The Government and the Auckland Council have signed a Terms of Reference on a project to come up with an agreed long term transport plan for the region. It’s been given the imaginative name of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and will be worked on by officials from the Council, Auckland Transport, the NZTA, Treasury and the State Services Commission. There’s no firm time-frame for this to be completed with the Minister and Mayor just saying the work is expected to take about a year.
“The signing marks a new dawn in our relationship with the government ending decades of disagreement and time wasting,”
The council and the government have been talking about getting alignment for some time and the cynical side of me suspects there’s some quite different motivations at play. Len wants an agreement however the government will be acutely aware that a year from now we’ll be right in the middle of a council election cycle. Transport is always much more of a local government issue and as such has played a massive part in Auckland since amalgamation in 2010 with it being recognised as one of the key reasons Len became Mayor. The threat of an imminent agreed strategy will probably be enough to take transport off the agenda – or at least reduce it significantly and allow the focus to go on issues such as rates. Any agreement itself would also likely hamstring any future council who may want to advocate for more visionary outcomes.
As with anything, when it comes to this alignment project the devil will be in the details. Helpfully the Terms of Reference have been published so we can at least see what has been agreed so far. There are some good things in the ToR but also a few things that concern me.
On the good side the project isn’t just about confirming either the government or council’s objectives – both of which we’ve criticised in the past. The ToR states project needs to assess alternative packages of transport interventions and recommend the preferred indicative package(s). The scope goes further saying that consideration needs to include issues such as changing travel demand. Hopefully that means those working on the project will not just look at growth but also changes in behaviour – like we’re seeing with many younger people deciding not to even get their drivers licences. One aspect that I think is missing is the
7 Project scope
7.1 The project will test options, seek alignment on, and make recommendations in relation to a strategic approach to the development of Auckland’s transport system over three ten-year bands from 2018.
7.2 The project will include consideration of:
i. likely long term changes in demand for travel
ii. all land transport interventions, including roads, rail, public transport, personal mobility services, walking, cycling, technology, network optimisation and demand management (including pricing for demand management purposes)
iii. alternative combinations of these interventions and their broad timing and scale
iv. costs and benefits
v. the nature, scale and timing of any funding gap for the recommended strategic approach and its alternatives.
I think that one possible package that they should test is this
One aspect that I think is missing is the scope is the consideration of the potential to shape demand. Travel demand is often seen as a fixed outcome i.e. we’ve got XX widgets to move and how can we do that. Shaping demand is effectively coming at the problem from the opposite angle, for example perhaps the best long term outcome from an operational perspective is to have a public transport and/or cycle mode-share to 15, 20%, 25%. 30% or even higher across the region. What projects would be needed to achieve that outcome – I gather it would be quite a different list to one that just responded to predicted demand.
The part of the ToR that concerns me the most are the objectives that have been listed. While access is mentioned in point 1, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on reducing traffic congestion rather than focusing on improving accessibility and efficiency of the transport system. For example it seems to suggest that public transport investment is only useful if it addresses congestion.
5 Objectives for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project
5.1 The Parties broadly agree that the focus of the project is to test whether better returns from transport investment can be achieved in the medium and long-term, particularly in relation to the following objectives:
i. to support economic growth and increased productivity by ensuring access to employment/labour improves [relative to current levels] as Auckland’s population grows
ii. to improve congestion results [relative to predicted results], in particular travel time and reliability, in the peak period and to ensure congestion does not become widespread during working hours
iii. to improve public transport’s mode share [relative to predicted results], where it will address congestion
iv. to ensure any increases in the financial costs of using the transport system deliver net benefits to users of the system.
Those issues aside, overall it seems that the agreement at least is pretty good and should hopefully enable both parties to finally agree on something to do with transport in Auckland.
One positive outcome not listed above that I’m hoping for is that it might finally get the government and some of the Wellington based bureaucrats to understand that perhaps they don’t know everything. For a long time Auckland has suffered from being treated like some small rural council that doesn’t know what it’s talking about compared to the government’s “experts”. There are a lot of people within those AC/AT who know what they’re doing – not just on issues of transport – and hopefully this alignment project will show them that.
Lastly the Ministry of Transport are hiring for a Project Director and Project Coordinator for the alignment project.