Some interesting and promising news yesterday about Skypath

A toll-free SkyPath at no cost to Aucklanders

“As a result of discussions with Transport Minister Simon Bridges we have the opportunity to deliver a toll-free SkyPath at no cost to Auckland ratepayers” says SkyPath Project Director Bevan Woodward.

“Earlier this year when Downer Construction withdrew from the SkyPath PPP they advised that SkyPath was too small and unique to work as a PPP. We then met with the Transport Minister Simon Bridges to discuss the issues with the proposed PPP. Whilst he wanted to see if the PPP could still be made to work, we were reassured when the Minister advised that he could fund SkyPath in the next tranche of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Program funding.”

Subsequent to Downer Construction’s withdrawal, the SkyPath Trust has also given notice that it is withdrawing from the PPP arrangement. Like Downer Construction, the Trust does not believe SkyPath is a suitable project to be delivered as a PPP.

Andy Smith, a SkyPath Trustee says “With the PPP having foundered, we see Minister Bridges’ offer to fully fund SkyPath as the best way forward. This means we can avoid both the tolling of SkyPath users and the revenue underwrite by Council’s ratepayers for the 25 year period as required by the PPP.”

“It would not be unusual for the Government to fully fund SkyPath. Given it is part of NZTA’s State Highway such an asset would ordinarily be fully funded by central Government. With the demise of the PPP we believe it is now time to allow Minister Bridges to include SkyPath in the next tranche of Urban Cycleway Program funding. From the feedback we’re getting, a toll-free SkyPath has wide support from Aucklanders.”

The government should have been funding Skypath from the start. In some ways the project was perhaps a few years ahead of it’s time as was conceived at a time when funding for cycling infrastructure was almost non-existent. That all changed with the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund, which combined with local and NZTA contributions is seeing over $200 million invested in Auckland over three years. Some of the projects funded through the UCF, such as Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr, are expected to cost much more than Skypath will. Had Skypath not been going through the private funding process it was, it’s quite likely it would have been included too.

And making Skypath toll free is something that should definitely happen. It’s absurd that a walking and cycling path should be tolled while vehicles on the same bridge can drive across for free.

Of course, this isn’t the government announcing for it yet. To Stuff they’ve said

A spokesman for Bridges said the Government had not agreed “at this time” to fully fund the project.

“If the project is technically feasible and is supported by sound business case it could be considered for funding as part of a future Urban Cycleway Programme,” he said.

The next funding tranche would become available on July 1, 2018.

Given the project has long been considered by transport agencies the number one cycling project in Auckland, it’s hard to see it not stacking up

It’s also interesting that the government are effectively confirming that there will be another round of the Urban Cycleway Fund. This is fantastic news and hopefully it’s at least as big as the previous one ($100m). There’s certainly a lot more of Auckland, and other cities, that could do with investing in safe cycleways.

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50 comments

  1. Excellent news on both fronts! Skypath fully-funded and toll-free plus the Urban Cycleway Fund continuing.

    None of the parties seem to have spoken much about the UCF so far. I’m sure the Greens would support it; does anyone know about Labour?

    1. Bevan, you were quoted in the herald as saying that you thought the PPP was awful for aucklanders. How long have you known that? It was only a few months ago you were saying it was great

  2. Could that potentially mean that a big chunk of the cycleway fund goes towards Skypath, to the detriment of smaller, less showy projects? That would be quite a shame..

    1. Whilst I agree that it’d be a shame, it’d also connect a very large number of people north of the harbour to the CBD and, in so doing, take some of the load off the busway.

  3. Excellent news & I always thought the idea of collecting a toll would be a fiddle for users. I guess they need number limiting system still to prevent too many on at once? Seems the current government is not too bad at supporting cycling but I guess wouldn’t be so keen if it means reducing car asphalt.

  4. Time for a cwons (cycleways of national significance). Auckland Harbour Bridge and Petone Ngauranga gap first cabs off the rank.

    1. I’ve often wondered about TPoNS: Transport Projects of National Significance. A competitive fund to which agencies (regional councils, NZTA, KR etc) could apply for big strategic projects.

