On Friday Mayor Phil Goff released his proposed budget for the 2022/23 financial year and the headline feature of it is a $1 billion climate action package.
An ambitious $1 billion climate action package to reduce carbon emissions and deliver more buses, ferries, cycling and walking and urban tree canopy is the signature policy in Mayor Phil Goff’s proposal for Auckland Council’s Annual Budget 2022/23, released today, 1 December 2021.
It is proposed to be funded by a Climate Action Targeted Rate (CATR) that will raise around $574 million over 10 years, ringfenced for direct climate action in Tāmaki Makaurau. Funds raised through the CATR will be leveraged to seek to unlock a further $471 million through central government co-funding and other sources.
“Long after COVID-19 ceases to be a major threat to us, there will be the ongoing crisis caused by climate change. We can’t afford to put off any longer the action needed to avoid a climate disaster,” Mayor Goff says.
“Auckland Council voted unanimously to declare a Climate Emergency in 2019, and we have already committed an extra $15 million a year to climate action through our Recovery Budget. We’re not starting from scratch, but we also know that we are not doing enough. A recent progress report on our Climate Action Plan states that Auckland’s emissions are not remotely tracking in line with our target to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.
“The Climate Action Targeted Rate adds weight, meaning and mana to our Climate Emergency declaration and will guarantee direct and ringfenced funding to cut our emissions up until 2032, including a more than half-billion-dollar boost to deliver new and frequent bus services across the region.
“This would mean 170,000 more Aucklanders – 10 per cent of the population – not previously well served by public transport would live within 500 metres of a frequent bus route.
“Encouraging a shift to public transport is the most effective way of reducing transport emissions, which make up more than 40 per cent of our city’s emissions profile,” says Mayor Goff.
The new funding would also provide:
- $122 million to progress decarbonisation of the ferry fleet, which accounts for 21 per cent of Auckland’s emissions from public transport
- $228 million for walking and cycling
- $13.3 million for urban ngahere, māra kai (food gardens) and tiny forests.
When I first saw the announcement, I was a little sceptical for a couple of reasons.
At this point in time every council investment should be climate focused and so setting this up as a targeted rate gives the impression that normal rates can be used for projects that will contribute to making climate change worse. Goff and the council claim the targeted rate is more transparent and means the funding can’t be used for anything else which I suspect they see as being easier to over the line with Aucklanders – surveys show most people support more being done to address climate change – but I also worry it may make it easier for a future mayor and council to remove and given what this rate is funding, that could have significant consequences.
The proposal relies on the assumption of a significant amount of funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF). Given the existing pressures on the NLTF this seems somewhat optimistic.
I was also concerned that this was a case of introducing a new targeted rate and shifting existing funding programmes into it rather than actually being new funding. Thankfully, after seeing the details it appears this is not the case and what this fund will be used for is in addition to what is in existing budgets.
Below is some of what this funding covers but there is more detail here.
The new bus network that was delivered mainly between 2016 and 2018 was one of the biggest improvements to buses we’ve seen. And it worked too with bus usage rising about 25% from about 60 million annual trips at the end of 2016, having been at that level for about 18 months, to 75 million trips just over three years later when COVID hit.
But the changes were always only meant to be the first step in the evolution of the bus network with further improvements coming as funding allowed and to tie into major infrastructure such as the City Rail Link. Making public transport more useful is also going to be a key pre-requisite of road pricing.
Auckland Transport surveys say that frequency and coverage are the two biggest barriers for Aucklanders to use public transport and this funding will definitely help in addressing those issues.
The plan will see $627 million for Auckland Transport to deliver service improvements to over 50 routes with at least 10 routes or parts of routes being upgraded to frequent status. This is on top of significant service improvements that is already funded in the Regional Land Transport Programme. They say this will add about 170,000 people and 140,000 jobs to being within 500m of the Rapid and Frequent network.
I really like that they’re rolling this out as a package of improvements rather than fighting for funding for each and every route separately. It feels very similar by what was proposed by Nick back in September.
I won’t list them all but the new frequent routes are listed below. Also, just as a confirmation, AT class a frequent service as being at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm, 7 days a week.
- NX1 north of Albany
- 15 along West Coast Rd and Henderson Valley Rd
- 17 along Titirangi Rd and Atkinson Rd
- 37 Highbrook, Ōtara (Preston Rd), Puhinui Interchange (connects with trains and Airport Link), Roscommon Rd, Clendon, Manurewa
- 39 (currently 361)
- 40 Drury West- to complement new train station
- 41 Drury South – to complement new train station
- 67 (currently 670)
- 74 (currently 743)
- 76 (currently 762)
This map shows all the changes
My main concern with all this is that more isn’t being done to deliver bus priority on most of these routes so these services can run efficiently and reliably.
Ferries currently account for a disproportionate amount of public transport emissions (21% of the emissions for 6% of the passengers). Furthermore, a third of the existing fleet needs replacing in the next 3-5 years.
The proposal is for $122 million to fund 6-7 low emissions ferries along with charging infrastructure and upgrades to wharves.
I wonder if this suggests AT are moving ferries to a similar model to trains with them owning the vehicles and then contracting out the operations.
Walking and Cycling
On top of the existing cycling programme, which includes making around 60km of existing cycleways safer as well as many other projects, around $144 million is to deliver at least 18km of cycle infrastructure.
My two concerns here are.
- At an average of $8m per km, we need AT to find ways of delivering this stuff cheaper. They manged to deliver Project Wave for the equivalent of about $500k per km so we know they can do it. I worry the $8m figure is to pay to move kerbs and services so as to not touching on-street carparking.
- What is being done to ensure these projects actually get delivered. AT has a poor record of delivery in this space and the council need to be putting more pressure on for delivery.
In addition to the cycleways, around $84 million is to fund improvements to about 35km of footpaths and other improvements for one of their priority areas.
The plan is invest $13.3 million over 10 years on planting nearly 15,000 trees in the urban area with the focus being on the local board areas with the lowest tree canopy cover. There are a few other tree planting proposals.
The local boards with the lowest canopy cover that are part of the Urban Ngahere proposal are:
- Mangere – Otahuhu (8%)
- Otara-Papatoetoe (10%)
- Maungakiekie – Tamaki (12%)
- Manurewa (13%)
- Papakura (14%)
- Henderson – Massey (15%)
They say these new trees will be within parks, playgrounds and road reserves and I do hope the latter makes up a significant proportion of that total.
Overall there looks to be some really good things in this package but the question I keep coming back to is, “will Auckland Transport be able to deliver it?”