Yesterday the Ministry of Transport dumped a heap of documents from the light rail process between Waka Kotahi NZTA and NZ Infra, the joint venture between the NZ Superfund and Canadian counterparts CDPQ, that ended in June with no decision being made. In total 56 documents were released but sadly/predictably all of the juicy stuff we all want to see, such as what each of the parties actually proposed, has been redacted from them leaving the documents focused mainly on the process. As an aside, I’ve separately OIA’d both the NZTA and the NZ Superfund for their respective proposals but both refuse to release them.

Given the number of documents released I haven’t had a chance to go through them all but I have focused on what I think are likely the key ones and there is still some interesting things to see and I’ll try and highlight some of that here.

Requirements and outcomes

One of my ongoing frustrations with the entire light rail process has been the stupid levels of secrecy surrounding it. Clearly they were never going to be able to talk about the procurement itself but why they wouldn’t at least show what they’d asked each bidder to respond to seemed absurd (I OIA’d this last year and most of it redacted). The Response Requirements Document and Outcomes Framework are now largely public and it only reaffirms my view that there was no need to hide these.

There are four high-level outcomes the government sought and each area has a number of individual metrics. More details on all of these are in the document and the outcomes framework below is one of the things they had previously redacted.

Click to enlarge

However it turns out that how well each proposal meets the objectives above only accounts for 20% of the total evaluation. The other areas included are:

  • Commercial and Financial – 20%
    • Commercial Response
    • Financial Response
    • Partnership Response
  • Technical Solution – 25%
    • Technical Solution Response
    • Sustainability, Environment and Property Response
  • Service Delivery – 20%
    • Service Delivery Response
    • Lifecycle and Asset Management Response
    • Whole of Life Response
  • Iwi and Stakeholder Engagement 15%
    • Maori Engagement Response
    • Community & Stakeholder Response

Of note, the Ministry explicitly excluded evaluating the price.

Respondents’ Price Proposals will not be evaluated by the Ministry in arriving at the evaluated score described above. However, the expected cost of the Project under the Respondent’s proposed approach (together with its funding, financing and value capture responses which are evaluated) will be incorporated in the Ministry’s overall advice to Ministers on the affordability and value for money of the Project.

Excluding price from the initial assessment is not uncommon in the procurement of big projects where long term quality and the ability to deliver are critical. However, in a project like this where there are potentially quite different solutions it surely should have played some role before going to the ministers.

The document has much more details on each of the areas above, but a few things stood out.

One of the few areas where there is still redacted information is in the minimum requires for the route alignment and minimum service requirements. This is bizarre because, for example, Auckland Transport are required by legislation to provide similar information to this in their Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). Why should this be any different

We can however get an idea for some of what they’re thinking from this part below

Respondents are to provide a description of the governing principles and organisational structure that will be established to provide the services required to operate and maintain the Project for the period of operation. The response should include, but not be limited to:

  • Approach to appointing and managing Operations and Maintenance Subcontractors, including details of responsibilities being contracted out;
  • Key staff required including clear roles and responsibilities;
  • Capacity that can be delivered for the Project;
  • Service Pattern and operating hours;
  • Travel times for the following Key Journeys:
    • City Centre to Mount Roskill Town Centre, in each direction;
    • Mangere Town Centre to Auckland Airport, in each direction;
    • Mangere Town Centre to Onehunga Train Station, in each direction;
    • Onehunga Train Station to Mount Roskill Town Centre, in each direction;
    • City Centre to Auckland Airport, in each direction; and
    • City Centre to Mangere Town Centre, in each direction.
  • Reliability and approach to service recovery following perturbations;
  • Operational speeds along the corridor; and
  • Journey Time models showing speed and travel time over all routes in each direction.

The key locations shown are interesting because in a separate document they’ve been redacted.

There are also these requirements for how the route integrates with the rest of the network. While it’s won’t be the only reason, focusing on issues like on-street parking and traffic impacts would likely have helped to steer the designs towards light metro and therefore much higher costs.

