Alarm At Government Plan for Harbour Tunnels

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The Campaign for Better Transport has written to Minister of Transport Simon Bridges requesting that a tender process for a multi-lane vehicle tunnel across the Waitemata Harbour be halted.

In the letter, the Campaign for Better Transport states:

  • No cost benefit analysis has been carried out that is compliant with the NZTA’s own Economic Evaluation Manual. The full cost of connecting six additional lanes of traffic to the existing motorway network has not been assessed and the NZTA’s solution has not been proven to be either efficient or effective.
  • A rail only crossing, which would be substantially cheaper due to smaller diameter tunnels and have greater capacity than the NZTA’s single occupant car based solution, has not been evaluated by the NZTA. Neither have any other transport options and alternatives.
  • The NZTA have not consulted the public of Auckland about the transport project they wish to designate for, nor have they given any indication as to how the project will be funded or the amount of any toll that might be required.

The CBT has subsequently learnt from the NZTA that a study in 2008 did look at a rail only tunnel solution to the North Shore, which was costed at $1 – $1.2bn dollars. For reasons that remain unclear, a road tunnel costed at about $4bn was determined to be the most desirable solution.

In 2011, the NZTA produced a Preliminary Business Case for their preferred option. The Benefit Cost Ratio was 0.4, including wider economic benefits. This means that for every dollar spent, just 40c of economic benefit would flow to Auckland as a result of the project being constructed.  Neither the Preliminary Business Case or the earlier 2008 study performed a cost benefit analysis for a rail only crossing.

Regardless, the NZTA are now proceeding with tendering for route protection work, which is due to be awarded in August 2015.

Quite how six lanes of traffic will be integrated with the existing motorway network at Esmonde Road and the Central Motorway Junction is yet to be determined either.

While the NZTA’s proposed solution does potentially “future-proof” for rail, there are no plans currently to determine a route for rail from the central city to the North Shore, and no timeframe for doing so.

The NZ Herald have covered this story here.

AGM and Airport Rail

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Our AGM this year features a special guest in the form of Pete Clark from Auckland Transport, who has kindly offered to present the latest on rail to Auckland Airport.

  • Monday 20th July, 7:30pm
  • Richmond Road Community Centre, 510 Richmond Road Grey Lynn

Rail to the airport has been a long running project of the CBT – we did our first presentation to the ARC in 2003, urging designation of a rail route from Onehunga to the airport. In 2008 we presented a 10,000 strong petition to the ARC in support of designation. Today the recent announcements of the billion dollar East – West link, along with the fast-tracking of the Kirkbride Rd interchange pose some real challenges. Throw into the mix Auckland Transport’s recent announcement that it is considering light rail, and it is clear that Pete really has his work cut out for him!

All CBT members and newcomers welcome.

Letter to John Key

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Transportblog did a good job of fisking the recent comments Prime Minister John Key’s criticism on Auckland’s transport plans. In an interview with Paul Henry, the Prime Minister made a number of factual errors about Auckland’s transport issues that demonstrate he is either being poorly advised by officials, or is deliberately misinforming the general public.  This prompted the CBT to write a letter outlining the inaccuracies in the Prime Minister’s comments. Consistent with most communications we have with central Government, we have yet to receive a reply or an acknowledgement.

17th May 2015

Dear Prime Minister

Re: Comments Regarding Transport on the Paul Henry Show

Having just watched your interview with the Paul Henry show which took place on 11th May, I am concerned at the quality of advice you are receiving from your officials. In that interview you stated:

The most important issue has to be, in our view, provide roading solutions in the very short-term for where people live. Only 15 percent of people live in the CBD… It’s all very well having rail as your top priority out to the airport…

To start with, the resident population of the CBD is about 3 or 4 percent, not 15 percent. It is generally accepted that about 15 percent of Aucklanders are employed in the CBD, so I think you or your officials are perhaps confused by this.
Next, I need to make you aware that rail to the airport is not the top priority in Auckland’s Regional Land Transport Plan 2015 – 2025. There is currently no designation for rail to the airport in place. Rail to the airport does not feature until decades two and three of the plan – hardly a good basis for you to be claiming it is the top priority for Auckland.

