The Government insists that electric rail is still on, dare we say, track. But Auckland is borrowing to buy an ageing diesel fleet of British cast-offs.All abooooard the great traans-Auckland rail jooourneeey. Bear in mind, folks, there will be many stops before we reach your preferred destinations.Where do Aucklanders want to go? For more than 80 years Aucklanders have wanted modern, affordable and regular train services to drop them off near work and home.But plans have been derailed more times than Amy Winehouse has been booked into rehab and left many of us nose-to-tail, alone in our cars, listening to her croon about it.Under the previous Government, trains were to be modernised, electrified and run underground from Britomart to Mt Eden. This would be paid for through a 9.5 cent regional fuel tax that the Auckland Regional Council championed.But the new Government abolished regional levies in May, ostensibly to share the burden with the rest of the country through national taxes.Now, the plan is for the Government to lend the regional council $33 million to help buy six diesel locomotives built in the 1970s, with carriages from British Rail.To mind the gap until the money can be raised? It would seem so, but at what cost?
No matter how hard The Aucklander tried to find out, no one could tell us how much of our rates was going to subsidise our taxes for this.
There’s an interesting article in yesterday’s Herald about the progress of sorting out the mess Steven Joyce left Auckland’s public transport in when he cancelled the Regional Fuel Tax a couple of months back. There’s some good news, some frustrating news and some potentially good news.
On the positive side, “Money has been assured for new Auckland railway stations.” These include Newmarket, New Lynn, Manukau, Onehunga, Grafton and Avondale – some of which are already under construction (thereby making the need to sort out funding for their completion rather urgent.) The money looks like it will come from a variety of places, including higher ARC rates, an increased subsidy from NZTA and – here’s the killer – cutting back on the costs of Auckland’s integrated ticketing project.
I really don’t know why the government is so against integrated ticketing for Auckland’s public transport. Maybe they realise that simplifying the ticketing in Auckland, and creating something as up-to-date as the smart-card systems we see in London (Oyster Card) and Hong Kong (Octopus Card) will lead to a surge in patronage on Auckland’s public transport system, thereby undermining their view of public transport as something only for the poor and carless. Or maybe they’re being pressurised by Infratil (the owners of most of Auckland’s bus service providers) into delaying a project that Infratil doesn’t like. Either way, it’s pretty depressing to hear that funding has been cut to Auckland’s public transport to the extent that the ARC has had: “to try to scale back the integrated ticketing project, which previously carried a capital cost of about $80 million, including a 60 per cent Government subsidy. Mr Lee said the council would try to find ways of halving that cost.”
These most recent developments mean that the best Auckland can really hope for is to get our version of Wellington’s Snapper Card. Now this is a great outcome for Infratil – as they own Snapper Card – but is no guarantee that this smart-card system will be equally available for all public transport operators in the Auckland Region. Therefore, there seems to be no guarantee that the ticketing system will, in fact, be integrated. When this lack of money for integrated ticketing is coupled with the Ministry of Transport’s decision to review the Public Transport Management Act (the very piece of legislation that gives ARTA the power to impose integrated ticketing), it’s hard not to be suspicious that this critical step in the future of Auckland’s public transport is going to be delayed at best, or possibly even cancelled.
There is a light on the horizon about Auckland’s electric trains though – with Steven Joyce saying “he would report to the cabinet next month on options for buying an electric fleet and that, despite Mr Lee’s nervousness, “we remain committed to electrification”. I can understand Mike Lee (head of the ARC) being nervous though, and I’ll believe that we’re getting electric trains when I see the contract signed.
The Herald reports on the news that the Government is now investigating the possibility of a public private partnership for electric trains.
The electrification of Auckland’s rail network could be delayed further after the Government announced it was investigating a different funding option to buy new trains, warns the head of Auckland Regional Council.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said yesterday that he was considering using a public private partnership (PPP) model to buy new rolling stock. Mr Joyce has just returned from Australia and he said PPPs had been used there on a number of occasions to fund passenger rail stock, including an agreement to secure 78 new commuter cars worth A$2 billion ($2.55 billion) for Sydney.
ARC chairman Mike Lee said he suspected the announcement was an ominous sign for the rail network before today’s Budget.
“I would say this is a signal … of a lack of electrification funding in the Budget.”
Mr Lee warned that such a plan was discarding an expensive and time-consuming plan which was already under way, and would delay electrification further.
“The international tender process for 140 electric rail cars that [Auckland Regional Transport Authority] launched last December and was due to go into its final stage early in May would in effect be torpedoed.” … more
A PPP would be extremely difficult to get right. The successful partner would have to figure out how to stable and maintain the rolling stock at Kiwirail depots, or build their own facilities. I just can’t see this working on a number of levels, cost of capital being expensive for private operators being the main one.
The Campaign for Better Transport today launched a campaign to highlight uncertainty surrounding the future of public transport projects in Auckland.
Launched today at the Mt Albert railway station, the aim of the “Action Stations” campaign is to gain assurance from central Government that funding for a range of public transport initiatives such as integrated ticketing, new stations, ferry terminals, Onehunga rail and electric trains will proceed as originally intended before the withdrawal of the regional fuel tax.
The Auckland Regional Transport Agency (ARTA), which oversees public transport improvements in Auckland, has now been forced by central Government to apply for funding from the New Zealand Transport Agency for the funding of railway stations for Onehunga and other projects.
Campaign organiser Dr. Francis Reid encouraged the public to participate in the Action Stations campaign by sending key transport decision makers a postcard, which can be downloaded from the bettertransport.org.nz website.
“These projects need to be completed. The Government appointed Auckland council transition agency is threatening to delay all of these projects even further,” says Dr Reid.
Ancient tracks on the Onehunga branch line have now been replaced, but the location of passenger rail stations and how they are to be funded has yet to be determined.
“The withdrawal of $200m worth of funding through the regional fuel tax has left a gaping hole in Auckland public transport funding”, said Campaign for Better Transport Convenor Cameron Pitches.
“The ridiculous thing is the Government said they did so out of concern about rising petrol prices hurting people the pocket, but in the meantime petrol companies have increased the price by 5c a litre anyhow.”
Mr Pitches also spoke of the “deeply depressing” news that the Government had confirmed that it will slash up to $250m from public transport infrastructure spending over the next three years in order to boost expenditure on new state highways.
Total expenditure on new state highways is now set to be 22 times that of public transport infrastructure over the next three years, a multiple that Mr Pitches describes as “astonishing underinvestment, given the record 20% growth in Auckland’s public transport we have consistently seen year on year.”
“The Government is putting all of its eggs into one basket. Putting $3bn dollars into new highways which have not been assessed yet for their costs and benefits is extremely risky. If the price of oil increases again, it will look like an incredibly foolish strategy.”
“Central Government just doesn’t get it”, concludes Mr Pitches. “Aucklanders want more investment in public transport in Auckland, not more and more roads that only encourage more and more single occupant cars.”
Come to the official launch of the Campaign for Better Transport “Action Stations” campaign.
- When: Wednesday 20th May, 2009, 7:30am
- Where: Mt Albert Railway Station entrance
- Who: CBT representatives will introduce the campaign, but this is also your chance to meet the candidates for the upcoming Mt Albert by-election.
Action Stations is designed to ensure that Auckland’s planned public transport upgrades and improvements are guaranteed funding and proceed without delay. In particular, we want the Government to assure us that Auckland’s planned integrated ticketing, ferry terminal upgrades, rail electrification and railway station construction and improvements will all be completed as soon as possible.
Read more about Action Stations at our campaign page: