It is significant. It is a significant day for our city. It’s a significant decision. It gives us the strategy and policy and direction that we’ve been asking for. – Richard Hills, Chair of the Auckland Council Environment and Climate Change Committee
On Thursday last week, Auckland Council adopted the Transport Emissions Reductions Pathway (TERP). We explained last week why we think it is an excellent piece of work.
The TERP means that significant progress on transport transformation could be obvious within just a couple of years. In turn, this could spur action in hundreds of cities still struggling with the politics of change, and suffering from the same kinds of car dependent transport planning problems that we have. What a powerful and uplifting tonic in the midst of a crisis!
This post lays out why we are optimistic it will be implemented.
We understand the scepticism
Some of our readers are questioning our optimism, and we’re not surprised. I’ve collated some of the many False Starts, here.
Any one of these moments could and should have marked a turning point for Auckland’s transport system. We know that the same conservative approach that prevented these opportunities from being harnessed remains a barrier to progress.
The dinosaurs in the organisations are now practised in dodging the transformative direction given, but those trying to steer us to a healthier system are also more savvy. All the false starts have contributed richly to the evidence base about what needs to change and whose thinking is out of date.
We are under no illusions; this will require a strength in leadership and governance we’ve not yet seen. But here’s why we think the landscape has changed.
Of course the TERP is necessary climate action. Of course it will make our city an excellent place to live. Of course it will save lives.
Unfortunately, money still holds power.
So it’s lucky, then, that the TERP makes excellent economic and business sense. Creating a safe and sustainable system has always been wise from an investment point of view, but those wanting to exploit people and environment for short-term gains have worked hard to deny this. Now, we are finally getting official estimates of the benefits of change for Auckland and NZ. The Council is still crunching the final numbers, but the Chief Economist listed some
material and significant co-benefits:
- Health gains from improved air quality and greater uptake of active modes
- Environmental – improvements to air quality, water quality and biodiversity
- Economic, in terms of a more compact city through land use change, and more transit oriented development. You would hope for a more productive urban environment as a result of that…
He spoke of the scale of the benefits of the reduction in transport emissions and that:
alongside there are a couple of very large categories of co-benefits. The evidence is pointing to them together being as substantial as the transport emission reductions benefits
Advocate Tim Adriaansen has calculated just some of the wider economic benefits to Aucklanders of the TERP, using the following orthodox sources:
- Ministry of Transport Domestic Transport Costs and Charges
- Ministry for the Environment HAPINZ 3.0 report
- The AA’s figures on the cost of car ownership
Tim’s partial analysis indicates the economic benefits are $11 billion per annum, so it’s going to be interesting to see what the official figure will be.
Officers also referenced the Climate Change Commission’s work:
The cost of inaction were around 2 to 3% of GDP and the costs of action are 1%. Of course, that’s nationwide; it might look a bit different for Auckland. But that gives an idea of the relative benefits vs costs.
Many leaders in the business community understand this.
Sir Stephen Tindall wrote in the NZ Herald on Thursday (sorry about the paywall)
Much of the scoping for emissions solutions for the business sector has already been progressed – for example, in 2020 the Sustainable Business Council prepared a paper on how to achieve a low-carbon freight pathway…
We now have the TERP which provides a detailed and cohesive set of practical steps and gives Aucklanders many more choices to reduce emissions and improve our quality of life. The TERP is supported by substantive data and rapidly evolving technological solutions for business to play its part in reducing transport emissions from the movement of freight.
Importantly, decarbonising Auckland’s Road freight emissions by 45 per cent will see an increase in economic activity and improve all outcomes at once: health, accessibility, environment and safety, as well as making the system more efficient so businesses can thrive now and in the future.
That makes perfect business sense, right?
The ugliest excuse against keeping our children safe from harm is that “tradeoffs” are needed to be “good for business”. Yet this excuse for continuing to take human sacrifices was never even true.
The AT Board is serious
Auckland Transport sent a large contingent to the meeting on Thursday:
- The Board Chair, Deputy Chair (online) and the most climate-savvy Board Member
- The acting CEO, Executive GM Planning and Investment, and at least two members of the AT Sustainability team.
This was a practical way to support the TERP, as some of these people spoke and answered questions. But it was also symbolic; the unaccustomed size (and power) of the contingent was a deliberate indication to the Councillors that the AT Board understood the scale of the work the organisation had ahead, plus an acknowledgement of the increased importance of the AT Sustainability Team.