It is the City Rail Link that is the top priority for Auckland, which has the support of a majority of Aucklanders and groups such as the Employers and Manufacturers Association. The CRL will create at least 50 percent more capacity across the entire rail network and enable faster, more frequent rail trips not just to the CBD, but all over the Auckland region. Patronage is likely to hit 20m passengers a year by 2017 , two years earlier than the arbitrary target of 2020 which has been set by you. (I say arbitrary, because no prerequisite traffic targets are set for RoNS projects such as the Puhoi – Warkworth toll road). Without the City Rail Link, the full benefit of Auckland’s brand new electric fleet cannot be realised, as Britomart will soon reach capacity.

In the interview, you also claimed that Auckland Council will be spending half a billion less on transport in the next three years, even if a levy is implemented.

By now, you should be aware via Radio New Zealand that this is incorrect. I have also obtained confirmation from the Auckland Council that their capital expenditure on transport over the next three years will in fact be roughly the same as the previous three years.

In summary, Prime Minister, very little of your official’s advice stands up to scrutiny.

I am left wondering why you think unfounded criticism of the Auckland Council’s transport plans and the transport levy is helpful? You don’t offer any alternative plans or funding mechanisms. It would be more constructive if your officials discussed any concerns with their more knowledgeable counterparts at the Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, instead of giving you demonstrably false information.

I’ll leave you with the following key principles that the Campaign for Better Transport included in our submission on Regional Land Transport Plan:

1. Transport is about moving people and freight efficiently.
2. Auckland has a peak time capacity constraint, which providing more lanes for single occupant cars won’t address.
3. Investment in mass rapid transit is required. This also benefits road users who don’t have a choice to use public transport.
4. It is valid for petrol excise tax revenues to be spent on any project that reduces traffic congestion on roads.
5. An evidence-based cost benefit analysis should be used with all transport projects, using a methodology that places value on reducing reliance fossil fuels.

Prime Minister, I think you would benefit from some accurate advice on Auckland’s transport issues. Accordingly, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you at your soonest convenience.

Government Still Refusing to Fund CRL Early

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As this article in the NZ Herald shows, the Government continues to make excuses instead of funding the City Rail Link.

The targets that the Government has set as a prerequisite for funding the City Rail Link are bogus, hypocritical and simply an excuse for inaction.

No prerequisite employment target has been set for Northland before the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road is built. There was no requirement for traffic volumes to double on SH1 into Wellington before the Government signed a multi-billion dollar public private partnership for the Transmission Gully project.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges needs to realise that Auckland’s transport problems are primarily caused by too many single occupant cars using the road at the same time.

A mass rapid transit solution is required to deliver more people to where they want to go at peak times, not only to the CBD but all over Auckland. As the City Centre Future Access Study showed, no other option will do that as effectively as the City Rail Link. It is time for Government to quit making excuses and to fund the City Rail Link sooner.

Submission on the Regional Land Transport Plan

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The Campaign for Better Transport’s submission on Auckland Transport’s Regional Land Transport Plan 2015-2025 is here:

CBT Submission on the Draft Regional Land Transport Plan

375 Kauri In Path of Puhoi Warkworth Toll Road

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With the recent story about the 500 year old kauri in line for the chop, the following tweet has gained a lot of interest.

If you are looking for some background, you’ll find it on page 47 of the final report of the Board of Inquiry

“NZTA’s Terrestrial Ecology Assessment Report envisages that up to approximately 375 kauri trees, many young, would need to be felled or topped to accommodate the eco-viaduct. Additionally it was proposed that the Mahurangi River be diverted for approximately 200m through a new open channel.”

“The Board’s initial reaction during a site visit, expressed by the Chairman during an exchange with a witness, was that it was indeed a bold move in this day and age to destroy kauri trees to accommodate a viaduct carrying a motorway. The effects on both the river and the forest stand would largely be avoided if the designation was shifted approximately 150m to the east…”

“The Board is satisfied that, as a matter of jurisdiction, it has no power to move the designation to the east in the manner tentatively contemplated.”