      1. So long as it is run by people who will judge projects based on merit and aren’t going to rubber stamp the favourite projects of their political masters

  5. They’ll formally announce something closer to the election I suspect. Candy for the urban Auckland vote.

  6. “If the project is technically feasible and is supported by sound business case it could be considered for funding as part of a future Urban Cycleway Programme,” he said.

    If the project met the above criteria it would have gone ahead as a PPP. The challenges in taking Skypath from design renderings to a construction plan should not be taken lightly. Building a clip on to a clip on, is no doubt possible, but so too is a manned mission to Mars.
    If you go and look at the bridge – rather than just reading click bait – you will start to appreciate the complexities. Just to name an obvious one. The bridge is steel and needs regular painting. Where Skypath is supposed to connect, is where the paint gantry connects to the bridge. Covering up rust with a bike path doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

    This is not a day for Skypath fans to celebrate – far from it.

    1. The debate doesn’t really matter any more, does it? I think you’ll find lots of people celebrating a win for common sense at last. I’m certainly looking forward to riding through Northcote, St Mary’s Bay and over the bridge with my family.

      Your technical “concerns” are a red herring. I’d also suggest that not making the cut for a PPP model is hardly a failure, rather it means paying less for finance costs. Just because the Bankers didn’t see it as juicy enough to extract mega profits from doesn’t mean it’s not a sound business case. Another win for common sense.

      1. Tim – have you ever built anything? A pretty little sketch is not an engineering result. The chances of Skypath passing the feasibility study and making a sound business case are very slim.
        But hey – it’s just an opinion – lets just all sit back and wait for the outcome in a years time.

        1. it can happen, the reason PPP won’t work is because the project is too small for that, cost needs to be in the hundreds of millions, to even billions for a PPP to work properly. Even then they are not ideal.

        2. “A pretty little sketch” – Some advice, don’t leave yourself so open if you want to be taken seriously. There’s more information available than just a napkin sketch. The project stacked up on the technical front.

          Are you even a regular reader, or did this article simply appear in your Google search alerts?

          @ Nick – Yeah, I love that model. Something that you learn real early when working corporate IT. 🙂

        3. I don’t know much about the feasibility side but just because a project doesn’t meet the criteria of a PPP business case, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth building.

          For a PPP to work the project has to make a sufficient return on capital over and above the maintenance costs and costs of collecting tolls to make the investment worth while.

          Take the need for a profit and the costs of collecting tolls out of the equation and add in the public benefits of a walk/cycle way across the harbor and the project is likely to have quite a healthy BCR.

        1. oh the tribal simplicity of your statement is just adorable!

          How shall we split up the tribes? Shall we have a driving tribe and a cycling tribe? Or is it north island versus south island tribe? Or both?!? We could have seperate transport funds for each mode and each island, and really stop free-loading in its tracks.

          Alternatively, we could accept that most people use multiple transport modes in the course of their lives, and that drivers benefit when others choose to use transport modes that reduce road congestion. And which keeps them physically active and reduces their burden on the health system.

          Hmmm … real-world complexity kind of blows the tribal approach out of the water I’m afraid! Back to square one: Cross-subsidies are inevitable, the more interesting question is whether the cross-subsidy creates good or bad incentives.

          1. The UCF is direct government funded however it’s combined with funding from the NLTF and from local governments for projects. But even if it was completely from the NLTF, who cares, it would be going towards a project that helps us to get more out of our existing road assets, including local roads which are half funded by rates.

          2. As local roads are funded from local rates, i feel that is the natural level for the split. Cars registered in Auckland should not be permitted to travel on roads in the Waikato and vice versa. If you don’t contribute you shouldn’t receive.

            Automated number plate readers on every road at the council boundary would be a simple undertaking to enforce this.

          3. Whee do you come up with crap like that from stu? Tribal? What a strange tangent to go off on.
            Cyclists are welcome to use the NLTF. As are trains. As soon as they start contributing to it. You see? I’m all about inclusiveness.

