Last week the Auckland Transport Board approved the final version of the 2018 Regional Land Transport Plan. While the RLTP hasn’t got as much focus as other key transport decisions in recent times, like ATAP and the Regional Fuel Tax, it is the document that forms the heart of the land transport planning process.
The 2018 RLTP has been quite a saga. Let’s take a look back at this, plus also a look forward to why Auckland Transport must do a better job next time.
The story starts in late January, when the first draft of the RLTP gets published on the agenda for Auckland Transport’s February 1st meeting. Given the years of work done to develop an aligned transport strategy for Auckland, a newly elected government with well known transport plans that are even more aligned with the Council’s, a published draft Auckland Plan that also emphasises the need to place a much greater focus on public transport, walking and cycling, this should be a fairly easy thing to get right.
And much of this draft RLTP is actually really good. The text of the document fits nicely with all the work that’s been done on transport in Auckland over recent years and is nicely packaged up into 9 key priorities (below). This also fits well with the legislative requirements of the Land Transport Management Act, which talk about the RLTP needing to set out “the region’s land transport objectives, policies, and measures”.
But of course, all of this good work was completely undone by the transport programme, the list of funded projects, at the back of the plan. We picked this up immediately:
Despite both Mayor @phil_goff and Transport Minister @PhilTwyford highlighting the importance of PT, walking and cycling, @AklTransport has ranked a bunch of roads as their top priority projects. pic.twitter.com/EHos4IbXKj
— Greater Auckland (@GreaterAKL) January 24, 2018
Within a few hours transport Minister Phil Twyford was extracting an embarrassing apology from AT Board Chair Lester Levy. Apparently the transport programme at the back wasn’t meant to have been published.
I’ve had sincere apology from AT chair Lester Levy for internal “budget” document mistakenly made public. The doc certainly doesn’t reflect my conversations with @phil_goff and @AklTransport board and our shared commitment to building a modern transport system for Auckland.
— Phil Twyford (@PhilTwyford) January 25, 2018
Over the past few months I’ve thought about this a few times and always been struck by two questions:
- Was the transport programme really meant to have not been published?
- What would have happened if the transport programme hadn’t been published – would the AT Board have rubber stamped its approval like they seemingly rubber stamp everything else put in front of them?
Without digging into the details too much on the first question, it certainly seems as though the transport programme – as a core part of the RLTP – should have been included in the public documents ahead of the AT Board meeting. The whole intention of the February 1st item was to get approval to undertake consultation on the draft RLTP – including its programme. On the second question, of course this is a hypothetical point that can never be proven either way, but let’s just say that it would be shocking if the AT Board didn’t have a clue about the transport programme they were about to sign off at a public meeting. The RLTP is arguably AT’s most important document and the boards most important function. Senior management, if not the Board itself, should surely have been well aware of the details of this programme.
In any case, many apologies were given and a lot of blame was put on a prioritisation calculator tool. It’s unclear why no one ran their eyes over the outputs of that tool, or if they did, why they didn’t do anything to fix it. After it was revealed, AT staff were rightly slammed, and essentially the whole process of prioritising the transport programme got taken away from Auckland Transport and was instead done through ATAP. This led to the exciting $28 billion programme that formed the heart of the actual draft RLTP that went out for consultation in early May.
Our submission on the draft RLTP was largely supportive, which was not surprising given the RLTP’s programme was forced to match with ATAP. However, bizarrely the text of the document was a significant step backwards from what had been included in the ill-fated January version. We picked up on a few of these deficiencies in the details of our submission, including things like:
- Highlighting “poor travel choice” as a key challenge facing Auckland. This would align the RLTP with the GPS, ATAP and the Auckland Plan.
- A clearer explanation of the RLTP’s objectives, policies and land transport priorities (as distinct from the particular projects in the document’s appendices). As well as ensuring the RLTP meets its statutory requirements, this would make the document’s “strategy” much easier for the public to understand.
- Remove the graph and text relating to car registrations. Most vehicles entering New Zealand are registered in Auckland and therefore this data does not really provide an insight into Auckland’s transport challenges. Furthermore, new car registrations appear to be only a small proportion of total vehicle imports making this data even more misleading.
- The text at the bottom of page 14 appears out of place and could be read as “the vehicle growth provides opportunities to improve prosperity…”. This is incorrect as growth in private vehicle travel only creates congestion, emissions and a variety of other problems.
- The safety section should cut to the chase and call out that Auckland faces a road safety crisis. It also needs to provide some further information about where the high-risk areas are, what parts of Auckland are seeing the most significant problems, how Auckland is comparing against other cities. This section really needs to “set up” where the focus of effort is going to be to address Auckland’s road safety crisis.
- The accessibility, congestion and freight sections are incredibly long and disjointed with repetitious information (two sub-sections on access?) These should be significantly shortened and be much more focused on the key direction given by the GPS and ATAP.
While some other suggested amendments in our submission (like identifying cycling as a priority for additional funding) have been picked up in the final version of the RLTP, pretty much all of the suggestions in the bullet points above were completely ignored. In fact the text appears to have hardly changed at all, which raises some interesting questions about the second bullet point and whether the document actually meets its legislative requirements.
The whole sorry saga doesn’t reflect particularly well on Auckland Transport. It especially doesn’t reflect well on the way projects were prioritised, or those in charge of operating the prioritisation tool. At the end of it all we are left with an RLTP that has a relatively good programme, but not really a clear explanation of the logic that sits behind the programme and what’s it’s trying to achieve. RLTPs can last for up to six years and unless there’s major political change, it’s hard to see Auckland getting a new RLTP until 2024. But whenever Auckland Transport do prepare the next one, I hope they do a much much better job.