The “many young” comment is arguable. Later on in the document they say “It is thought that these trees range in age between 75 – 100 years.”

The Campaign for Better Transport submitted against the toll road through the Board of Inquiry process last year. This is documented in a series of posts over at TransportBlog.

Probably most concerning is that the toll road has not been the subject of a business case, which until now has been standard procedure on any project of this scale.  NZTA had a budget of $600,000 for expert advice in relation to their application, but none of this was spent on conducting a cost benefit analysis in accordance with their own Economic Evaluation Manual.  This is covered in a bit more detail in this post at TransportBlog.

The economics behind the project are likely to be poor.  The new toll road route, between Puhoi and a point 2km north of Warkworth is just 700m shorter than the existing route, with a predicted travel time of ten minutes, just three minutes faster than today.  Also, because the junction is to the north of Warkworth, few Warkworth residents are likely to use the road.  The Government is yet to provide any indication of how much the toll charge will be for using the road either.  The map below shows the designated route (with north to the right, click to enlarge).

Puhoi Warkworth Toll Road

It should be noted that a further extension of the toll road from Warkworth to Wellsford is unlikely due to the difficultly in finding a cost-effective route brought about by the the geographical challenges of the area.

The CBT was disappointed that the Board chose to approve NZTA’s application, and we believe that the decision sets a bad precedent for future RMA related decisions as effectively the economic impacts of the community can be ignored, let alone the impacts on the environment. You can read our closing submission, which covers all of these points and more, here.

Govt Rejects Increasing Fuel Tax While Price Is Low

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CBT asked Transport Minister Simon Bridges for his opinion on increasing fuel excise while petrol was low. At the time of the letter, petrol prices were around $1.72 a litre:

Dear Minister,

The recent drop in the retail price of petrol gives rise to the opportunity to introduce a variable fuel tax on petrol and diesel. Such a tax could potentially be a significant amount per litre, but would also be removed when petrol climbs above a certain threshold again (for instance $1.90) to improve public acceptability.

You will be aware that Auckland is facing a potential funding shortfall for the transport projects that it wishes to achieve – both public transport and roading projects. Elsewhere in New Zealand, regional councils are also challenged with finding the funds to maintain and build local transport infrastructure. Central government projects are also affected, as excise tax revenues are flat or declining as cars become more fuel efficient and vehicle kilometres travelled remains static.

While the pending 3c a litre increase in excise tax in July 2015 will go a small way to addressing this funding shortfall, a more significant increase in excise tax while retail prices are low would result in more revenue, be relatively painless for consumers and potentially negate time-consuming arguments for alternative funding mechanisms such as increased rates, tolling and motorway charging schemes. According to a recent Treasury paper, every 1c a litre increase in excise tax generates $35m in revenue. Therefore an increase of 20c per litre, for instance, would equate to an additional $700m annually.

New Zealand is also taking very little action on climate change. As other countries such as the USA and China take positive steps to reduce transport related carbon output, New Zealand is doing nothing to reduce transport related emissions. The ETS tax on fuel amounts to just a fraction of a cent, and has had little effect in incentivising consumers to choose low carbon transport options. For this reason I suggest that funds from a variable fuel tax be dedicated to transport projects that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, allowing NZ to benefit from the resulting infrastructure when petrol prices almost inevitably rise again.

There are a number of different approaches that could be undertaken to implement a Variable Fuel Tax, however I would appreciate your initial thoughts on this.

A  month later the CBT received the following reply from Simon Bridges, the highlights of which I’ve retyped here:

Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with a variable fuel tax that means it would have unintended consequences and be difficult to implement.

Currently, vehicle owners are taxed for their use of the road network. These taxes are based on fuel consumption by petrol vehicle owners (through petrol excise duty), and on kilometres travelled by diesel vehicle owners (through road user charges). This is designed to match the costs of the roads to those who use them, and raises more money for further projects when people drive more. A variable fuel tax based on the price of petrol would reduce the link between tax and road use.

