So yesterday the Auckland Transport Board did its job and thoroughly rejected the disgraceful draft budget that staff had put in front of them. Their decision is perhaps best captured by Simon Wilson’s tweet:
Board of @AklTransport has resolved to rewrite its project priorities to reflect public transport, cycling+walking, safety, carbon reduction, in line with @AklCouncil + govt wishes, and throw out the bullshit list prepared by AT staff. Read it all in my @nzherald
— Simon Wilson (@simonbwilson) February 1, 2018
This is a very good outcome, but I still have a couple of questions:
- Our friends at Bike Auckland report that at the meeting, it was claimed that the narrative should have been released but not the list of priority projects. If the budget details hadn’t been made public (like Auckland Transport claim) would the AT Board have still made such an about-turn? I suspect not and I suspect that we would have ended up with a draft RLTP out for consultation at the end of the month that slashed cycling by 90%, rejected light-rail and cut rail operating funding. Hopefully the AT Board and senior managers are so embarrassed by what has happened over the past week that they don’t dare to pull something like this off again.
- What happens now?
We can only pontificate about the first question, so let’s focus on the second one. This is where timeframes become interesting so let’s take a look at what we know:
- The Council is going to consult on the Long-term Plan and the Auckland Plan during March. The Long-term Plan (which the Council calls its 10 Year Budget) is enormously connected to the RLTP, as transport makes up the largest part of the Council’s spend. Furthermore, before Christmas the Council highlighted its planned level of investment into transport and will consult on a regional fuel tax to help pay for it. This consultation process might be quite a challenge if it’s unclear what projects that money is actually going to be spent on!
- The Government Policy Statement should be released in the next few weeks, outlining in detail the new Government’s transport priorities and how they wish to change around funding arrangements to help pay for those priorities. Legally there needs to be a strong level of alignment between the GPS and the RLTP, which makes it difficult to create a detailed RLTP in the absence of this guidance.
- It’s likely that in the next month or so the new Government will provide some clarity on whether they intend to continue the Urban Cycleway Fund. This seems extremely likely, which will increase the amount of money available for cycling from the Government.
- The new government have already talked about an update to ATAP. This is likely to already be underway, which presumably will feed into final transport budget decisions.
With all of this swirling around and clear direction from the AT Board, that what was put in front of them today was completely unacceptable, I assume that we will see another RLTP document and prioritised project list in the next few weeks, ready in time for consultation in March.
One part of that updated list that we will keep a close eye on is the cycling budget. We know from the Cycling Business Case that the AT Board approved last year that Auckland needs at least $600 million of investment by Auckland Transport into cycling infrastructure over the next decade (for context this is about 5% of the overall likely transport spend in Auckland).
In the draft RLTP it was a bit tricky to find all the parts of this plan, but it seems like it was split out into the following:
- Completing the 2015-18 programme: $53 million of already committed funding and seemingly the only proposed investment over the next decade. Yes, Auckland Transport proposed to spend basically nothing at all on cycling after next year.
- City Centre Access -$180 million (ranked 41st)
- Connections to Rapid Transit – $212 million (ranked 57th)
- Connections to Metro Centre – $103 million (ranked 72nd)
Reading this I was surprised to see nothing about improving cycling access to schools, which is talked about quite a lot in the business case. It is also odd to see that the three components of the 2018-28 Cycling Business Case only add up to $495 million. Are there some other parts of the cycling business case that didn’t even make it onto the prioritised list?
Given the importance of keeping up the momentum that recent investment has created in getting more Aucklanders on their bikes, and the high priority of cycling for both the Government and the Council, we will keep a close eye on making sure the whole cycling programme makes it into the draft Regional Land Transport Plan when it comes back to the AT Board.