Probably the most influential transport ‘project’ in Auckland over the last decade, maybe more hasn’t put a single shovel in the ground, and never will. That project is the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).
ATAP has essentially become the agreement between the government and Auckland Council as to how the transport system will be developed and funded over a 30-year period, but with a focus primarily on the coming decade. It initially came about after the previous government finally recognised couldn’t keep publicly fighting the city and disagreeing on everything. That fighting was epitomised by the initial opposition to the City Rail Link but spread much further than that, for example they didn’t even agree on how fast or where the city would grow, an important input into deciding what transport projects need to be built. Some of this opposition also appeared to stem from some government ministers having a personal/political aversion to then Mayor Len Brown.
In a bid to address that, in 2015 it was announced the council and government would work together on what became ATAP. The first version was first published in 2016 and despite asking some of the wrong questions, ended up with largely the right answers. For example, for the first time the government admitted we couldn’t build our way out of congestion with more roads as well as agreeing that Auckland needed a Rapid Transit network.
But there were some holes in it, particularly around how much of a funding gap there was, and even at the time the first report was released it was clear the growth assumptions used were too low. As such, ATAP was revised and a 1.1 version was released less than a year later to address this and to reflect the priorities of new mayor Phil Goff. This brought forward projects such as Penlink, Mill Rd and the Puhinui interchange and associated busway. It also agreed we needed ‘mass transit’ on Dominion Rd within the decade.
After Labour came to power at the end of 2017, they wanted a new version to take into account their priorities as a government and ATAP 2.0 was released in April 2018. As well as putting greater focus on public transport, safety as well as walking and cycling – the latter of which was something completely missing from the first two versions, the critical thing ATAP 2.0 did was to see the government agree to fund the now $28 billion programme.
While the previous versions showed the high-level RTN, ATAP 2.0 took the RTN a step further by confirming modes and bringing forward implementation.
Now, the council and government are looking to revise ATAP once again and a few weeks ago the council endorsed a new Terms of Reference for it. The paper to the council lists the key reasons for this refresh:
- changes to the funding baseline due to the impacts of COVID-19 on existing revenue streams; any resulting economic stimulus packages introduced by central government; and the implications of the pre-COVID-19 New Zealand Upgrade Programme
- climate change and mode shift as increasingly important priorities for Auckland Council and central government that need to be better reflected in the transport package
- the need to provide strategic direction for upcoming statutory planning processes, such as the Long-term Plan (LTP) and Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), particularly for the last three years of the first decade (2028-31) which were not part of ATAP 2018
- the need to consider the transport investment needs of emerging brownfield and greenfield spatial priorities.
On the NZ Upgrade Programme, the paper notes there is now uncertainty on its impacts. In particular, both Penlink and Mill Rd were in the 2018 ATAP as being council/AT projects and that they would be part funded by the Regional Fuel Tax. The NZUP has seen them become fully government funded and delivered projects and that has freed up $1.6 billion within the decade and so it’s not clear if Auckland can then use that money to bring forward other projects not in the 10-year list.
The council agreed to endorse the draft Terms of Reference with one change – emphasis is mine
endorse the draft Terms of Reference for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) 2020 update, subject to the fourth bullet point of 4.1 being amended to the following “Improving the resilience and sustainability of the transport system, and significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions it generates”
For reference, here were all the priorities before the change above.
The paper notes:
Phase 1 of the update will focus in detail on the current first decade (2021-31) and is expected to be completed by August 2020. Phase 2 will focus on decades two and three (2031-51) at a more indicative level and will be completed at a later date.
That timing for the first stage is in part related to the election.
While some of it is kind of mentioned above, here are some of the things we think the next ATAP should focus on and address.
- The council beefing up the ToR about emissions is a good step but probably needs to go a little further and ensure every single project is viewed through a climate emergency lens. If a project doesn’t actively contribute to that priority, it shouldn’t be included.
- We need to achieve significant mode shift in Auckland with more people walking, cycling and using public transport. Last year our transport agencies combined to create a mode shift plan for Auckland. ATAP needs to not just consider that but embed it in ATAP. Like with emissions, if a project doesn’t actively contribute to mode shift, it should not be considered.
- Related to the points above, I would like to see ATAP take a reverse approach to planning, even if just as a comparison. The current BAU approach is to come up with a range of different packages and evaluate the impacts they have and then from that piece together the bits that perform the best. But the ‘best’ may still fall short of achieving what we need it to. So by a reverse approach I mean, they should set an emissions, mode share, safety goal etc and then work back from there. It would be interesting to see how different the projects on the list are.
- With ATAP being updated to reflect a post-Covid world financially, it should also include how we can capture some of the benefits experienced through this time, in particular the significant health benefits of more people using active modes which was also made possible by significantly reduced levels of traffic. Not to mention the alternative uses for our streets that became possible. Of note, during his press conference yesterday, Dr Ashley Bloomfield said we need more of this.
"Build some physical activity into your days, perhaps for local trips – school, work, to the shops – and that'll help you stay well over winter," says NZ's Director-General of Health. He also commends councils making space for the public health benefits of walking and cycling.💕 pic.twitter.com/jysYsVqzyB
— Bike Auckland (@BikeAKL) May 27, 2020
- ATAP needs a proper and robust set of measures and targets. These targets should include emissions and mode shift as mentioned above.
- Finally given ATAP seems to be taking on an increasingly important role in Auckland’s planning, it would be good if ATAP, or a simplified version of it, could be made to be more digestible by the public. For example this is from Vancouver on their 10 year vision and is clear on what’s planned and where they’re at with it. While this may not be exactly the same as what ATAP is, it’s close.