The Government has put pressure on Auckland councils to ratify a transport governance plan for the region or potentially miss out on a $1.6 billion funding package that went with it.
But will the Government's proposal really cut the mustard?
Eighteen different public agencies have responsibility for planning, funding, developing and managing different parts of the transport network in Auckland. Let's look at two examples.
A journey by car from the central city to Wiri is likely to involve travel over roads owned and managed by two city councils, Auckland and Manukau, and Transit New Zealand.
The roads will have been planned by a subcommittee of the Auckland Regional Council and funded by rates from the two city councils, plus fuel tax and road user charges channelled through the Government's funding agency, Transfund.
A journey from Henderson to Britomart by bus and train will involve travel in a privately owned bus over roads owned and managed by the Waitakere City Council, through stations leased and managed by Auckland Regional Transport Network Ltd (the joint-venture company established by the councils to operate public transport infrastructure) and over rail track owned by the Crown but administered by its new agency, Trackco.
The bus and rail services will have been planned by the ARC, and the whole journey will be subsidised by a combination of rates paid to the ARC, Waitakere and Auckland City Councils, grants from Infrastructure Auckland, direct capital investment from the Crown and fuel taxes and road user charges funnelled through the ARC from Transfund.
That's two simple journeys, and nine public agencies - at least five for each trip.
If all those agencies were working together in full co-operation perhaps the system might work. But historically we have found they don't work well together, and it is probably unrealistic to expect that they ever will.
Different local and regional councillors, ministers and boards are accountable to different constituencies. Stopping competition among the agencies, and reconciling their different views, will always be difficult.
No wonder progress in fixing Auckland's transport is complicated and slow.
But little changes under the Government's proposed new structure.
The ARC would have more influence over public transport than it does now - it will control Infrastructure Auckland's assets, and will influence, but not control, regional funding priorities for public transport and local roads through another new subsidiary, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.
But, depending on what happens to the railway managing company, the same or a similar number of agencies will still be involved in our hypothetical trips.
The only difference will be that Infrastructure Auckland becomes an ARC-controlled agency, Auckland Regional Holdings, and the regional transport authority is added to the mix as a sort of regional co-ordination agent.
The bottom line is that no one agency is singularly responsible or accountable for the regional transport system, but all have an important influence.
The most peculiar aspect of the plan to improve transport governance in the region is that state highways, regional roads and railway tracks have all been left outside regional control.
Surely, if the new transport authority is to put the region's transport plan to best effect it is essential that it has control over the development of the key regional transport corridors, particularly the regional arterial and state highway links?
If it cannot control what happens on the corridors that carry most of the traffic, cause the most frustration, and require the most expenditure to fix, then the new body is likely to be just another bureaucratic clog.
The reality is that Governments have been reluctant to hand the region control of important national assets and large amounts of funding, without the ability to ensure that the funds are used responsibly and that national network requirements are met.
But as it stands Auckland is in danger of being fobbed off with a new body, which is responsible for delivering an integrated network, but has no power to decide what happens on its most critical parts and only limited ability to fund its implementation.
Establishing one transport agency for the region with responsibility to reconcile national and regional needs should not be that difficult, especially when there is a $1.6 billion incentive sitting on the table.
In fact, precedents for joint venture initiatives between Transit and territorial authorities exist in both the Bay of Plenty and Marlborough.
Such precedents could be enhanced to establish one transport agency for the region.
The agency would control all of Auckland's key regional transport corridors, the rail network, the state highways, the arterial roads and the water transport corridors.
It would be bulk-funded through Transfund to deliver a fully integrated transport network for the region that meets each of the national network functions required of it.
Since it would be required to effectively manage funds and assets contributed and/or owned by central, regional and local government, it would have a professionally recruited board appointed jointly by the Minister of Transport, the chairman of the ARC and the chairman of the Auckland Mayoral Forum.
It would be responsible under an agreed statement of corporate intent for delivering an integrated, multimodal transport network which meets the mobility needs of the region both now and into the future.
It would be accountable to the Government to ensure maintenance of national state highway and rail network standards and implementation of the New Zealand transport strategy within the region.
It would be accountable to the regional council for implementing the regional land transport strategy in accordance with the requirements of the regional policy statement and the regional growth strategy.
It would be accountable to the territorial authorities for the operation and funding of the regional arterial network and its integration with the local road network (which would remain under territorial control).
Most importantly, by this process it would be accountable to the users of the transport network to ensure that they are able safely to get where they need to go in reasonable comfort, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.
Regrettably, the Government's latest proposals for transport governance reforms for the region are a long long way away from this.
I suspect our two trips are going to be as long and tortuous as ever.
* Stephen Selwood is general manager of Auckland transport advocacy for the Automobile Association.
Herald Feature: Getting Auckland moving
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