Respondents must describe how the design delivers the integrated transport benefits required, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Demonstration of how the design deals with City Centre bus capacity constraints specifically along Symonds St and Wellesley St and circulation of buses within the city;
  • Demonstration of how the design responds to and integrates with the hierarchy of Public Transport modes, walking and cycling and impacts on private vehicle trips;
  • Demonstration of how the design integrates with the RTN and the rest of Auckland’s transport network through reducing bus movements in the light rail corridor;
  • Demonstration of how design integrates with the existing AT systems, including but not limited to linkage with the Auckland Transport Operations Centre and AT HOP ticketing;
  • Demonstration of how the design integrates and interfaces with road intersections and the surrounding road network, including impacts to general traffic due to light rail priority, based on the traffic forecast data provided;
  • Impact to on-street parking (particularly in town centres) and any additional provisions on the side streets;
  • Pick up and drop off; and
  • Limits in rights of way from adjacent properties
Requirements Document Feedback

In addition to the requirements themselves, there are some interesting insights into it from feedback the Ministry had to an earlier draft of it from other government departments as well as Auckland Council and Transport.

Auckland Council 

There are two things that stood out.

    1. We can get an idea of what is in the redacted Specific Technical Interfaces section above. The council suggested that Britomart, Karangahape and Mt Eden CRL stations be included. This suggests that one of them is how light rail interfaces with the Aotea Station. The MoT replied saying:
      The purpose of 28.10 (now 31.4) is to identify two specific locations where there are key stakeholder interfaces and potential constraints / conflicts (Auckland Airport and KiwiRail).
      Interchange requirements are included in relation to Karangahape Rd station.
    2. It was the council that pushed them to focus on on-street parking saying:
      the bullet point “impact on parking” should be “impact on on-street parking particularly in town centres”. In our view, the issue is about onstreet parking, not parking in general.
      This feels like a case of the council staff undermining the council’s strategies

Auckland Transport

AT provided a lot of feedback and one thing that stands out from the MoT’s reply is that they often appear to brush it off, almost as if as a result of a superiority complex. What is even more concerning about many of the responses is that the ministry seems more than happy to undermine AT and its strategies in order to do this deal. For example, they refused to rule out letting the winner set fares or dictate advertising which may contravene AT’s policies. In fact, while the route is required to be integrated with the rest of the network, MoT suggest AT may be excluded from having an involvment in it.

Treasury

Treasury clearly don’t like the process (and rightly so). In particular they wanted the delivery model separated from the physical design.

In comparison, we don’t see the specific physical design/construction as a purely unique characteristic between the two delivery models. Conceivably, either NZTA or NZInfra could deliver a number of different physical designs.

….

We see significant risks if we conflate the delivery models and the physical design in the way the draft RRD contemplates.

Cabinet Papers

There are a few draft and final cabinet papers that have been released but are all heavily redacted.

The first cabinet paper is from June last year setting up the process. There’s then a draft from March of the recommendation, which didn’t end up going to Cabinet due to COVID hitting followed by a second draft in June which has been updated with some COVID related commentary. Both the March and June drafts contain one important thing that isn’t redacted, that the Ministry recommended that NZ Infra win the process. However, all information relating to that why they came to that decision is hiding under black ink.

The drafts also suggest that a lot of other policy work and changes are needed to support the proposals, such as this.

Officials advise that changes are needed to enable large brownfield light rapid transit and urban development projects – regardless of which party is selected as the Preferred Delivery Partner. [redacted]. The policy work will be valuable for other major public transport and urban development projects in the future.

I wonder how much the recent National Policy Statement on Urban Development is part of this. In addition

his paper has legislative implications. We consider that changes to primary legislation would be required to facilitate CC2M and this may also require Project-specific enabling legislation. These decisions will need to be made by Cabinet in the future.

Regardless of the Preferred Delivery Partner, Cabinet also need to be fully prepared for the complex legislative and regulatory changes that may be required to facilitate the project.

I wonder if that is hinting at the government needing to bypass normal consenting processes?

Finally there’s the paper that did eventually go to Cabinet in June, by which time it was clear NZ First wouldn’t support it and so recommended terminating the process. It may be hiding in the redacted parts but one thing it doesn’t seem to include is the reasoning behind now pushing for a public sector delivery model.

Finally, as mentioned the June draft included some COVID related commentary. One part of this that stood out was this on long term demand.

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37 comments

  1. “In comparison, we don’t see the specific physical design/construction as a purely unique characteristic between the two delivery models. Conceivably, either NZTA or NZInfra could deliver a number of different physical designs.”

    Of all the stupid decisions in this process, this has been the stupidest one. I don’t think there is enough awareness about just how little sense it makes.

