It’s Friday again and so here’s some articles that caught our attention this week.
This Week in Greater Auckland
With Waitangi Day this week we only ran one post this week
- On Tuesday, Matt looked at the briefing Transport Minister Simeon Brown had from the Ministry of Transport as he came into the role.
Regional Fuel Tax
It’s hard to go past the news yesterday about the government cancelling Auckland’s Regional Fuel Tax from this July. We’ll be covering this in more detail next week, including some of the impacts and reactions.
But very quickly: we think this is a very poor outcome for Aucklanders. Many of the projects funded by the RFT are aimed at improving alternatives to driving and so any cancellations and delays to those projects will mean more people driving, more congestion, more emissions and ultimately, more people paying more fuel tax.
One reaction to the news that has been quite interesting is that of Mayor Wayne Brown who is clearly unhappy with the news, noting that a survey his office commissioned last year found “only 26 per cent were in favour of cancelling RFT projects, and just 22 per cent favoured increasing rates to make up the shortfall in funding“.
He’s been a bit stronger in his opposition in interviews too, such as this report:
“We want to decide what goes in Auckland. This is my city, not theirs,” he said.
Brown said the cancellation would leave a shortfall in transport funding for Auckland of $1.2 billion over the next four years.
The Auckland Mayor said he and the Transport Minister have got “a bit of an argy-bargy” coming up because the Government want to build motorways in Auckland that “we don’t want”, such as an east-west motorway.
He said he was happy to have a tough time working with the Government to cut out things that are not necessary, but said he wouldn’t let them tell him what motorways to build with money that could be used for other projects.
“A negotiation isn’t telling me what happens. I’m not a supine thing you walk over,” he said.
Raised Crossings and Meola Rd
The safety of people walking and cycling is a significant concern for Auckland Transport, and we remain committed to reducing the number injured or killed on our roads each year.
We have been clear that we will continue to implement measures that save lives and reduce injury, including raised crossings. We will also prioritise safety projects where there is strong community and local board support and clear evidence that we can reduce harm.
We are very aware of concerns that the cost of delivering these safety improvements have been too high in the past, and too disruptive to our roading network.
The process we now have in place is ensuring all safety related improvements are delivered in a more cost effective and pragmatic way. Over time this approach will deliver safety outcomes, significant financial savings and less disruption for Aucklanders.
Commitment to current projects
Our current commitments include:
- The Pt Chevalier to Westmere improvements that are currently under construction and supported by the local boards and community. These include improved cycling and walking and stormwater upgrades. This is one of the most used pedestrian routes in Auckland, including by children going to and from school, and will be made a much safer and more appealing way for people to move. This has been delivered with a saving of $8m to date, through a focus on reducing the cost through procurement and improved construction methodology.
- Improvements to Great North Rd between Crummer Rd and Ponsonby Rd. These are a combination of time limited buses lanes, bus priority, cycle lanes and new pedestrian crossings. Enabling works for this project are on track to be delivered on time and to budget by March, with a careful approach to traffic management minimising disruption to motorists.
- An ongoing programme of safety improvements across our road and public transport networks
- AT projects that follow a ‘dig once’ approach including how we work alongside work with Auckland Council Healthy Waters and other utility companies to minimise disruptions and costs to the ratepayer.
Somewhat related, Meola Rd has been closed to through-traffic since mid-December as part of the work to rebuild it. It was due to open again this week but on the day that was due to happen, AT announced it would remain closed for another three months. They finally responded to that yesterday.
Auckland Transport’s Director of Infrastructure and Place, Murray Burt is reassuring local residents that the decision to extend the full closure of Meola Road for an additional 10-12 weeks will reduce the time to complete the works by up to two months (delivering a saving of up to $400,000) and minimise the overall disruption felt by the community.
Meola Road was due to reopen this week with multiple stop-go closures still in place as work continues on a major upgrade project. However, analysis of traffic flows demonstrates that continuing the diversions that are already in place will result in faster travel times for traffic, because reopening Meola Road now would require single lanes with multiple stop-go closures, while the construction works continue.
The project has an 18-month construction programme Nov 2023 – Apr 2025, however the Meola Garnet Corridor completion will be brought forward to the end of February 2025.
“We acknowledge the frustration the late notice of this change has caused, but we want to reassure people that we are working closely with the community and businesses to manage the impact and complete this project sooner and at a lower cost,” Murray Burt said.
Waitematā Local Board Chair, Genevieve Sage says: “I know it’s frustrating that this has come at short notice, however the benefits identified show fiscal responsibility and will help to deliver the project faster and cheaper.”
Murray Burt said: “We were reluctant to extend the full closure any longer, however, based on opportunities identified by our team at the start of this year, there are compelling reasons to extend a full closure. These include estimates of:
- A 6-8 week saving in construction time for the Meola corridor
- A saving of up to $400,000 in traffic management and construction costs
- Improved traffic flows and faster point to point travel times by diverting traffic around the site rather than through multiple, single lane, stop-go closures.
