Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Mayor should get real on transport

Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / NZPA
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / NZPA

It's smoke and mirrors time again at city hall. Yesterday Mayor Len Brown launched next year's budget with a pledge to keep rate increases down to a dull roar. Yet the day before, his specially appointed transport "consensus building group" met for the first time to conjure up new ways of squeezing an extra $10-15 billion out of Aucklanders for the mayor's "must have" new bridges and tunnels and rail lines.

The transport talkfest will cost $1.1 million over the next nine months. That to prepare a report the Government has repeatedly said it plans to reject. Indeed the Ministry of Transport and the NZ Transport Agency demonstrated the Government's contempt for the process by boycotting it.

So on Wednesday, as Noah Len's transport ark opened its doors to a walker, a cyclist, a poor person, a unionist, a carpark owner, an environmentalist, a car club member, a road builder and assorted capitalists, the two players needed to get the ark afloat failed to step aboard.

If ever there was a waste of $1.1 million of ratepayers money it's this fruitless exercise. Both Labour and National have rejected the idea of Aucklanders paying more for transport infrastructure than other New Zealanders. End, surely, of story.

A more profitable exercise would be to trim the shopping list instead, and an excellent place to start would be to scrap the proposed $5 billion plus new harbour crossing.

Since 2007, traffic volumes on the existing harbour bridge have been trending downwards, mirroring a trend NZTA researchers have recorded across the entire state highway network.

Nationwide, motorway traffic peaked around 2003 after a steady climb since records began in 1989. Heavy traffic took a couple of years longer to plateau.

Thanks in part to the runaway success of the Northern Busway, the decline on the harbour bridge is leading the way. Mr Brown doesn't have to take my word for it. Auckland Council's principal transport planner Josh Arbury is much better informed and eloquent on the subject than myself. Up until around March this year anyway, when he crossed over from the blogosphere, and disappeared into the cone of silence that is the council bureaucracy.

Late last year, Mr Arbury's excellently informed blog quoted a confidential Beca Infrastructure report to NZTA noting a decline in both traffic loadings and volume on the bridge since 2005, reversing the steady growth in average daily traffic recorded from 1960 to 2005. He analysed NZTA traffic volumes since 2007, and calculated that bridge traffic had dropped by 4.8 per cent over that period.

NZTA figures back this up, showing that between 2007 and 2008, average daily bridge traffic volume dropped by more than 10,000 to 154,925, then rose slightly to plateau on around 158,100 from 2009 to 2011.

An NZTA report earlier this year points to the part the busway played in this, noting that the 81 per cent increase in bus transport from North Shore to the central city between 2001 and 2011 was more than double the 36 per cent predicted in 2004 by their experts.

This week, Mr Arbury's successors on the Auckland Transport blog suggested this is not the only prediction NZTA got wrong. An entry highlights that the agency's 2010 "business case" for a new crossing that predicts daily traffic will increase by 18 per cent between 2008 and 2026, uses an erroneous baseline figure to start with. It claims 168,150 vehicle movements a day across the bridge in 2008, over 13,000 more than NZTA's own records.

Using the NZTA's claim that a new crossing will be needed when vehicle per day numbers reach 188,000 to 200,000, the transport blog says correcting this error pushes the critical threshold beyond 2041. That's if NZTA's prediction of steady growth in traffic is correct. But the lack of growth in traffic volumes both on the harbour bridge and state highways since 2005, throws this assumption into doubt as well.

The completion of the $2 billion Waterview Connection in 2017 finishes the Auckland highway network envisaged more than half a century ago which will further reduce pressure on the existing bridge.

Even God had to have a rest after six days of non-stop creating. After six decades, Auckland road builders should do the same.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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