Government Misleads on Public Transport Spending in Auckland

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Over at the Auckand Transport Blog I’ve covered the story about how the Government is using misleading figures to imply that it is spending a lot on public transport in Auckland.

A Herald article last month highlighted strong support for more Government spending on public transport improvements in Auckland. It included the following quote:

But a spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that with $890 million budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years “it would be grossly unfair to suggest the Government hasn’t given this mode of transport the priority it deserves”.

The story was analysed in a bit more detail in this post, but the question of where the $890m figure came from remained unresolved.

It is a figure that is repeated on the NZTA fact sheet, and in a press release from Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee’s office in relation to the opening of the Newmarket viaduct replacement:

A total of $3.4 billion is being invested in the Auckland region’s transport system between 2012/15 through the National Land Transport Programme alone, including $1.6 billion for state highways, $968 million for local roads and $890 million for public transport.

In the above context it looks like NZTA is investing $890m in public transport in Auckland, funded through fuel excise and road user charges. I sought clarification from Gerry Brownlee’s office on how the $890m figure was arrived at.  My request was referred to the NZTA, who responded earlier this week:

For clarification, the $890 million is the combined committed expenditure from the National Land Transport Fund (administered by the NZTA) and funding from Auckland Council for Auckland public transport services and infrastructure, between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015.

The NZTA’s share of the $890 million is $488 million. This is made up of $449 million for public transport services and $39 million for public transport infrastructure.

So almost half of the $890m figure actually comes from Auckland Council ratepayers, and the remainder also includes public transport service operating costs as well. (From memory I think the transport services figure includes repayment of the EMU loan). Very few people would know that the National Land Transport Programme includes local council contributions.

This leaves an actual public transport infrastructure spend of $39m from fuel taxes and road user charges over the next three years in Auckland.  This really is a pitiful amount compared to the hundreds of millions being spent on new roading projects. It would seem more than fair to suggest that central Government hasn’t given public transport the priority it deserves.

Travel Time Savings

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The perennial topic of travel time savings came up in a yesterday’s Herald Sideswipe article:

 A reader writes: “If you live in Whangaparaoa instead of, say, Takapuna, you will spend around 30 minutes extra each way in your car at rush hour. Since in each eight-hour work day most people spend at least a couple of hours doing pretty much nothing (coffee, gossip etc), commuters work an extra day a week, equal to 20 per cent of their salary in lost time/money.”

To me it sounds like the reader might work at the NZTA economics department, as what they describe is the fundamental flaw in how benefit cost ratios are calculated. Anyhow, I responded:

A commuter in Whangaparaoa might spend a lot of time commuting by car, but this isn’t “equal” to 20% of their salary. People choose to commute in their own time, not their employer’s, and the value of this time is up to the individual.

A recent NZTA survey found that 40% of people actually enjoyed their commute – and only 3% specified zero minutes as the ideal commute. Few respondents said they would use the time saved to do work or study. Common responses identified any time savings would be spent on non-work/non-study activities such as sleeping, more time getting ready for work, eating breakfast, family time, household chores and reading.

For additional benefits they could also try the 0897x bus service – tweet and text as much as you like! (phone not included).

Keep Going With the CBD Rail Tunnel

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It is apparent from the latest Government Policy Statement that Auckland’s proposed CBD rail tunnel is a project the Government does not want to contribute to.

However, the Government isn’t saying what the alternative is. Auckland’s population is predicted to increase by a million people over the next four decades – seventy percent of New Zealand’s population growth overall.

Without the CBD rail tunnel, growth in public transport patronage will reach a capacity limit a few years from now.

No other transport option will be able to support the expected growth in CBD travel demand. We know this because the $5m business case in support of the CBD rail tunnel established that alternative scenarios of increased use of private vehicles or buses won’t be able to cope with this demand.

Even the New Zealand Transport Agency, in a recent board paper, acknowledges that “there is confidence by NZTA that the project offers a potential option for further transport investment in the Auckland CBD, that supports the stated aims of Auckland.”

The CBD rail tunnel will connect Mt Eden directly to downtown Auckland, with stations at Symonds St, K’Rd, and Midtown. It will not be operated as a loop or circular service, but as a more direct connection from Western line stations to the CBD. A trip from Morningside to Midtown will take just 8 minutes. Fast journey times such as this will be possible for trips from all stations on the Western line.

For the other lines on the network, the major benefit of the tunnel is that Britomart will become a through station, rather than a dead end. This will at least triple the capacity of the entire rail network during the morning peak.

Even with all this in mind, though, the financial constraints on the Government are very real, and a lot of money will need to be directed into rebuilding Christchurch’s infrastructure, particularly within the next five years.

It is clear that, as part of that, transport infrastructure projects will need to be reprioritised.

But, in the face of spiralling petrol prices and the pressure this will place on public transport, it would be a huge mistake to cancel CBD rail tunnel outright.

The CBD rail tunnel has a projected completion date of 2021, with construction not starting until 2015. The next four years are set aside for securing the project’s designation, acquiring the necessary resource consents and undertaking detailed design.

