Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.
Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail
The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.
The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.
The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).
While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.
The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.
The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.
There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):
Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:
a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded
By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.
Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.
Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.
One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.
But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.