The AA are today releasing their annual report on Auckland congestion, claiming its “Time for the truth about Auckland’s congestion problem“. The main point of the report seems to be about worrying about congestion getting worse in the future but first, a couple of numbers.
What stands out here are the VKT numbers. In particular that they’re at odds with the numbers recently provided by the NZTA for 2018 which showed that the distance travelled on Auckland roads had actually dropped by over 360 million km compared to 2017 to 13.166 billion km and that per capita, Aucklanders travel had fallen to 7,764 per person.
As for PT and particularly how it impacts on the road network, the issue is not so much the total numbers of km’s travelled but when that happens. PT numbers might look small overall but at peak times when congestion it represents a much larger share.
In the report the AA also lavish some praise on Waterview but note its impact is already starting to wear off. However the main point is to be about the actions they want taken to address congestion in the future.
Let’s look at each of these.
It’s hard to see what congestion targets will achieve. For example, what happens if we don’t meet the target? That’s because the issue isn’t a lack of acknowledging our congestion problems but of providing enough funding to do something about it.
Building the Rapid Transit Network isn’t about reducing congestion but allowing a lot more people will move around the city unaffected by it. Further, focusing only on congestion, as they mean it, means only considering the travel time of divers as important. As more and more people use PT and active modes and opt out of congestion their trips simply won’t be counted. For example, more than half the people entering the city centre each morning don’t experience the congestion so why only consider the impacts on the minority sitting in their cars. The alternative is to consider a road productivity measure across all modes and the good news is AT already do that and have targets for it.
Yes I agree with the AA here, we should be having a greater discussion about road pricing (as opposed to just being about congestion). But that discussion should include, among other things, ensuring that alternatives are available to a sufficient level, which for me probably means once projects like the CRL and some of the other key RTN projects are complete.
The current plans will only see the Greenfield areas account for about 30% of Auckland’s growth over the coming decades. Bringing forward those greenfield roads not only costs a lot of money, it would encourage that growth to happen sooner and will only make driving and congestion worse for everyone.
Where are the AA thinking the motorway core can be expanded? The original ATAP (under the previous government) confirmed that most of those corridors are now maxed out and any widening will likely require significant property acquisition. It states “adding capacity appears infeasible or prohibitively expensive“.
Even if there was funding available to do this, it’s unrealistic to expect any delivery to be a quick or easy process – just look at how long it’s been taking to add an extra lane between Manurewa and Papakura. There are also no more Waterview opportunities left to connect otherwise disconnected motorways. Worse still, local and international experience shows any benefits would be short lived and ultimately just result in even more traffic and congestion. Carrying on from point two, we should wait till any road pricing scheme is introduced and we’ve seen the impacts it has before considering options like this.
Further, this suggestion doesn’t take into account the impact that more lanes and more traffic would have on emissions.
Get more out of the existing network
Smarter traffic lights/phasing have been a go-to comment for the AA for many years now but seems to ignore that Auckland Transport have a revolving project of route optimisation. While improvements can sometimes be made, in many cases it’s now to the point where improving one route will mean making other modes and/or routes worse. Clearways too already exist on many roads. As for dynamic lanes on the motorways, are the AA wanting the NZTA to install Harbour Bridge style movable barriers along all the motorways? That doesn’t seem practical.
Land use and transport
Yes, where we build rapid transit in greenfield areas we should allow higher density around stations. But why only do this in just greenfield areas, why not allow more of it in areas already well serviced by PT and/or in areas that it’s more practical or feasible for people to also make use of active mode options. This is especially the case on the Isthmus where many parts are locked into lower density.
The AA weren’t the only ones to put out some comments recently with the Auckland Chamber of Commerce publishing a release last Thursday. Like with the AA, it’s notable that some of the framing of adding capacity to our “core” network but they don’t say where or how that could happen.
We’re not going to address congestion JUST by building roads, but nor are we going to address it by JUST investing in public transport or JUST managing demand.
It’s going to take an effort in all areas. Cars carry the vast bulk of Auckland’s transport load, and while we’ll inevitably (and rightly) see a significant switch to PT, the primary role of the car isn’t going to change. With our spread-out city geography, and the growth Auckland is facing, we cannot afford NOT to add capacity to the core component of the transport network that keeps us moving.
At the point we’re at now, adding a lane or even the big projects they’re pushing for, like Penlink, are just tinkering around the edges and won’t have anything other than very localised impacts. The only opportunity for step-change level impacts are to add in the missing networks, the rapid transit and active mode networks.
Also like with the AA, they have come up with a list of actions.
What Auckland badly needs is a change of behaviour if it is to fix our fragile transport system, and this starts with speed of action from transport authorities to apply proven big ideas from other cities:
- Use private sector finance to build ‘ready to go’ new roads and multi-storey park-and-ride stations, with proper security; and adding more PT peak hour services;
- Introduce a practical congestion pricing trial on the motorway network – to manage demand and raise the big money needed to improve the network; and,
- Talk to business about variable working hours or Council considering free PT after 9.30 am.
There is no short cut to Auckland lifting its game. We will only prosper with a proper, modern transport system, and for this to happen government and council must be bold.
Like with the AA, many of these points are the same ones the business lobby have been making for perhaps a decade or more and despite claiming they’re proven, they’re anything but:
- As I pointed out last week, private sector finance or PPPs are not source of free money. The issue is also not the financing but having the money to service the debt. The council are already pretty much maxed out on their ability to finance more debt.
- Multi-storey park-and-rides sound great until you realise just how much they cost for the impact they have. For example the new carpark being built in Takapuna will cost $26 million for 420 carparks, or over $60,000 per space. If that were a P&R building, and even if you assumed all users were new to the system, it would only add approximately 200,000 trips annually to our public transport network, or an increase of 0.2% at a time when usage is growing by 8.9% annually. But research also shows that a large number of users of new P&R facilities are people who are already accessing stations by other methods, such as walking, cycling, feeder buses or ‘kiss & ride’. In short it would cost a lot, not do much and in some cases make things worse, such as generating localised congestion issues.
- Pricing the motorway network would probably be the fastest and cheapest way of introducing some form of pricing and is often suggested by the Chamber and other business/infrastructure groups. It is also often suggested as something that could be outsourced for businesses to clip the ticket on. It also risks shifting a lot of traffic to local roads that are used for PT and active modes. Like in response to the AA, we should be looking at road pricing but the discussion needs to include other factors. Another of those considerations is if it should be for revenue gathering or just network management with the former of those having big political implications.
- Why can’t businesses already decide to consider their hours. Surely they don’t need to be asked by council to do so and many companies already allow flexible working. Instead, how about they lobby the government to remove the FBT from PT tickets and encourage AT to create passes that could be sold to companies who could then give or sell it to their staff.
The tread on these road lobby reckons has long since worn away, perhaps it’s time these organisations replaced the tyres.