once.
I think in many ways this is the point where Auckland is getting to in its current stage of development. We’ve slowly been working through the lower hanging fruit with projects like integrated ticketing, electrification (plus the other upgrades prior to that), the new network etc. Once those are done in the next few years there will be little we can do to see significant change until we can build the City Rail Link.
8. If you’re still confused, vote yes.
Why? Because most people do the opposite. They vote no if they don’t understand, which is why it’s hard to get anything done. If you vote yes, you’re no more likely to be wrong than the no-voter is, and in a world where government often can’t seem to do anything, you’re voting for doing something. That sends an important signal in itself.
As a transit advocate, I’ve voted no on a couple of transit measures in my time, always with great regret as well as frustration. But usually, even if the plan contained something I object to, I’ve voted yes. Even a project that achieves its outcomes inefficiently usually achieves something. Even a project that’s solely designed to trigger condos for the very rich will at least get more rich people into the inner city, where they will then start caring about transit and supporting the kinds of transit a rich and vibrant city really needs. And while the failure of a ballot measure may be because of public objections to how the money was to be spent, lazy journalists and elected officials often treats it as a no to transit itself, so it often takes years to get another measure going.
So if you’re still confused, it comes down to this:
All the other confused people are voting no. So vote yes.
I’ll have some more detailed analysis on just what’s in the LTP and our position on it in a later post.