            At least Matt is honest about where a large chunk of the money is coming from. Unlike Patrick. Dan’s just being silly. We’re all paying rates directly or indirectly and we all pay fuel taxes when we drive. Akldude, you’re probably correct and they should probably be paying more in rates too. But least they’re paying.

          4. Tony, I pay into the NLTF every time I drive. Everytime I ride or use PT I help the NLTF by it not needing to invest an even greater amount in roads. Take the city centre, every morning more people enter by PT than they do in a car. During the peak hour about 25k are on buses, trains or on ferries. If they weren’t subsidised by the NLTF we’d need about 14 extra lanes of traffic (per direction) to handle that volume. That’s 10s of billions and that’s just the city centre. We’d also need an extra lane for all the people who currently bike.

          5. ‘Trains and cyclists are welcome to use it as soon as they start contributing to it’

            Tony, please, I am a motorist, I pay rego, fuel tax when I drive, but I also choose to cycle sometimes too, which benefits other road users in the Mon-Fri commute, as I’m one less person in a car on the road.

            So I am contributing. We all are.

          6. Tony I am correct. The UFC is not funded from the NLTF. Matt is also correct; contributions can and are made from the fund to bike projects. Cycling is land transport, after all, and it is the National Land Transport Fund.

            Additionally you seem to be struggling with how taxation works. For example I pay rates in central AKL, some of that money goes on roads in Rodney, I do not use roads in Rodney much, if at all. Also I pay fuel tax and rego. Likewise this money builds motorways in Tauranga and State highways in Southland. No use to me, but they are to others…

            Arguably this is hard core socialism; broad taxation then centrally directed spending chosen for the common good, not selected by how close the benefit matches the contributor directly. There is very little user pays in our transport sector. We have all funded roads and other things we will never see, let alone use.

            By all means argue that the direction of the spending is poor; that we could get more or better ‘common goods’ for the investment. We do that all the time here, but you’re really going to struggle with a user pays angle because that would require a completely different system. With, for example, much much higher contributions from heavy vehicle users, and huge road tolls everywhere.

            Actually one of the few direct user pays mechanisms in our transport system is the public transport fare, It usually doesn’t cover the whole cost of the journey (which anyway can only ever be abstracted out from various generalised costs) but it is the most closely connected user pays moment in our system, as are the few, and much much too low, road tolls currently operating.

            In general user pays has an appeal, in practice its hugely inefficient, that’s why we have the socialised system.

          7. “We’re all paying rates directly or indirectly and we all pay fuel taxes when we drive.” – So if I don’t use a car, I’m still paying for your roads?

          8. “Cyclists are welcome to use the NLTF. As are trains. As soon as they start contributing to it. You see?”

            I am a cyclist, I first directly paid into the NLTF in 2008, that is at least 9 years for which, by your own logic, it has been fine for the NLTF to contribute to cycling projects.

    1. Oh Tony, you mean the RUC that trucks pay that doesn’t go close to paying for the damage to roads that trucks create?

  7. So since we will no longer need toll booths, I really hope that they remove the silly loops at each end that have no function other than to slow down and annoy commuters. A great example of such stupidity in action is the AUT pedestrian bridge from Albert park across Wellesley St where people prefer to wait at traffic lights beneath instead of taking the safer route above.

    1. The loop on the Northern end was required as the gradient would be too steep without it. The ramp cannot be extended to lessen the gradient, as it would interfere with resident access.
      In any case, there will be a barrier at each end, required to control the numbers on the path and there will be security at each end.

        1. There will be gates, because there is a maximum number of people that will be permitted at anytime – its a safety issue and there is no going around OSH.
          On top of that, there are strict operational hours – as per the RC – and these will need to be enforced by gates and security. Lets face it, Skypath have alienated the local residents, so they will be all over the thing (if it ever gets built), making sure its in compliance.

          1. You mean skypath has alienated a small number of local residents, while also having the support of a larger number of local residents, as per consent submissions

          2. Dan C – Is there any point in going there? You know very well that the vast majority of residents on Northcote Point (the actual residents that will be affected) were against the project. I am not saying there were people that submitted in favour. In fact, people from Melbourne, London and Japan, all filled in the Gen Zero online form and said they would use Skypath on a regular basis.
            Lets just deal with the current facts. We both know that the RC stipulates opening hours and it must be abundantly clear, that the local residents will ensure they are enforced.
            However – the fact remains – there will be gates to control the number of users – because that is an engineering requirement that Skypath has agreed too.