This preparatory work is relatively inexpensive compared to the construction work itself, and the Auckland Council needs to lead this work if it really wants the rail tunnel to progress.

Of course, by 2015, the Auckland Council will need to make a decision about whether to progress with the actual construction of the tunnel.

By then we are likely to have a far better understanding of Christchurch’s remaining infrastructure requirements compared with the rest of the country. And by then central Government will have realised that transport projects which reduce our reliance on fossil fuels should be a priority for the economy.

New Motorway Lane

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Appearing in the letters section today of the NZ Herald:

In opening a fourth motorway lane between Newmarket and Greenlane, the New Zealand Transport Agency claims benefits of over a million dollars week to the Auckland economy, brought about by peak hour journey time savings of up to five minutes.

It is difficult to understand how this claimed economic benefit is calculated. No commuter using this section of motorway at peak times is likely to arrive at work any earlier or leave work any later – workers travel on their own time, not their employers. For a while they may enjoy an extra five minutes in bed or an extra bowl of cornflakes, but this is unlikely to add up to a million a week for Auckland’s economy.

Courier and freight companies that utilise this section of road more frequently at peak times may enjoy some cost savings, but these would hardly add up to $1m a week either.

The NZTA’s reasoning appears seriously flawed, which is a concern given the billions currently being allocated by central Government to motorway projects, while petrol prices soar to record levels.

On the otherhand, if NZTA want to use this type of economic evaluation, then the CBD rail tunnel must be worth tens of millions a week, since a single railway line can carry 10x more than a single motorway lane in an hour at peak. The CBD rail tunnel will also save more than 5 minutes at peak for Western Line passengers, who can also be productive on their mobile phones at the same time, checking emails and texts.

24/7 Shuttle for “logjam”

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The New Zealand Herald reports:

Householders face being transported to and from their homes in a shuttle vehicle as contractors widen North Shore’s busy Onewa Rd during a nine-month project starting today.

Why not catch a bus?

Integrated ticketing a step closer

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The New Zealand Herald reports the NZTA’s announcement yesterday of funding approval for the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) to conclude negotiations with a preferred tenderer for a seamless integrated ticket for passengers to ride on buses, trains and ferries under simpler fare structures.

The NZTA will take responsibility for the system, which could then be rolled out nationally. NZTA are interested in taking over integrated ticketing because a nationally integrated system could also be applied to toll roads, parking meters and car parking buildings, vastly simplifying the systems used for charging motorists as well.

NZTA draft farebox recovery policy

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We’ve just received this by email from the NZTA:

The NZTA has been working on a draft farebox recovery policy for public transport services which sets out the NZTA’s proposed requirements relating to farebox recovery policy in the regions.  Once the policy is finalised it is to be implemented by regional councils and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

The farebox recovery policies that regional councils include in their regional public transport plans set out the contribution public transport users are expected to make to the cost of providing public transport services in their region.

A farebox recovery ratio, the proportion of the total costs of the services recovered from the users, measures the contribution fares make to the cost of providing public transport services, and is typically expressed as a percentage.

The NZTA believes the farebox recovery ratio is one way to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of public transport networks.  The NZTA is keen for regional councils to set and achieve a farebox recovery ratio target for public transport services in their region which sets a fair distribution of the costs between the users, the regional authority and the NZTA.  Farebox recovery ratios have been in decline in New Zealand for quite some time, and the NZTA is keen to arrest this decline.

It should be noted that changing fare structures or raising fares is not the only way to improve farebox recovery ratios, other measures include improving service and information quality, integrating fares and simplifying ticketing systems to encourage increased patronage together with  reducing costs by optimising schedules, frequencies and service times, increasing priority measures and so on.

Further rationale on why we are doing this work and the rationale for the NZTA’s draft farebox recovery policy can be found in the consultation document and associated Questions and Answers attached.  This information is also available via the NZTA’s website http://www.nzta.govt.nz/consultation/farebox-recovery-policy/index.html

We welcome any submission you would like to make.  Details on how to make a submission can be found in the consultation document.  I have also attached a word file with all of the consultation questions raised in the consultation document, which can be used to make a submission.  The closing date for submissions/feedback is 5pm Monday 30 November 2009.

Rudman: NZTA’s $1.29 Credibility Toll

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Brian Rudman does some digging:

Figures for the first five months of operation of the Northern Gateway Toll Road, to June 30, reveal that, on average, it cost $1.29 in transaction costs to collect each $2 car toll.

For those paying by phone, it would have been cheaper to have waved them through for free. Each $2 phone payment cost $2.70 to administer.

I wonder if Steven Joyce will now move to close down the toll operation, as clearly it isn’t making much of a profit, let alone a contribution to the Northern Gateway road.

As well they might, because under the legislation establishing the system, the Government agreed that $1.13 of the $2 collected was to go towards paying for the motorway, 65c was for transaction charges and 22c would go in GST.

In its operating report, the Transport Agency says: “This means we can claim only up $0.65 from each toll to cover our operational costs.”

To make up the difference between the 65c permitted transaction costs and the actual figure of $1.29, the agency has had to dig into its own pocket.

This must also mean the death knell for the ridiculous Puhoi to Wellsford road widening project.


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