Council is serious
Councillor Darby, who chaired the Planning Committee when it endorsed the high-emissions Regional Land Transport Plan, was clearly relieved and motivated. He asked the officers about:
the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which has in some ways usurped the RLTP, and we need to address that. That’s a non-statutory, high-level agreement, with our government partner, and their agencies, being KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi, Treasury and so on. At that level, where the partner is not acting consistently with our transport emissions reductions pathway, how is that going to be treated? Do we send up a red flag, a showstopper, at that point? I’m just trying to get a sense of the future, here. Do we do that, and say, we cannot progress this agreement because we’ve got a red flag, because you are calling us to act contrary to the transport emissions reductions pathway? I just want to get a sense of how that’s going to work.
The Council officers replied:
The signals from Government at this stage are really good, because Government has its own emissions reductions plan, it’s got targets for the country… But yes, if it turns out in these processes that we are maybe not on exactly the same path, I think that is a red flag, probably. And that is probably a process that is a political process, and that the new council will take on.
note that the last ATAP didn’t have the benefit of either the TERP, or the government’s own Emissions Reductions Plan, so there was no explicit direction, nor explicit prioritisation around emissions reduction or around VKT reduction and indeed around equity, like there is now or hopefully will be, after this meeting today.
Essentially, setting good strategy enables good decision-making. Later, Darby said:
I would suggest at the end of today, Chief of Strategy, we need to send a message to every corner of this Council that this pathway is now in place, and then for the very first Council meeting that convenes maybe late this year or early next year, there needs to be a report signalling that the Regional Land Transport Plan shall be immediately refreshed, and that process be put underway.
Those Councillors who were online for the meeting included all four who voted against adopting the TERP: Newman, Walker, Stewart and Sayers. Perhaps they would have tempered their speeches if they’d been present to feel the positivity in the room. Opposing a plan that would deliver for the people of Auckland (in safety, health, equity, affordability and a stable climate) came across very badly; their particular words made it much worse.
The Council subject experts were able to answer difficult and detailed questions, but what was noticeable was that this extended to the General Manager, Auckland Plan Strategy and Research. Normally someone at that level would give introductory speeches and then pass over to the people who’d done the work. It was indicative of the priority Council gave to this work that this manager was clearly fully up to speed.
This incredible effort was a far better use of resources than all the money burnt up doing business cases. It was very promising that the team showed equal measures of ambition, administrative pragmatism and political understanding.
Auckland Council and the AT Board’s commitment needs to be matched with immediate and visible action of actions the public are calling for – like getting vehicles off the footpath. This would restore trust and build public enthusiasm.
I linked to a page of “False Starts” earlier. These democratically established plans and strategies already exist; we just need to stop ignoring them. The 2015 Parking Strategy is an obvious example.
For AT management to respond proactively, they will need to accept the many failings that led to the need for the TERP in the first place. To help, it might be useful to shift gear, and get right down into the nitty gritty, by putting some projects under the microscope. A critique and redesign of a few projects over the next few months, to better serve sustainable transport modes, would highlight the immediate changes to priorities required for all projects. Currently it is rife, even in the safety projects, for traffic flow to be prioritised over safety and the misinformed assumptions of businesses to be elevated over the needs of children. Also, a lot of money for safety projects could be released immediately by reducing temporary traffic management and speeding projects up, by allowing more disruption to vehicle flow over a shorter period.
Could they start by:
- inviting all staff to come forward with ideas?
- inviting advocates to talk with Board members?
- creating an anonymous forum for anyone in the sector to help alert them to ongoing problems?
One focus area for Council management could be to prepare some democracy skills training workshops for the incoming Councillors and Local Board members. There’s a need to clarify:
- The duties of elected members are to serve current and future generations, not to win over the vocal minority resistance. No one holds a power of veto over changes needed for safety and healthy. Demonstration is the best way to inform, and leadership involves finding ways to explain this.
- Demand for safe travel options is large, longstanding, and unsatisfied. Meeting that demand by providing a full range of safe options for walking and cycling would take us a long way towards achieving our goals already. Any question of whether Aucklanders will “actually respond” to the provision of better options is misplaced (and should be recognised as stalling action).
Nothing short of a full change of regime will achieve the emissions reductions targets. But also, none of these changes are radical, and all of them are possible.