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The Way to Go – Solving Transport Together

Hon Pete Hodgson
Thursday 21 July 2005 Speech Notes 7:30 pm

Public meeting on Auckland transport issues: The Way to Go – Solving Transport Together

Speech at public meeting on transport, 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm, Thursday, 21 July 2005 at St Luke's Church Hall, Greenslade Crescent, Northcote, North Shore.

Thank you everyone for coming and a special thanks to Ann Hartley and team for organising this meeting. I’m 55 so my memories of the Shore now stretch back 50 years from when I visited my grandparents in Milford, my great grandmother in Takapuna, my aunty in Glenfield and now two aunties in Birkenhead. These days I’m back on the Shore for one reason or another six or eight times a year and I have clear memories of what has changed, when.

In particular I have watched travel pattern and transport modes change in response to the remarkable population growth and, in more recent years, in response to the remarkable wealth creation of North Shore business.

I watched an infrastructure deficit emerge here and in the rest of Auckland during the nineties, and especially the late nineties. Indeed it spilled over into the first year or two of our government as we spent time gearing up.

I also saw the reasons for that infrastructure deficit emerge in the late nineties from opposition, and it was very frustrating. There are five of them.

The first was that the National Government had been seeking to reduce expenditure, everywhere, to pay for tax decreases they had made in the mid-nineties. This precluded any thought of increasing petrol tax, even for inflation, let alone using taxpayers’ money. This contrasts with the present government. In addition to the petrol tax rise, Michael Cullen has already committed well over $2 billion from the consolidated fund to addressing this yawning land transport deficit. That first reason, failure to front up with the money, leads to the first conclusion.

You can’t have a tax reducing environment and a land transport investment environment at once. If the money is not there it cannot be spent. It is one or it is the other.

As we lead up to the next election, National will be caught out for failing to use its abacus properly. They want to progressively move all petrol tax revenue into land transport spending over the next three years, blissfully unaware that Dr Cullen has already done so, or nearly done so. Because of that more than $2 billion investment I just mentioned, three years from now we will be matching, more or less, National’s promise.

Only two differences remain. One is that our money is already voted, National’s is only promised. The other is that we are not offering National’s tax cuts as well because we know you can’t do both. Unless health and education are for the chop or unless Dr Brash is going to borrow to pay for tax cuts, in which case interest rates will rise and anyone with much of a mortgage will lose any gains on the spot.

So difference number one is that the money wasn’t there and now it is. Annual land transport spending has risen by over 80 per cent since the change of government.

The second reason the infrastructure deficit arose in the nineties, especially the late nineties, was planning. Land transport projects couldn’t get consents. The consenting process was a mess, but National made a crucial mistake in diagnosing the cause of that mess. They thought the problem was the legislation, the Resource Management Act. So they spent three years undertaking reform which they never completed and much of which we abandoned.

The problem lay elsewhere, in the administration of the Environment Court. They had no case management system. They just chugged through their queue of cases while the list just kept growing out in front of them. By the time we came to office the waiting time was 33 months. So we appointed good management expertise, appointed more judges and alternate judges and got rid of the backlog. These days the waiting time is not 33 months but 6 months and unless both parties agree the hearing is started on time. The time honoured legal practice of using delay to advantage has been stopped.

Yes, we did make some changes to the RMA too, to gain a bit more streamlining. But the main gains were in the Courts.

The third reason that the infrastructure deficit emerged in the nineties, especially the late nineties is that National did not believe in a modern public transport system. The first clue on that score came with the privatisation of the country’s rail tracks, an unusually stupid move. Next they let existing infrastructure run down, then they failed to invest in new public transport services. So public transport’s share of land transport’s trips fell.

The North Shore busway, conceived years ago, was starved of funding even for design, let alone construction. The reason all this matters is that just a slight increase in public transport extends the useful life of existing roads a lot and conversely if people give up on buses and trains the roads jam up very quickly. Funding for public transport in Auckland has trebled since the change of government. Had it not, I hate to think how the city would have managed.

The fourth reason is that National refused to use debt to bring projects forward. By contrast we think that’s a good idea. We passed law saying that tolling of new roads could occur if there was an alternative free route and if there was a high level of community support. We found that support for the Orewa to Puhoi motorway. I took a look at it today and we have, at last, a bunch of action.

The last reason for the infrastructure deficit is that National couldn’t bring itself to think in an integrated manner. They could, and can, think only in a straight line. So walking and cycling were considered unimportant, even as the Type 2 diabetes epidemic arrived. The road toll continued to fall from its peak in the eighties but no one thought about the hidden road toll from bad air caused by congestion. The two death tolls are now, roughly, the same size. They didn’t promote, or fund, integrated ticketing. They didn’t see that a coastal shipping industry had a future competing with long haul road and rail. They didn’t think to ensure that a motorway designation should set aside another few metres for a future rail track, or cycle way.

Crucially, in this city, they didn’t think through the relationship between school enrolment policy and traffic congestion. This last issue they still haven’t got. The Government’s policy is that every child has a right to go to their own neighbourhood school, though they may choose another. National’s policy is a free for all. That means some children will be excluded from their own school and be forced to travel to another. By road most likely. Aucklanders already know that the school term means more cars than in the school holidays. Under National’s policy it would get a lot worse.

