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:

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.

Over the past few months I’ve thought about this a few times and always been struck by two questions:

  1. Was the transport programme really meant to have not been published?
  2. 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.

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  1. I’d kind of hoped that GA had uncovered a specific deficiency at AT that led to the draft. Rumour certainly gave a personal name to the problem. I’d hoped that the saga had exposed a dinosaur or two, resulting in their demotion. Bit depressing that it was all just an organisation that couldn’t get its act together to follow its own stated objectives, even at this level, with this much impetus to get it right.

    Thanks, Matt.

  2. The “much of this draft RLTP is actually really good” is just all meaningless fluff and a complete waste of time. That section may as well be called ‘Stuff that we think people want to hear’.
    The list of funded projects is the only meaningful part of the whole document.

      1. That is the truth. These forward plans and associated announcements all just look like political spin. All the back slapping, head nodding, smugness with self congratulations and grand press releases with announcements seem so empty and disingenuous. How can any politician or mayor elected for just a couple of years possibly commit future elected people to their present ten year or longer plan?
        I think it’s so dishonest since if the same people/party don’t get reelected then it’s someone else’s fault the grandiose plan falters and fails.
        The truth is in the budget, all the rest is spin.

  3. I must agree it is hard to see the prioritisation tool as an adequate explanation of what was in RLTP V1. It would be interesting to see what is in the tool. If it focused on policy alignment then a different set of projects would have been prioritised in the program. Even if the tool only focused on economic measure (and it shouldn’t) application of the EEM to all projects should have given a different answer. NZTA’s own review has shown BCRs for road projects have been falling in recent years as construction costs go up and travel behaviour changes. So the question remains – how did they come up with that program in RLTP V1?

  4. From what I’ve gathered from the media (ie not you guys) part of the outcome is that there is no funding for Cycling. That it was left in the too-hard basket, left for another day, maybe. Is that correct?

    1. As far as I can tell, there is $150 million already committed to complete the existing Urban Cyclways Fund programme. And the $350 million of new funding. The Auckland Cycling Inevestment Programme business case from August 2017 recommended $600 million new funding. For $300 million, we get their “Option Two: Moderate investment prioritised to the City Centre and a limited number of activity centres.”

      the business case is here:

      So central city and city fringe get further cycleway projects, but nothing in South Auckland, for example.

      There is funding for some big projects, like the SkyPath over the bridge, and the SeaPath along the cost to Takapuna. Looks like the Eastern Busway project will include cycle facilities. So those are cool, and quite exciting. But it would be nice to have a regional network of cycling arterial routes through the suburbs and villages of Auckland.

      1. I’ve been looking at the numbers in the Cycling Investment business case, and for the preferred option (which we’re not getting) it was $600 million for 150km of cycleways. That’s $4 million per kilometre. Does anyone know why this figure is so high? I’ve been trying to compare to other cities. Portland reportedly did 400km for US$64 million (in 2008 dollars, though the work was done through the nineties and early noughts).

      2. What I don’t get is why what appeared to be an error (the $600 m actually including money already allocated, therefore not able to cover the business case’s required $600m) hasn’t been righted. Submitters obviously pointed out the error.

        Yet despite this amount being peanuts compared to the big roading projects, no-one corrected the error. Incompetence, institutional rigidity, or planned starvation of the cycling programme for political reasons? If we’re not to believe it’s the latter (and I don’t) then can’t we see something being done to correct the incompetence or the institutional rigidity?

    1. but even then its inconsistent with the AC/AT/NZTA and MoT agreed position (ATAPv1), and ATs own strategies and AC directives. When it was released the dissonance of the project list with the views of the new central government intentions (which had just been elected and aligned even greater to AT and ACs views in particular)) was even more glaring, but that would have been ok as it had to align with the documents that existed, not what any new government might like to exist. So that doesnt explain it.

    1. Thanks Pippa. I particularly like the suggestion for an advocacy position to:

      “Maximise Renewal and Maintenance Opportunities – [Auckland Transport] to Consider how every renewal and maintenance project can be leveraged to improve the road design for all users including layouts that include bus lanes, greenways and cycle lanes, remove cycle pinch points and add better pedestrian crossings and street trees.”

      What a lost opportunity they didn’t pick up on this! Indeed, it should have been extended to every project. The College Hill works to introduce paid parking, for example. Why put money into any project on our local streets that doesn’t improve safety, given that AT has committed to improving the safety?

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