Yesterday I summarised “Keeping Cities Moving“, NZTA’s plan to support mode shift to public transport, walking and cycling. That document provides the high-level argument for mode shift, as well as what NZTA needs to do at a national level to help make change. One of the actions at the back of Keeping Cities Moving is that NZTA will partner with local councils in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga and Queenstown to develop mode shift plans in these areas. These particular cities have been chosen because they are the largest and/or fastest growing areas in New Zealand – and are therefore the places where mode shift is most urgently needed.
Auckland’s mode shift plan – known as “Better Travel Choices” – is the first of these to be developed, and was published on the Ministry of Transport’s ATAP page last week. The first thing that struck me just from looking at the cover is that the image of the busway is one I’ve taken.
The document looks like it forms part of the wider group of ATAP plans that has been developed over recent years, which is useful as all the transport agencies working in Auckland need to have bought into what the plan says. It’s also clear from the document itself that we are now seeing the ATAP work dive into a bit more detail. A section early in the document usefully explains the role of this plan:
…implementation of the ATAP programme will achieve mode shift for Auckland over the next decade. This mode shift plays an important role in limiting traffic growth (especially at peak times), meaning that population growth of 300,000 people over the next decade is not expected to lead to increased congestion levels.
Many of ATAP’s most transformational projects (e.g. City Rail Link and light-rail) are at least five years away from completion. In the meantime it is important to actively encourage Aucklanders to travel more by public transport,
walking and cycling to ensure that population growth does not accelerate growth in private vehicle use. Similarly, the ongoing disruption caused by the construction of these large projects has the potential to further exacerbate congestion in key locations across Auckland – making it important for reliable, efficient and attractive travel options to be in place…
…The need for more rapid progress, especially over the next five years, is underlined by recent decisions, especially in relation to reducing transport emissions:
- Auckland Council has declared a ‘climate emergency’ and is developing the Auckland Climate Action Framework and corresponding actions to help achieve a regional target of net zero emissions.
- The Government introduced the ‘Zero Carbon Bill’ to map out the pathway to net zero emissions by 2050, including the establishment of a Climate Change Commission.
Transport is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Auckland and mode shift has an important, and urgent, role to play in helping give effect to these decisions.
In summary, current plans will achieve mode shift over time, continuing strong recent growth in public transport and cycling levels. However, the most significant change is likely in the second half of the next decade. A comprehensive mode shift plan, building on the ATAP programme, is therefore necessary to support mode shift over the next five years.
Better Travel Choices explains how that will be done.
The plan proposes targeting particular areas and trips in its efforts to achieve mode shift, which I think is useful as a real focus of effort is required to achieve substantial change:
The locations themselves seem to make sense. It’s especially good to see a focus on short-trips to schools, where active modes have enormous potential in helping achieve mode shift.
The plan itself is made up a lot of existing initiatives that have been drawn from ATAP, the Regional Public Transport Plan, the Unitary Plan and other documents – but it’s actually really helpful to see them all in the one place and to see how so many of the different plans and strategies in Auckland that have generally been developed in isolation from each other can be weaved together to create a coherent approach to improving transport in Auckland.
Buried in some of the plan’s details are some interesting statistics and information. For example, it is fascinating to see how the share of travel by different modes varies so considerably across different tertiary institutes – even between ones that are located reasonably near each other, like the Manukau Institute of Technology (on top of Manukau train station) and AUT South(just over a kilometre away). Putting major new facilities as close to rapid transit stations as possible is a pretty obvious way of supporting mode shift.
There’s also a nicely nuanced discussion about the role of public transport fares. This discussion highlights that while the cost of public transport is an issue for some people, making the quality of service better is actually likely to be more important in encouraging more people to consider changing the way they travel. It would be interesting to see what other research was done as part of preparing this plan – maybe that could be published too?
There’s also a good discussion about the importance of building community support – with the Plan highlighting how most people do support Auckland becoming a more multi-modal city at a high level, but that this support sometimes falls away when it comes to implementing the very initiatives that will help make this happen. There’s a really strong message that consultation and engagement practices need to change, along with some suggestions around how things should be done differently. I hope Auckland Transport take note!
- Greater use of scientific polling and surveys to ensure the opinions of the whole community are captured.
- Early, genuine and robust engagement processes with the public, key stakeholders and elected members that focus on identifying the outcomes communities seek to achieve and what people value in a local area, rather than the technical details of design.
- Strong analysis that clearly identifies the benefits of the proposals (quantified as much as possible) and why streetspace reallocation is needed (compared to options that could avoid reallocation such as corridor widening).
- Greater use of ‘fail-fast’ trials where new ideas can be tested in a low-cost way and adapted, developed or removed depending on their impact.
- Stronger collaboration across all ATAP Agencies to present a ‘united front’ in support of important initiatives, including joint branding and/or greater use of the ATAP brand.
- More clarity about decision-making processes in response to public consultation, especially to ensure consistent and transparent information about why changes have or have not been made as a result of public and stakeholder feedback.
The one depressing part of the plan is around funding, where it seems like current budgets make it difficult for all these great ideas to happen particularly quickly.
As funding plans for 2018-21 have already been finalised and are constrained, it will be difficult to accelerate any new investments over the next two years that are not already budgeted for. Furthermore, legislative requirements constrain how Regional Fuel Tax revenue can be used, limiting the ability to change existing budgets. Major changes to transport capital programmes can also make delivery especially challenging, as substantial time and momentum needs to be built up to plan, design and then deliver major initiatives.
Funding challenges are particularly severe for public transport services, where boardings are growing faster than expected – creating capacity constraints and overcrowding. While ongoing optimisation work will continue to ensure services are being focused in the right places, additional operational funding for public transport service improvements will be required over and above what was allocated in ATAP and the RLTP if mode shift is to be achieved.
Funding flexibility is likely to be greater post June 2021 as a new Government Policy Statement, National Land Transport Programme and Auckland Council 10-year budget are developed, and as some committed projects are completed. However, multi-year commitments to the delivery of several large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the City Rail Link, will continue to place post 2021 transport budgets under strain.
Timing and sequencing of the ATAP 10-year programme will be updated as part of normal transport planning and budgeting processes. Placing a strong ‘mode shift lens’ on this work is an important part of ensuring phasing and spend on transport in Auckland supports ongoing mode shift to public transport, walking and cycling. Accelerating mode shift initiatives in future transport funding plans will require additional funding or placing greater priority on accelerating mode shift within existing funding levels, meaning other priorities are progressed more slowly.
Thankfully though, it seems like a lot of extra transport funding is going to become available as the Government ramps up its investment into infrastructure. With mode shift such a high priority for the Government, this plan provides a great platform for where this investment should be targeted in Auckland. A much larger and more quickly delivered programme of bus and cycle lanes – alongside earlier delivery of some major rapid transit corridors – are noted as the highest priority areas for further investment in the Plan. It will be great to see these initiatives roll out more quickly.
Like I said yesterday with the NZTA Mode Shift Plan, this plan for Auckland gives me hope that the transport agencies are getting their act together. With significant extra transport funding now available and a comprehensive plan to guide where it should be focused, the huge opportunity to accelerate mode shift and support Auckland’s transformation to a world-class city is one step closer to being a reality.