I’ve got no problems with the decision or their reasoning but does seem that should have communicated this earlier rather than on the day.
Coyle Park again
And while we’re in Pt Chev, this happens every sunny weekend day in summer. When will AT finally deal with it properly instead of making PT users suffer?
Due to road congestion at Coyles Park, Point Chevalier, the following bus stops on bus route 66 are temporarily closed:
• Stop 8000 & 8001 – Coyle Park & Stop 8002 & 8003 – Johnstone Street. Use Stop 8004 – Oliver Street. pic.twitter.com/WNANEwSNMb
— Auckland Transport Travel Alerts (@AT_TravelAlerts) February 6, 2024
By the way, “road congestion” is a new way to describe lack of enforcement of double-parking, and people parking in bus stops and on footpaths.
And in other suffering PT users, Stuff reports:
More than 260 ferry trips have been disrupted in Auckland by cruise ships this season, with ferry users feeling like they’re paying the price for the rebound of the industry post-Covid.
Ferry commuter and shift worker, Sam Mojel, said the delays and cancellations have been “hugely frustrating”.
He questions whether ferry users are paying the price for the economic benefits others gain from the cruise industry.
“We’re the ones that get penalised,” he said.
Port of Auckland chief executive Roger Gray said cruise ships, which contribute “a significant percentage” to the company’s profitability, have always operated on Princes Wharf.
The issue is that when a ship puts on its bow thruster, it blows into the ferry basin, causing a churn, he said.
But what is not clear, is when the decision was made for ferries to halt operations while a cruise ship manoeuvres.
An AT spokesperson said the Harbour Master’s directive does not prevent smaller vessels from operating in the ferry basin when cruise ships are moving there, and the decision not to operate came from ferry operators based on health and safety concerns.
However, a Fullers360 spokesperson said AT’s pre-agreed standard operating procedure restricts all ferry operators “from operating in the basin while a cruise ship is arriving or departing due to the significant wake and wash created while a cruise ship is thrusting”.
The issue seems to be peculiar to Auckland. Over the ditch in Sydney, disruptions to ferries from cruise ship comings and goings are rare, a spokesperson for Transport NSW said. There, ferries can continue operating when cruise ships are manoeuvring.
This looks like classic AT finger-pointing, and as Sam notes, it’s the ferry users who are penalised.
And rail users aren’t escaping punishment, with almost daily delays and cancellations caused by track and signal faults since the end of the summer shutdown. As with the other examples above, this is causing significant impact to users who have to bear the brunt of disrupted travel.
I asked AT exec to tell Kiwirail how stressed Aucklanders are about significant disruption on our rail network.
Users waited patiently while $300m+ upgrades happened, now signal faults & operational issues slow or close network.
AT said it’s not ok & are talking with KR daily.
— Richard Hills (@RichardHills_) February 7, 2024
Speeding up late buses
Perhaps one ray of light, RNZ reports.
Technology that allows late buses to get priority at traffic lights is be rolled out to more Auckland intersections.
An Auckland Transport promotional video said it used a buses’ onboard GPS to identify when a service was running late.
They could then prioritise green traffic lights on the buses’ route to give it a “green wave” or “boost” to get it back on time.
Auckland councillor Richard Hills said the technology was trialled on Manukau and Dominion Roads and the Eastern Busway last year.
It would be added to 25 more intersections over the next six to eight months, he told Morning Report.
“Essentially it’s trying to speed up the public transport system so people want to use buses more. There’s nothing worse than being in a bus stuck behind 10 cars when there’s 90 of you in a double decker waiting to get through a queue.”
The PT Recovery
Despite the challenges above, PT use is starting to look a lot stronger. The data is showing that PT use is now back to around 85-90% of pre-Covid levels, and last week was over 90%. That would put usage today at similar to what it was in early to mid-2018.
A few other things I noted from the data:
- It’s still the rail network that’s holding us back, as buses and ferries are now both regularly back to over 95% of pre-Covid levels.
- Weekend ridership has a better recovery than weekday use – it’s now regularly above pre-Covid levels.
This is disappointing, but no surprise given the government’s decisions.
EV showrooms had a busy December followed by a ghostly January, after the Government killed the Clean Car Discount.
Recently-released sales data showed a crash in new EV sales at the start of the year. Used imports followed suit, according to information published by the Ministry of Transport.
The nosedive followed a busy December – when more than 4500 drivers registered New Zealand-new, zero-emission vehicles during the final month of the discount’s life, where a rebate of up to $7015 was available.
Just 352 people and businesses secured an EV in January – the lowest number of brand-new and New Zealand-new registrations since October 2020.
Meanwhile, gas guzzlers experienced the opposite.
More Te Huia
The passenger train between Hamilton and Auckland is increasing off-peak services.
Beginning today, Te Huia will have a third service on Thursdays and Fridays, where demand has been the highest.
There will also be a second return service on Saturdays.
Waikato Regional Councillor Angela Strange told Mike Hosking that she hears from Waikato people who are excited about the inter-regional service.
Was there anything else that caught your attention this week?