Auckland is in the midst of a road safety crisis with deaths and serious injuries in the region increasing by more than 70% in the three years since 2014. That’s more than five times the rate of travel and three times the rate of increase for the rest of the country.
Yesterday, Auckland Transport released a damning report, commissioned last year by the AT board, looking at the causes of this and what needs to be done to turn it around. You can read the executive summary here, or the full report here. It is highly critical of not just Auckland Transport but other agencies involved with road safety, including the police and indirectly the former government. It notes:
The crisis in road safety performance reflects a number of deficiencies of public policy at central government and local level. Most of all it reflects an absence of commitment to improving safety on New Zealand and Auckland’s roads.
I’m glad the report has come out, it was very much needed, but it also makes me angry as so many of the issues it raises are ones that have been pointed out time and time again but that those in positions of authority choose to ignore. There’s been a complete abdication of responsibility and people are dead as a result.
Reading the report, I can’t help but think that if it weren’t for the Urban Cycleway Programme, that we may not have seen anything at all done about safety in any area.
Auckland has had no new road safety strategy approved since AT was formed. Safety on the road network has not been a priority at AT in that time. Roadsafe Auckland has tried to function within limited parameters over the last seven years, but decisions to reduce dedicated road policing resources in late 2016 (later reversed but still causing harm as police struggle to re-establish road policing capacity) laid bare the weaknesses in commitment to the safety of those using New Zealand and Auckland’s roads. It has been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
It is difficult to believe that Aucklanders are not concerned about the remarkable escalation in road crash deaths and serious injuries in recent years. But how does Auckland recover from this blight?
Not a single road safety strategy approved by AT, that’s outrageous, especially given how they talk about it as one of their five strategic themes in documents. I’ll address the policing part later in the post.
But it gets worse
Within AT’s own operations there is a major adjustment required to the way that safety is understood and applied across the business in a sustainable way.
Proactive road safety activity has not been a central part of AT’s way of operating and staff at senior and middle levels confirmed this. They recognise this has to change and were without exception ready to do what is required to gain recognition for Auckland over the years ahead as a safe place for all road users. Auckland Transport has a considerable opportunity.
They recognise a change has to happen, what were they waiting for then? Here are some of the things the report says AT should have been focusing on
AT has been focused on implementing the national cycling action plan and relatively small (but important) safety investments on AT’s roads rather than also targeting the critical bigger picture of:
- leveraging the annual AT major road Capex programme and the annual maintenance programme to deliver important low marginal cost road network safety improvement over time
- adopting a vibrant regional road safety strategy and action plan including open consultation with Aucklanders
- delivering an effective community education programme reflecting that adopted strategy
- actively moving to manage free operating speeds which are in general terms too high for appropriately safe road network operation
- developing strategies to improve the underlying safety of walking, motorcycling and cycling
- resourcing within AT at high levels as well as mid management levels the task of building and maintaining active partnerships to influence and support the regional partners and press for the whole-hearted embrace of safe system/vision zero (as well as necessary supportive enabling initiatives to be taken) by the national partners/central government.
So the report calls out AT not just for their inaction in areas where they have direct responsibility for but also for their failure to advocate to central government (and the public) on the weaknesses in the current plans and the opportunities for improvement.
As well as a lack of action by Auckland Transport, there’s also been a lack of enforcement, especially over the last year. But the real reason for that can be traced back to the former government.
Enforcement efforts have been substantially affected from early 2017. NZTA allocations to Police for road safety enforcement were not reduced but Police claimed they could not support traditional road policing numbers with that $960m that was allocated from 2015/16 to 2017/18 over three years. This issue flared up in late 2016, leading to reduced road policing staffing and outputs until it is understood a special additional allocation from NZ Transport Agency was made in the middle of 2017 to break the impasse. By that time however, police had already cut dedicated road policing resources (111 road policing positions across New Zealand and more than 70 of these it is understood were reduced road policing numbers in Auckland. This cut was 30-40% of the total road policing staff numbers in Auckland and represented 64% of the national reductions in road policing FTEs)
Those NZTA allocations to police are governed by the Government Policy Statement (GPS). The NZTA had allocated near the top of the GPS range for road policing but successive GPS’s by the former government had effectively froze funding for road policing for almost a decade. In the real world meant a funding cut. This was largely in part to pump as much money as possible into their Roads of National Significance.
It’s not just funding for policing that the previous government failed to act on. The report also calls out their failure to do anything that might upset drivers breaking the law.
Speed enforcement which would effectively deter speeding and achieve good levels of compliance with the posted limits is also severely hampered by central government reluctance to apply demerit points for camera offences, and an inadequate level of fines ($30) for low level speeding offences – up to 10 km/h over the limit, which is less than a parking ticket and is inadequate to deter low level speeding.
There are other, more direct comments
It is difficult to imagine a less supportive framework to enable Police to reduce speeding than the current New Zealand regulatory settings.
Adequate responses to the above policy issues are the foundation of good road safety performance and it can be asserted that not enough has been done by government in introducing new life saving policy directions for these measures in New Zealand.
There are plenty of other government related comments too, for example that road safety improvements have to be balanced off against travel time impacts – where someone dying can be considered less important than some people saving 20 seconds on their journey.
How to fix the crisis
The report mentions a large number of actions that need to be implemented to improve safety in Auckland and New Zealand. These are targeted at the governance, operational level within AT and what their partners involved with road safety need to do. One of these is adopting and embracing Vision Zero.
For their part. AT talked up in their press release about the $700 million being allocated towards safety in the Regional Land Transport Plan. Some of the changes they mention as being implemented come from the report. Far too often we’ve seen safety improvement projects stopped or watered down to appease a vocal resident, especially ones who demand the right to store their private property on public land. It remains to be seen if AT will now start standing up to this.
This report should be a wakeup call to AT and others, so I’ll leave the final comment to it.
Making changes is rarely popular, often meeting illogical but strongly held views and emotions. Stepping up to make a difference requires leadership and courage.