Tuesday’s Auckland Transport Board Meeting included a statutorily required review of how they performed for the 2017/18 financial year against their Statement of Intent (SOI). The results are outlined in their annual report, which provides a useful opportunity to take a step back from the day to day news and consider what was, for Auckland Transport, quite a year of change.
The report runs through a number of highlights from the last year, including:
- Appointment of Shane Ellison as the new Chief Executive
- Opening the Waterview shared path
- 15 new electric trains ordered
- New network implemented in the east, then the isthmus (the North came more recently)
- Adopting ATAP and then the Regional Land Transport Plan, providing a big funding boost to transport going forward
- Opening the Manukau bus interchange and the Pukekohe railway station upgrade
As might be clear from the relatively short list above, 2017/18 was a reasonably quiet year for project completions. Uncertainty about funding, which wasn’t really fixed until the Regional Fuel Tax came into effect on 1 July this year, meant that many long-planned projects weren’t able to proceed – the AMETI Eastern Busway is probably the best example of this. Furthermore, the biggest transport projects in Auckland – City Rail Link and Light-Rail – are no longer being progressed by Auckland Transport.
Chairman Lester Levy’s foreword continues his tradition of talking a good talk:
Transport infrastructure must serve the city, not consume it; it must support communities, not sever them. We have learned at great cost to human life and health that making cities great for single-occupant cars has undermined them for people and the environment. Travelling by private vehicle, whether electric, autonomous or otherwise, will not solve the biggest issues we face: space, speed and emissions. Auckland Transport is responding to these challenges and opportunities in a range of inter-connected ways.
This year’s refresh of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) and adoption of a new 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan in June sees for the first time the priorities of Auckland and the Government absolutely aligned and more importantly funded. Consequently, the RLTP outlines an exciting and ambitious programme of work that serves as our contract with ratepayers and taxpayers to contribute to developing an economically, socially, culturally and environmentally successful Auckland.
The plan, while still not far-reaching enough, is an important milestone. It starts to address the underlying causes of the longstanding infrastructure deficit rather than its symptoms – the implausibly slow decision-making that has blighted Auckland, our rapid and continuing population growth, and an equally long-standing car dependency. Fifty percent of the overall budget is for operating expenses, which recognises the importance of maintaining and optimising our existing assets so they are longer-lasting, safe and functioning optimally.
The RLTP emphasises safety as a top priority. The most common cause of deaths worldwide among young people aged 15-29 is road traffic accidents. The consequences are devastating and I cannot over-emphasise how important the safety element of our work programme will be. In 2017, the Board commissioned an independent, expert review into Auckland’s sharp decline in road safety performance. This hard-hitting report produced 45 recommendations, all of which we have adopted without question. To deliver on the Vision Zero principle that no road deaths are acceptable, we will need the support of many agencies and importantly that of each and every Aucklander to behave responsibly.
Reallocation of street space for a wider variety of users embeds the reconceptualised approach to safety and is critical to tackling congestion. Our streets will increasingly change through the addition of light rail, bus and bike lanes, wider and better footpaths and bus stops as well as the addition of proven safety enhancements like raised pedestrian crossings and calmed intersections. These changes will encourage drivers to slow down through town centres and near schools.
Public and active transport will increasingly challenge car dependency by enabling safer, faster alternative journeys with increased confidence in arrival time. Unless a sizeable percentage of drivers makes modal switches, congestion will adversely impact economic growth, jobs, housing and quality of life. The Board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of reallocating street space, an approach consistent with the Auckland Council’s and the Government’s aims for our city and furthermore well supported by evidence.
There’s a lot to commend in these words. They highlight the critical importance that needs to be placed on addressing our road safety crisis, and they also emphasise the need to reallocate scarce street space to more efficient modes.
However, there’s a lot to do as Auckland Transport’s performance on a pretty wide range of metrics during the 2017/18 year was pretty poor. Even public transport ridership, which has grown strongly for a number of years now, plateaued (it’s ticked up again more recently):
The stand out area of shocking performance was, of course, road safety. Deaths and serious injuries for the 2017/18 year ended up exceeding 800 – compared to a target of reducing them from the year before.
And Auckland Transport’s poor performance in delivering cycleways meant they failed miserably to meet their relevant target. Despite this, cycling use continued to grow and both targets relating to cycling trips were met.
Looking ahead, Auckland Transport has no excuse now to not ‘raise its game’. For the first time in its existence, funding really isn’t a barrier to making rapid progress – and with the Regional Fuel Tax now up and running there will justifiably be huge demands and expectations for progress to be shown.
The words in Lester Levy’s foreword suggest that we should see really exciting progress. The funding is in place and the Council and Government are both strongly aligned. Let’s just hope that counter-intuitive restructuring and (presumably) leaks from disaffected staff don’t hold things back.