Needless to say our approach is founded on integration. We reject a linear analysis. We reject the benefit cost ratio as the only determinant of what should be built. We remember the days when the board members of Transit would arrive at a monthly meeting, wander down a list of projects ranked from the highest benefit/cost ratio to the lowest, draw a line across when they ran out of money – which was never far down the page – and then pick up their brains when they left. We are, all of us, capable of a more intelligent analysis than that.

So those are the five reasons for the infrastructure deficit of the nineties. Not enough money. Misdiagnosis of the planning delays. Failure to acknowledge the role of public transport. Lack of vision when it came to debt funding and tolling. Failure to understand the value of an integrated system.

One way to measure a Government’s determination to get things done is to look at big projects. All governments are capable of straightening a bend, or adding a passing lane. But big projects, defined as more than $30 million tell a different story. When we came to office the value of big projects in Auckland that were underway or recently completed totalled $130 million. Today using exactly the same criterion, the big projects underway or recently completed total $1300 million. Startling isn’t it? A tenfold increase. The difference between talk and do.

I want to pass on to just one local issue, then make some acknowledgements and then wind up.

But I’ll first just briefly list a few things I won’t cover but you might want to question me about, or comment on yourselves. Here are some ideas. Biofuels. Emissions testing. Climate change. Vehicle safety. Transport research. A harbour bridge cycle way. Harbour ferries. Road pricing. Double tracking rail and carriage refurbishment. Electrification. The total mobility scheme. Older driver licensing. The list is, of course, incomplete.

Now to the local issue. The Onewa Road intersection. Each of you will have aged as you wait at the Onewa Road on-ramp. We now have a solution. Transit and the North Shore City Council are agreed that an upgrade to a two-lane interchange is affordable, is doable and is needed. More than that one lane will be a bus and high occupancy lane. That will enable one of the earliest priority lanes ever created in New Zealand to be completed from Lake Road to state highway one, about 25 years after it was first opened. Ann Hartley will be pleased about that I suspect as back then she was one of the driving forces behind the priority lane. This project is part of the North Shore busway and one lane will link directly to it.

Another idea has arisen which is a two-lane flyover that has no priority lane, which abolishes the Sylvan Avenue lights. It is opposed by both Transit and the North Shore City Council anyway so, short of some mighty fine raffles, it has no funders and therefore won’t proceed.

But the proposal is an excellent case study. I want to gently challenge the proponents of this scheme and point out how their kind of thinking got us into Auckland’s present state in the first place.

This is the thinking that says no matter the problem, we should motorway our way out of it. My response is, you can’t. The M25 taught London that, and even Los Angeles, perhaps the most graphic example in the world of the failure of motorway-only thinking is now busily building light rail.

Motorways induce demand. Uncontrolled, they fill up months after they open. Cars follow motorways like water follows gravity. That is why traffic demand management in all its various forms is now the policy of preference in all major cities. Auckland is now a pretty big city. One of the many tools in the traffic demand management toolbox is ramp metering. Motorways are most efficient at around 70 kilometres per hour. Above that, or below that, fewer cars pass any point per hour. Auckland’s motorways often slow to 40 kilometres per hour, or to a crawl. Efficiency drops. Fewer cars get through per hour, despite travelling bumper to bumper. The snarl up lengthens. In other words, congestion causes more congestion.

That’s why ramp metering matters. It moderates the flow of cars onto the motorway in order to maximise their use of the motorway when they are on.

The Sylvan Avenue lights are a rough example of ramp metering. Remove them and the Bridge would jam of a morning. And stay jammed, longer. So Transit would, should, install ramp metering in place of the lights. Over a quarter of the traffic that travels across the Bridge into Auckland travels down Onewa Road. That’s why the interchange upgrade matters. It is also why the interchange will never be uncontrolled. Traffic lights, or ramp meter. One or t’other.

The second fallacy in this case study is that passenger transport doesn’t matter. That having a bus lane, and a high occupancy lane, is somehow unnecessary.

Public transport does matter. I said earlier that a slight increase in public transport uptake delivers significant benefits to car users. That is why public transport is subsidised. By motorists. Because it is motorists who get the benefit of other car owners jumping on a bus. And the reason is that a busload of people just left 50 cars in their garages.

But when car owners decide to jump on a bus, they too need a reason. A priority lane is that reason. Completing the priority lane is not just in the interest of those who use the bus. It is also in the interests of those who don’t. It is an opportunity that the Shore should seize with both hands.

It is time to wrap up. I want to do so by acknowledging a few people. Major changes such as we are seeing with transport on the North Shore these days can only happen when many people cooperate around a vision. The North Shore City Council has shown leadership and determination and without that we could not have made the progress we have. I want to publicly thank George Wood and the council. And the staff. Land Transport New Zealand, Transit and roading contractors have, between them, shown very considerable competence and have increased their capacity rapidly in response to the rapid increase in funding.

Local MPs can play a pivotal role in maintaining momentum and sorting local differences and Ann Hartley’s skill and experience in both local and national government is well known and well respected. Finally my own leaders, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, are determined that New Zealand will move in to the top half of the OECD and will need high class infrastructure to do it. Their commitment to see the funds applied is the key difference between this decade and the last one.

Thanks for your attention.


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