I’m not sure why this is a bad thing. Make hay while the sun shines surely?

Another unintended consequence arises in times of slow economic growth. Before the recent price falls, the last signficant petrol price fall was in 2008 during the global financial crisis. A variable fuel tax would have taxed people more at a time of increasing unemployment and uncertainty.

This isn’t the case now.

A further obstacle is that fuel prices vary across the country. It would be unfair to levy different tax rates on road users based solely on where they are located.

That isn’t what we are advocating.

Alternatively, a tax could be levied at the point of entry into New Zealand, but this would not be practical as there is a lag between when the tax is collected (when the price might be high) and when the fuel is purchased in the market (by which time the price might be low).

We aren’t suggesting a new tax, simply a larger increase than the existing fuel excise than the 3c a litre the Government will implement in July.  As petrol rises again above a certain threshold, remove the “extra” increase.

A variable fuel tax also discourages competition, where companies selling petrol at lower prices would face higher taxes.

This is false.  The amount of fuel tax would be the same for every retailer around the country.

I note your point on the need to address climate change. The Government is committed to reducing transport related emissions and reliance on traditional fossil fuels. Through the Government Policy Statement on land transport 2015, the Government has increased investments in walking, cycling and public transport in part to reduce environmental impacts including climate change. Additionally , the Government has committed to an exemption from road user charges for electric vehicles until 2020.

The investments mentioned are insignificant compared to the multi-billion dollar spend up on new Roads of National Significance, which only make the country more reliant on imported fossil fuels.

Overall, a disappointing response from the Minister.  As it turns out, the Minister has been too slow off the mark to take advantage of the five year low. Instead the petrol companies themselves seem happy to be making extra profits, prompting the Minister to put them “on notice”.

Airport Rail Update

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There has been speculation in recent weeks that Auckland Transport is now favouring a light rail solution over heavy rail, but recently Auckland Transport announced in a joint statement with NZTA that the critical Kirkbride Road intersection for “either light or heavy rail”.  

Kirkbride SH20 Intersection Upgrade

Auckland Transport (AT) and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) have been jointly progressing an integrated transport scheme for SH20A which aims at accessibility improvements to the airport and the surrounding airport business district.

The design for Kirkbride Interchange, the first element in this scheme, is well underway. It forms part of the multi modal strategy to help future proof for Airport growth of 14 million to 40 million passengers over the next 30 years. It will future proof a rail connection (either light rail or heavy rail) and also coordinate the works with the Watercare Hunua 4 project in 2015.

The decision to future proof for either light rail or heavy rail is to retain flexibility in future to implement either mode should technological advancements in light rail enable potential significant cost savings, without compromising significantly on the overall travel time between the airport and the city centre. While these are being investigated it makes sense that the design of the new Kirkbride Interchange does not preclude either option.

The first step – upgrade of SH20A – at a cost of $140 million with future proofing estimated up to an additional $30 million, is due to begin construction in January 2015 and open in April 2017, and will provide a number of benefits once completed. It enables better journey reliability for traffic (and buses) to and from the airport in addition to improved safety for all users through the separation of motorway traffic and local traffic at the Kirkbride intersection. The upgrade will also more fully realise the benefits of the Western Ring Route taking people to and from the Airport through SH20A, SH20 and the Waterview connection due to be completed in early 2017.

The multimodal upgrades to this corridor (including the new Kirkbride Road interchange) will support future population and business growth in the area, cater for increasing numbers of travellers, and improve freight efficiency in South Auckland. Other benefits are environmental through improvements to stormwater drainage and treatment, and the reconnection of the community, along with other travel mode choices of walking and cycling.

AT’s focus now, is about ensuring the rail mode is protected irrespective of the final choice of rail type and funding yet to be determined.

There isn’t much detail on where the exact designation will go however, so as usual the devil will be in the details. A PDF of the statement is here: SH20A upgrade – AT and NZTA joint statement – 28.11.14


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