    It’d be like going to your bank to ask for a mortgage and they not only give you a mortgage but want to build the house for you too. Also the house they design for you is a whole lot larger and more expensive than you asked for but they tell you it’s ok, they extended the mortgage term to 50 years so your children can pay for it.

  2. It is time to shut the NZ Super Fund. They were established to make sure people like me could get National Superannuation. They were supposed to take money and invest it for growth and then pay it back to the Government when needed. Instead they now behave like a Trojan Horse for foreign entities and manage to screw up transportation planning for Auckland in the process.

      1. My working theory goes something like this.
        – NZSF are targeting something like a 7% annual return
        – Yields on traditional ‘safe’ investments, things like government bonds, were declining and retirement funds around the world were looking for where they could find a new source of easy long term money.
        – A few years ago, CDPQ did the deal in Montreal for the REM project in which they got guaranteed crazy 8-9% returns. Then they started bragging about it in investment circles.
        – NZSF saw that bragging and said “we want some of that” and got in touch with CDPQ and asked/invited them to help.
        – CDPQ have a reputation for playing politics on projects at a level we’re not used to here. So while the initial ‘four slides’ bid for the project was being assessed by the NZTA, CDPQ/NZSF were playing their political connections to talk up the wonders of their proposal, which the government fell for leading to this process.

      2. They were looking for some seriously good returns as is their mandate, and this proposal looked like it would deliver them. The only problem was that these returns were being fleeced from the same taxpayers that the fund is supposed to look after.

        1. And extra money was to go overseas too, as they weren’t going to fund 100% of it, so arguably still worse off for NZ as a whole.

      3. Superfund had been directed by the government to identify and consider opportunities to increase the allocation to New Zealand assets in the Fund.
        There is a limited supply of large assets in NZ that could be bought into to pay a suitable return, and also a limited supply of potential projects they might fund, like this LRT, or toll roads, power stations, irrigation schemes, etc.
        When Micheal Cullen set up the superfund it was seen as necessary for funding superannuation in a couple of decades time, when there would be too many old people and not enough taxpayers. There are a few ways retirement can be paid for but the sticking point is how to handle 50% of population that never earn very much and can’t save. The fund can’t simply be shut but I see no need to be paying Canadians.

      4. The whole point of the Super Fund was to make NZ more attractive to foreign capital. This is well known on the capital markets, and why they supported the Cullen Fund.

  3. They were looking for some seriously good returns as is their mandate, and this proposal looked like it would deliver them. The only problem was that these returns were being fleeced from the same taxpayers that the fund is supposed to look after.

  4. The Wellington bureaucracy needs to be removed from Auckland transport decision making as much as possible. Trying to undermine integrated ticketing is just so stupid and backward. It’s the same thinking that gave us the ongoing ticketing fiasco when HOP could have been implemented nationwide years ago. As was originally intended.

    1. And allow hop to be incrementally improved like was always planned. Now it seems like they halted improvements to hop in order to make a new ticketing system more attractive.

  5. We must learn to take a staged approach to projects like this one. Pretty sure that was what was mean’t to happen. I can remember shortly after the election Goff being all excited asking would the Queen Street section be ready in times for the Americas cup or was it for APEC. Something like that instead it all turned too custard. You can design the next section at the same time as building the previous one. Failed government really don’t know who to vote for might not bother. Certainly the lack of detail around this project doesn’t give you any clues as to how we should vote. Twyford the clown vote him out pity he will just come back on the list. He should not be reinstated as transport minister though.

    1. Agree, it’s what we do with pretty much everything else. The Southern Motorway and Waikato Expressway weren’t all built in one go, not sure why light rail has to be.

    2. For a brand new / different system, having an overarching strategy, and planning out the “whole” system to start with is sensible. Agree that they should have talked about stages too, but it seems they never got that way, fixated – as someone said above – by the super-sized fantasies being offered by our overseas “friends”.

    3. A staged construction for street running LRT would be:
      1) establish bus lanes in the busiest parts of the route, just some paint on the existing road
      2) as patronage increases extend bus lanes through busy intersections until most of the route is bus lanes
      3) convert route to centre running busway, with central bus stop platforms
      4) convert to LRT
      This spreads cost, change and perceived inconvenience (e.g. loss of parking, loss of lanes at intersections) over time.
      The project should have focused just on Dominion Rd (CBD-Mt Roskill) with extension to Onehunga flagged as future and no mention of the airport.

