We’re now fully into election season and politicians are keen for attention an we’ve already seen National start to roll out a hugely expensive and likely unachievable transport policy.
We’ve been thinking about some of the things we’d like to see in a transport policy so here goes:
Plan and start the rest of the Rapid Transit Network/s
Auckland’s fledgling Rapid Transit network has been a standout public transport success story, accounting for nearly half of all the growth in the use of PT over the last decade. Further improvements and some extensions to the network already underway but if we’re going to meet our goals, such as those agreed in the Auckland Climate Plan, we’re going to need a lot more of the RTN network in place.
Thankfully, through ATAP, Auckland has an agreed rapid transit plan, the basic structure of which has been largely unchanged through successive governments and revisions. The arguments have instead focused on the exact mode and timing but even the current plans have some elements of it more than a decade away before even being considered.
We believe the aim should be to have, in some form, the rest of the network in place by the time the City Rail Link is completed int 2024. By this, we mean that via a series of short term projects we’d put enough infrastructure in place to enable some form of RTN service to start operating on all currently planned routes.
This would be something similar to what was announced last month for the Northwest RTN where as part of the government’s ‘Shovel Ready’ projects, up to $100 million was put towards starting the route. The improvements there will likely be in the form of some stations and extended bus shoulder lanes on the motorway. These changes will enable Auckland Transport to reorganise bus network to make it more legible and frequent. This is a similar approach that was taken to start the Northern Busway where the Albany and Constellation stations were built first and services started in advance of the busway itself being built.
Based on the ATAP map, we’d expect this kind of process to apply to:
- The Upper Harbour route
- New Lynn to Onehunga
- The rest of the Airport to Botany (Airport to Manukau is currently underway)
- Parts of the Dominion Rd/ City Centre to Mangere route.
As well as putting some early infrastructure in place and starting services, we believe detailed planning should start on what the long-term designs for these corridors are. Put another way, we should be getting them ‘shovel ready’.
This would could then be combined with the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development to upzone surrounding areas further adding to demand for these corridors.
I am aware that some of this work is also happening outside of Auckland but this same approach needs to be taken in other cities in NZ, particularly those that have high growth and or are larger such as Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.
Fix the funding for Rapid Transit
The Rapid Transit is for PT what state highways are for the road network and funding should reflect that. Yet our current system is a confusing mess.
On some projects, such as the Northern Busway extension, the route gets fully funded by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport agency out of the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) – other than the stations which they half fund. But on other projects, such as the Eastern Busway the route is only half funded. This puts increased pressure on local authorities who may struggle to fund their share of these nationally significant projects, especially now with things like the Council’s Emergency Budget.
We believe government should fully fund all rapid transit projects in the same way they do with State Highways.
An alternative to this might be that we stop fully funding state highway projects out of the NLTF so that locals have some ‘skin in the game’, thereby helping to prevent them from demanding big flashy highway projects that are not needed because they’re “free”. Doing this would potentially allow overall funding assistance rates for councils/AT to increase above the about 50% they are now.
Turning up the PT Network
While the Rapid Transit network has been, and will continue to grow in importance, our bus networks are also important and could do with more love.
As part of the wider response to providing better transport options, addressing climate change and improving safety, not to mention the response to COVID-19, by employing people who can’t/don’t want to be holding a shovel, we believe the government should provide funding to significantly up the quality of non-RTN services.
In Auckland this would mean something such as:
- upping the headway all frequent routes from a minimum of every 15 minutes to every 10 minutes
- extending the hours of frequent service to earlier in the morning and later at night
- increasing the number of frequent routes
- the conversion to electric buses
- improvements to the quality of bus stops and bus lanes
Effectively looking to implement AT’s aspirational network for 2028 within the next year or two.
The exact standards may vary but we’d expect something similar in those other cities too.
Commit to Road Pricing
With public transport vastly improved within the next few years it would become a realistic alternative to driving for many people. This would be the ideal time to introduce some form of road pricing to:
- lower demand for driving at peak times (reduced congestion)
- reduce the number of overall vehicle trips (reduced vehicle km’s travelled and frees up more space on roads for alternative modes)
- further encourage uptake of the improved PT as well as walking and cycling options
- provide a more reliable source of income to the NLTF as improved fuel efficiency and conversion to electric vehicles becomes more prevalent
The projects set up to look at this have been spinning their wheels as politicians have shied away from making a commitment. The exact way this would be implemented needs to be decided but having a commitment that it will happen by a set time period in place will enable that work to progress.
Better workplace transport options
There are two small workplace related policies we think the next government should implement.
- Remove FBT from PT – currently in most situations vehicles and carparks provided by employers are exempt from Fringe Benefit Tax but FBT would apply if an employer instead wanted to provide a public transport pass. Applying FBT to carparks is politically difficult but an easy way to level the playing field would be to remove FBT from employer provided PT passes. This was suggested by the government’s Tax Working Group but the work appears to have stalled. This should be a quick win to change
- Require cash-out policies for parking – essentially this would require employers who provide staff with free or subsidised parking to offer staff the value of that parking as a cash equivalent. You can read more about this idea here.
The great electrification programme
We clearly need to rapidly decarbonise our transport system. Here are a few of the changes we would like to see in this space:
- Rail Network Electrification – rail electrification has been a piecemeal process with individual projects set up and then there can be substantial gaps between them. This results in projects costing more as we’re not able to the efficiencies from a constant pipeline of work. We would like to see a guaranteed, long-term appropriation for electrifying the network. This would enable Kiwirail to build that pipeline and deliver a set amount of km’s of wires each and every year.
- Encourage E-Bikes – both the current and former governments have had policies aimed at encouraging the uptake of electric cars. But even if subsidised these will continue to be very expensive and out of the financial reach of most consumers. We believe the efforts to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles should shift to providing e-bikes. This is especially the case as drivers switching to e-bikes both reduce congestion and overall have better health outcomes.
- Electrify the buses and ferries – As mentioned earlier, the government should look to providing funding to rapidly replace at least public transport services with electric vehicles.
Build the bike networks
This should perhaps go without saying but if we want more people out and about on bikes, we need to build safe bike networks. Funding should be considerably increased towards implementing these – for example let’s take a leaf out of Ireland’s book where they’re going to spend 20% of their transport budget on cycling and walking.
But even good intentions and funding isn’t enough to ensure these get built, as we’ve seen in Auckland. We’d like to see something similar to the new cycling policy in the UK introduced in NZ. As well as higher standards, this could introduce independent review of projects and even delaying/cancelling funding of other projects if local authorities don’t deliver on cycling.
On a related note, we’d also like to see a nationwide Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme rolled out to make it easier to walk and cycle in local areas and cut out rat-runners from what should be quiet streets. This could/should start focused around schools.
Fix the consultation and business case processes
Many good projects have washed up on the rocks of consultations or suffered agonising delays after being put through business case hell.
We need to fix our consultation processes so that timid politicians and/or staff don’t delay or stop projects just because a few noisy people complain about things such as on-street carparking.
Likewise with business cases we need process that enables faster and more transparent decision making instead of the current situation that only seems to benefit consultants who get paid big money to endlessly rewrite reports.
I don’t know the exact answer to these but we would like to see parties commit to overhauling these processes.
Combined these policies would help towards transforming out New Zealanders get around and in doing so have significant benefits across multiple policy areas, for example: It would benefit our economy, not least of which by getting cars out of the way of trucks. It would improve our overall health, reducing strain on the health system. Happier and healthier kids learn better, improving education outcomes. Better transport choices will help those on lower incomes. And of course it will help meet our commitments towards climate change.