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Transport, Governance, and the ARC

Transport, Governance, and the ARC

For many years, local government’s main job was building New Zealand’s reservoirs, watermains, drains, sewage treatment plants, bridges and roads. The bigger the cities the bigger the works. Their City Engineers ruled with an iron fist in a concrete glove.

Large infrastructure projects benefit from economies of scale. Although times have changed, our “big project” tradition means that our response to almost any infrastructure problem is to call for another round of amalgamation.

Unfortunately, democratic institutions show no “economies of scale.” Amalgamation just makes things worse.

The most cost-effective councils in New Zealand serve populations of 50,000 to 70,000 people. Below that, the rating base is too small. Above that, the councillors discover “sister cities”.

Big councils are the enemy of democracy and they cost more to run.

The French understand this link between size and democracy well. France has 36,851 communes each with its own Mayor, or one for every 1,500 of France’s 60 million people. New Zealand has 74 City and District Councils or one for every 55,000 of its 4 million people. Paris alone has 350 communes. In France, Auckland would have forty councils – not seven.

On the other hand, 95% of France’s water and wastewater is managed by only five companies, operating through a commercial franchising system.

The French enjoy large scale infrastructure companies and small scale councils because they understand the difference between engineering and democracy.

If Aucklanders want to be even further disconnected from their politicians then let’s have another round of amalgamation. Otherwise forget it – amalgamation will not solve our transport problems.

However, if we want an efficient transport network, we should set up an organization dedicated to promoting efficient and effective regional transport and with no other commitments. Such a body need not own or operate buses or trains, any more than it needs to own or operate taxis or planes, or private cars and trucks for that matter.

Naturally, such a body would have to consult with its customers and work through consent procedures. The people, the councils, and even the train brigade, would all have their say.

The ARC is not the right body for the job – because it doesn’t want to do it.

Since its inception the main task of the ARC has been administering its RMA obligations relating to discharges to the soil, the water and the air.

The end result is a culture which is hostile to vehicle transport and indeed to urban growth in general. The ARC’s view is that rather than distribute and dilute our pollution, we should concentrate it all in the central city, behind a metropolitan urban limit. The reason we stopped building the motorway network designed in the sixties was that the ARC has never wanted more private transport and has lobbied for more public transport and higher urban densities ever since.

The ARC never promotes mobility. It prefers “demand management” which is PC-speak for “diminished mobility.”

Organisations with conflicting goals do not perform well. The Reserve Bank was able to tame inflation only once that goal became its only task.

The ARC culture is focused on protecting the natural and physical environment. Fair enough; that is its job. Such an organization should focus on developing exhaust emission standards, fuel standards, and otherwise deal with the side effects of vehicle transport. But given that it views private cars and trucks as the work of Satan, it is not the organization to promote mobility throughout the region. This bias towards nature colours everything the ARC does. Just visit their web site.

The ARC planners’ bias towards public transport had led them to promote ludicrously high population densities for inner Auckland.

Greater London wants to raise densities too. In 2000, the U.K. Government directed London’s Councils to increase densities from the existing 23 dwellings per hectare to between 30 and 50 dwellings per hectare. The ARC wants to increase the density of nineteen of Auckland’s suburbs from their present 15 – 20 dwellings per hectare to between 200 and 300 dwellings per hectare – a ten or twenty fold increase. These are six times London’s targets. Do we really want Auckland to be ten times more dense than London is now and six times more dense than London aims to be in future ?

The ARC hopes this will promote public transport. Increasing densities tenfold increases traffic congestion eightfold. Aucklanders won’t give up their cars. They will just give up on Auckland.

Also, the ARC’s location at the top of the CBD means its staff and politicians work in an environment dominated by CBD commuter traffic. Most Aucklanders are not connected to the CBD. Commuter trips are only 25% of daily trips in the region, and the CBD generates only 11% of them, or 3% of the total. Yet this 3% of region-wide trips dominates the ARC’s thinking.

The ARC extends from Wellsford to Waiku – which is huge. When staff visit these distant sites the landowners have to pay for their travel time. Landowners in Wellsford or Kaiaua have to drive an hour or more to discuss their septic tank consents in an office in the CBD.

The ARC should decentralize its services into several local centres distributed throughout the region. Regional Council meetings should also circulate so that local people get to see their rulers occasionally.

Then the ARC might come to realize that most Aucklanders will never see a passenger train, or even ride on a bus. For most of us using public transport means taking a taxi or catching a plane.

Finally, the US National Bureau of Economics Research found that during the 80s and 90s, “higher local government spending was associated with lower economic growth, unless that spending was on highways.”

Highways generate growth. Not railway lines, not stations, not carriages, but roads; roads like the Romans used to build.

Modern transport runs on roads. Auckland doesn’t have enough of them.

The ARC won’t deliver them.

ENDS: 997 words

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