          3. And what if it isn’t Skypath Inc lodging anymore, what if now NZTA simply just builds a pathway like they have on so many other links in Auckland? There are no gates on the Grafton Gully path, no gates on the Light Path, no gates on the Northwestern Cycleway, no gates on the Orakei path, etc etc?

            I’m sure now that the minister has his hands untied and can get on with funding and building the thing, they’ll just get on a do it like they have and are with all the other cyclways being built in Auckland.

          4. Local Resident – There may be gate for controlling hours, but if NZTA take the project over they may look at adjusting the consent to remove gates. This would be a great result for Auckland. Ironically it would benefit the local residences the most.

            NZTA would have a very good argument, and have enough resource to get it through.

            In terms of (WorkSafe NZ) I doubt very much there would be a problem with the number of people. The bridge clip-on’s now have the capacity to take the loads and its not likely to get to crushing loads unless the northcote residence committee were well under in there predictions of its use.

          5. I am not looking for an argument here, but lets just look at the facts. The RC was granted on the basis of some strict conditions. Changing those conditions (hours of operation) would require another round in the courts. Dont forget – Skypath is to a degree, burdened by their own (imo inflated) patronage figures and it would be difficult to argue against the evidence presented by SPT at the RC hearing.
            As for controlling the numbers. This was a stipulation from the AHBA and based on engineering load limitations. Just send an email to Bevan Woodward, I am sure he will confirm this to you. If the numbers need to be controlled for safety reasons – concerns about the loading on the bridge clip on – then there will need to be barriers and security to enforce this.
            In any event, Skypath is a very long way from being built. All Simon Bridges has said, is that the Govt could consider building it, if it were technically feasible. The fact that Downer pulled out should flash warning signs. Building a clip on to a clip on, will not be easy or cheap. I could draw a fantastic sketch for a multi tunnel underground rail system for Auckland, but that doesnt mean it could/will be built.
            However, this is an opportunity for the Skypath Trust to re-engage with the local residents. Why dont they re-design the Northern Landing and move it away from the housing? If its Govt funded, the cost increase to do this should not be an issue. Failing that, why don’t they cost in the purchase of the houses that will be worst affected – about 10 homes. Mind you, now that we won the Americas Cup – mine just went up in price 🙂

          6. Would only require another round in the courts if the residence committee wants to chew up more money taking it there again (if the variation to consent is even notified, the council may decide there are no added effects with any extra mitigation taken). And if its added to the national cycleway project being completed by the government, it’s effectively pouring money down the drain. Worst case scenario for government is they revert to original granted consent.

            “The fact that Downer pulled out should flash warning signs. Building a clip on to a clip on, will not be easy or cheap.” – just to reinforce this was not the reason Downers pulled out. It pulled out as PPP is not a suitable contract for such a low priced asset.

            Engineering issues can be overcome with some serious benefits. Have you been on the Gantry that runs under the clip-on? Last time I was on it we identified more repairs required to the gantry than the actual bridge! All though I do agree the clip-ons are well past their used by date, strengthening works can be done to bring it up to an even higher standard than work already done, depending on how much strengthening required the cost may increase, but the benefits are so large that its likely to be negligible to the success of the project.

          7. My understanding is that Downers pulled out because they couldn’t make money out of this. Anyway – lets just sit back and see. The Government have said ‘maybe’, lets all just agree that is neither a yes or a no, but Skypath as it ‘was’, is no more.

  8. Common sense result. I was always very uncomfortable with the PPP arrangement. Why should this have been the only piece of cycling infrastructure in Akl to have to pass a commercial threshold.

    Moreover there’s been some shonky maths from all sides of the debate. Now Akl ratepayers are not potentially exposed to ongoing payments. Irrespective of who got their figures right.

    Does seem to be taking an age though.

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