Funding Transport In Auckland

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In a Herald article last Friday, Transport Minister Steven Joyce came out with the following straw man argument:

“I don’t think anyone would buy the suggestion that that very, very expensive project should just be paid for by road users,” he said.

In response, Transport Minister Steven Joyce is right,  but no-one is suggesting that the CBD Rail Link should just be paid for by road users.

However Minister Joyce must be aware that public transport infrastructure can significantly benefit road users, and on that basis some level of funding commitment from the National Land Transport Fund, which raises $2.8bn annually from petrol excise and road user charges, is entirely appropriate.

The precedent for this is the Northern Busway. This quarter billion dollar project was jointly funded from the National Land Transport Fund and the North Shore City Council and has eased congestion levels across the Harbour Bridge to the significant benefit of motorists.

Similarly the CBD Rail Link will not only double capacity of the entire rail network and offer significant travel time saving benefits to public transport users, but it will also benefit road users as well by taking a significant number of cars off the roads at peak times.

Contrary to what Minister Joyce says, Auckland City has already established that no roading based solution will offer anywhere near the benefits of the CBD Rail Link.

If Minister Joyce insists on having sole discretion on how our fuel taxes are used, he needs to work constructively to find alternative transport funding solutions for Auckland.

Auckland Rail Hits New Record

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Yesterday Mayor Len Brown held a press conference at Britomart, with a “major announcement” for Auckland rail.  It wasn’t quite the announcement I was hoping for – contract signed for electric trains or funding for the CBD rail tunnel sorted – but nonetheless, it is significant and it further strengthens the case for more investment in passenger rail:
Mayor Brown and Tish Bhattti

Auckland Mayor Len Brown presents Tish Bhatti with a MAXX gift bag, that includes a pass to ride on any public transport free for a month

The number of Aucklanders using rail has reached a record high, with nine million trips made in the last 12 months.

Rail patronage has increased 14 per cent on the previous 12 months, which is equivalent to an extra 20,000 journeys being made each week. Since Britomart Transport Centre opened in 2003 annual patronage has increased from 2.5 million to the current levels of 9 million per annum.

The nine million record comes in the week after large numbers used public transport to get to the U2 concerts and the Santa Parade.

To mark the achievement Mayor Len Brown met rail commuters at Britomart this morning and presented a pass for a month’s free public transport travel to a randomly selected passenger.

Auckland Transport Chief Executive David Warburton says the number of people getting on trains is increasing quickly.

“A number of improvements have been made to services and rail infrastructure.

“For example in the past year 6 new or upgraded stations have opened, including major new stations at Newmarket and New Lynn. The Onehunga Line was also reopened after 37 years and Kingsland received an upgrade to ready it for Rugby World Cup 2011.

“Timetable improvements have seen a 25 per cent increase in services and some trains have been extended from four to six carriages.

“Another major factor in the increasing patronage is the popularity of public transport for getting to events.”

Auckland Transport acknowledges the key role Veolia Transport Auckland, who run the passenger rail network, has played in achieving the record patronage.

Patronage is expected to reach 10 million by the end of 2011.

Full PR is here.

CBD Tunnel “Compelling Case”

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Stuff reports :

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says a report on a proposed $2 billion rail tunnel through central Auckland shows the business case for it is “compelling”.

The tunnel, which would link Britomart with Mt Eden station and create an inner-city rail loop, was one of Mr Brown’s primary election campaigning points and the business case was released today.

The report says that the standard benefit-cost ratio (BCR) for the project is equal or higher than that of two of the Government’s Roads of National Significance.

It goes on to say:

The standard BCR of 1.1, worked out on the 8 percent discount rate, is higher than the 0.8 BCR for the proposed Puhoi-Wellsford motorway and equal to that for the Wellington northern corridor, which includes Transmission Gully.

I thought Transmission Gully was less than one also, but anyway:

With wider economic transformation benefits, such as improved land use, urban regeneration and transformation and economic development, the BCR at the 8 percent rate is 3.5. It is 4.7 at the 6 percent discount rate and 6.6 at the 4 percent discount rate.

Auckland Rail “Funding Gap”

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There have been a couple of stories this week in the Herald. The first one talks about Transport Minister Steven Joyce claiming there is a “funding gap” for rail operational costs. The second is a response from Auckland Councillor Mike Lee claiming Steven Joyce is trying to stymie Mayor Brown’s vision. It’s all a bit confusing, but fortunately Josh Arbury over at  has got to the nub of the matter in this post here.

It is appropriate that the Auckland region pays a fair value for track access. It has been doing so since 2003, paying an average $5m per annum.

But now Transport Minister Steven Joyce wants to unilaterally increase this fee to $16m annually. Included in this are loan repayments at commercial rates of interest for the purchase of $500m worth of new electric trains for Auckland. The new trains were originally to be funded through a regional fuel tax of 2c per litre until the Government decided against this in March 2009.

Instead now it is obvious that central Government has decided to stick ratepayers with the bill for the new electric trains. It is disingenuous of the Minister not to mention this and to present this as a fait accompli to the new Mayor.

The Minister also needs to explain to Auckland ratepayers why Wellington’s new electric trains are 90% funded from central Government, and what “track access fees” Wellington ratepayers are expected to pay.

UPDATE: A well placed source tells me that in fact Steven Joyce is still considering how Auckland trains should be funded and what the funding split should be between Auckland and central Government.  Funding of trains is not included in the higher track access fee. It makes the decision to increase the track access fee from $5m to $16m even more confusing.  We will have to wait and see.

Plenty of Money Available for Auckland Rail

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Graeme Easte sums up the rail funding issue for Auckland in a letter to the Herald last Thursday:

Len Brown is being attacked for seeking billions from the Government to fund major rail projects for Auckland. But this is a category mistake: the real issue is not about seeking substantial new money but rather about redirecting some of the vast amounts of cash already budgeted for transport funding.

Over the next 30 years the Transport Agency (NZTA) is budgeting to receive over $100 billion in income from fuel taxes and road levies. With about a third of the population, Auckland will provide about a third of that income and is slated to receive a similar proportion in expenditure – somewhere in the range of $30-39 billion. Although about half of that will be required for maintaining existing infrastructure, passenger transport subsidies, etc. that still leaves the other half for new projects – large and small.

So instead of telling us that the cupboard is bare, Government needs to enter into a dialogue with Len and his new Council as to what our spending priorities are. Len has a very strong mandate to tell Government Auckland’s preference is for expanding the public transport network way ahead of new motorways.

Indeed.  Auckland should be investing in transport projects that achieve the best economic, social and environmental outcomes, with a view to reducing our long term reliance on fossil fuels. This investment should not be predetermined based on an obsolete funding model that stems from the transport planning of last century.

Airport Rail Loop Designation

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Concerned at the complete lack of progress in designating a rail corridor from Onehunga to Auckland Airport and continuing back to Wiri, the CBT wrote to Mayor Len Brown suggesting Manukau City start to look into it.

Mayor Brown has responded, indicating that a Memorandum of Understanding is being prepared between KiwiRail, Manukau City, ARTA, ARC and Auckland Airport to do exactly that. The exercise will be led by ARTA.

Full response is here.

Mayors’ extra rail plans worry minister

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The New Zealand Herald reports Transport Minister Steven Joyce is “worried” that the Super City mayoral contenders – John Banks and Len Brown – are too ambitious for further investment in rail beyond the $1 billion electrification project:

Transport Minister Steven Joyce is trying to dampen early hopes for airport trains and for a central Auckland rail tunnel as officials continue to grapple with how to pay for electrification.

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