      1. Excellent, highly sensible reply.
        My only question therefore: why isn’t this happening? We’re having trouble even reaching a consistent step 1.

      2. I think this logic is more disruptive and difficult than you think. If you build up all the patronage on the busway and then have to shut the buses down to convert the busway to LRT – this could be 12-24 months (possibly longer with all the constraints on noise, vibration,working hours and impact to traffic in modern Resource Consents) – what do you with the patronage during that period? Is anyone aware of a city converting busways to LRT – I would be genuinely interested in the details of how they did it.

        I think a better approach is to just commit to an LRT network (where the studies show its better value than buses etc) and start building it section by section.

        1. The largest and most time consuming task is rerouting services. This can be done at night and/or off peak, and doesn’t have to close the road.
          The disruption is limited to short sections as they are dug up and track laid.
          The busway can continue to operate where tracks have been laid as they are flush with the surface.
          Even if progress averaged only 20m per night, 5km could be completed in a little over 8 months.

      3. I’d go straight from two to four in the context of Dominion Rd. If we’re going to centre running and all the work involved with that then we might has well put the tracks and overhead wires in as well.

        Incremental steps are great in the context of extensions. They can be quite disruptive in terms of upgrading existing routes.

        1. +1 Incremental improvements here would mean LRT from:
          Britomart to K Road;
          Britomart to Wynyard;
          K Road to Valley Road;
          Valley Road to Mt Albert Road;
          Mt Albert Road to Onehunga;
          Onehunga to the airport.

          That’s a staged programme that ould be delivered over 10 years if we wanted to. At every stage you get a more useful link than you had before.

        2. The depot is to be in Mt Roskill. The first stage needs to be depot adjacent. Also each must offer a viable service. Therefore staging should be:
          Queen St to Mt Roskill.
          Then any of:
          Mt R to Onehunga, or Mangere
          Wynyard to Queen St
          NW to join stage one, first to Pt Chev (buses continue on Gt Nth Rd)
          NW Pt Chev to Westfield
          NW Westfield to Kumeu etc.
          Wynyard to North Shore via new crossing.

        3. Light rail vehicles can be easily rolled onto a purpose built trailer and transported away for maintenance. All that is required is secure overnight parking for the initial operating section.

        4. See this is why we need to know the proposed route. I’m for Light Rail that runs in the existing motorway corridor to the North West, but massively against North Western Light Rail that has to meander through the inner-Western suburbs that already have massively superior access to buses and other transport options like Pt Chev. It could make the service so slow that those riding from the North West might as well drive. Which is why stuff like ‘where this should actually go’ is part of a conversation that should have been had in the open before someone committed us to a hugely expensive version of it (rip shit or bust) without us knowing if it’s actually going to do the thing we need it to do.

      4. For some time now I’ve wondered why we don’t do it like this.
        If we could agree on a sensible series of development stages, like what Anthony suggests, and the triggers for moving from one to the other, it might help de-politicise the process.
        It would certainly make it easier to justify future developments if AT could say “this is as laid out in the agreed plan” and “it has already been done in X & Y, so it is fair to do the same in Z”.

  6. “Auckland Transport advises that pre-COVID19 bus capacity on parts of the proposed route was already reaching its limits.”

    And Wellington is dawdling.

    1. You’re blaming “Wellington” for a completely Auckland-owned, Auckland-run organisation, based in Auckland and funded by Auckland? I think your problem lies further north than Wellington.

      1. How much more badly do government agencies have to drop the ball on something like this before you’d accept they might be at fault?

      2. The only thing AT have failed on with LR is getting funding for it, which is quite reasonable for a CCO entirely reliant on rates.

        The government picked it up with a promise of funding and turned it into a complete shambles.

      1. Angry zen Man. Not good.
        Zen man has had several OIA responees redacted to levels of meaninglessness.
        This govt doesn’t walk it’s talk at all. Phonies.

  7. It’s pretty clear reasonable arguments won’t be taken into account by this government. I suspect someone (maybe Phil?) is getting paid a decent sum to make NZ Infra happy. Why else they would be so blind to everything all the experts say on the matter and try to choose worse option for everybody no matter the cost? It’s big $ that’s involved. Decisions have been made long ago it seems.

    1. More likely that “commitments” have been made long ago as in a “commitment to decide in NZSF’s favour” whatever the decision hangs on.

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