We asked Labour's Jacinda Ardern and National's Nikki Kaye: Does Auckland's public transport need fixing?
This year I made a discovery - it is, in fact, possible to get road rage without actually being on a road. I've decided to call it something else though: "appalling transport investment induced rage".
It's not unique to me; I've seen it on the face of commuters,
and heard it in Parliament amongst Labour and Green MPs. But like road rage, it is entirely preventable and, unless we address it, we will have an even bigger issue on our hands.
First though, let's get all of the myths off the table.
Contrary to what the Government would have you think, there is plenty of money in the transport pot. The Government's own policy statement on transport funding allocates roughly $3 billion to all transport projects over the next few years, 0.7% of which goes into public transport infrastructure and a large chunk of the remainder into RoNS- Roads of National Significance.
This debate is not about money, it's about priorities.
There is no better example of this than the CBD rail link. You can be forgiven if you've been confused by this one. Last week, the Government released a report by the Ministry of Transport and Treasury saying that the business case for this project, which will essentially allow up to 46,000 passengers to move in and around our city every hour and open up the entire network, didn't stack up. It's not hard to see how they came to this conclusion; they assumed that we have limitless capacity on our roads. Anyone who has passed through the downtown area at peak times knows that is simply not the case.
At the very same time the Government released its view, Auckland Council released a report of its own. Theirs was drafted by international experts and concluded that the project was not only necessary, it was critical. And, until it's built, we will live in a city with a choked heart.
If you were cynical you might think the Government had an ulterior motive for writing off the rail link; after all, there exists a strong expectation that central government commit some funding (and rightly so) to this more than $2billion project. But on this subject, I am more than just cynical.
How is it that the Government not only has enough money in the transport pot to fund the Puhoi to Wellsford holiday highway (to the tune of $1.6 billion), but that they could deem this to be a greater priority than the rail link? I am yet to see how making it faster to get to your holiday home improves productivity. We could fix the safety issues through Dome Valley and bypass Warkworth for roughly a tenth of what the Government plans on spending- the rest just isn't a priority.
But the Government's poor priorities are having a wider impact - it's robbing commuters of choice - and in the face of rising petrol prices, choice is what they need. There is a reason why the use of state highways has flatlined as petrol prices have increased, and at the same time demand for public transport has grown by 22% since 2007. No matter what your view is on oil and its limits, you cannot dispute that it is a finite source, and the cost of it will continue to climb.
We can and must turn this ship around by investing in sustainable transport options. And to do this, I strongly believe it's time to make the National Land Transport Fund contestable across all modes of transport. Why should investment in roads not compete with other public transport infrastructure projects?
Secondly, we need to start taking into account that 'choice' is fast becoming a luxury word when it comes to transport, and cost benefit analysis for roading projects should take this into account.
I make no apologies for my 'road rage' on this one. This is a huge issue for Auckland, it's the difference between us becoming a world class city and not. I don't need another business case to tell me what has already been proven, or for Government MPs to tell me it will happen one day in the never never.
It's time for some action.
You only need to drive round Auckland at peak-hour to know that our city has a big traffic problem. Being stalled in traffic robs us of time and also our productivity. If we are to be a world-class city, we need a world-class transport system.
We need to lift the quality of the debate from tired old battles of roads versus rail to a smarter discussion about how we deliver this for Auckland. We know the benefits of a better transport system include delivering people more time in their day by reducing congestion, reducing air pollution and helping to increase the productivity. If you think these issues are minor then consider that congestion in Auckland alone has been estimated to cost our city $1 billion a year.
The first issue that needs to be fixed is the long term Auckland infrastructure deficit. Since the 1950's when the decision was made to dismantle the tram system and to not electrify the rail network, we have seen a massive decrease in people catching public transport. For more than half a century there has been significant underinvestment in infrastructure in Auckland. Yes, public transport infrastructure is a big ticket item and for a small country the reality is, it is very difficult to pay for these projects quickly. We should have been saving for big-ticket items like the CBD rail link over the past 20 years.
Infrastructure doesn't come without a price tag and it competes for limited taxpayer and ratepayer dollars. We need to invest carefully to ensure that every dollar is well spent. And we all have to understand that the Government cannot do everything all at once.
Right now the government is investing more than ever before in Auckland transport. This includes more than $1.6 billion for the electrification of the commuter rail network, funding for new electric trains, the double tracking of the Western Line, the new Manukau line, reopening the Onehunga line, and new train stations. On the roading side, it's building the Newmarket Viaduct, Victoria Park Tunnel, the Waterview Connection, the recently opened Manukau Harbour Crossing and the soon to be opened Hobsonville Deviation.
Together, all these projects will create a stepchange in reducing travel times and increasing reliability over the next few years. The issue is what happens after that.
The inability of Auckland to be able to fund and deliver infrastructure across the city is one of the major reasons I supported the concept of one Auckland Council, with one plan, and one mayor to get things done. The Auckland Council has over $30 billion in assets and annual revenue of over $2 billion. Whether you supported the formation of the Auckland Council or not, Auckland has never been in a better position to deliver infrastructure and a more integrated public transport system. Sometimes this will be a partnership with central government and sometimes it won't. The new Auckland spatial plan enables us to have these discussions and plan our transport system over a longer period.
One of the big rail projects that I support is the CBD rail link. I have supported the rail link since 2009, but the issue has always been who will fund it and when will it be delivered. The review of the business case for the CBD Rail Link has provided greater transparency regarding the potential benefits and costs of this project. We need to know accurately what benefits the CBD rail loop will bring before committing tax and ratepayer money to the project. I personally believe this project will happen in the future.
We are making a record investment in infrastructure right around the country but the priority will always be projects that deliver real economic benefits and we are not yet satisfied that a sound case for the CBD rail link has been made. There are interim steps that the Auckland Council and Auckland Transport can take to progress the project, including protecting the route, and I'm pleased the government is encouraging Council to follow this path. I believe it is positive that the Minister and Mayor have agreed that the Auckland Council should designate and protect the most likely tunnel route. As the local MP I am keen to help the mayor consult with constituents and businesses affected.
It is frustrating that often these sorts of debates are simplified to a road versus rail discussion. The reality is good roading projects can help to reduce congestion.
An example of this is the $340 million Victoria Park tunnel project in my electorate. The entire $340m project to ease motorway congestion in the central city is now on track to be finished by February next year, a year and three months earlier than expected. The first two northbound lanes will be opened in November, which will move the traffic around so the rest of the project can be finished. It will greatly ease congestion for the 160,000 plus vehicles that use this route each day.
I believe our approach has been very balanced. At the same time as building new infrastructure, operating subsidies for Auckland public transport have increased between 2006-09 and 2009-12 from $277 million to $347 million.
As a result, Auckland has come a long way in building its bus network. The advantage of the new Auckland Council is that we can now improve the design of the bus network. Most people I talk to say they would catch public transport more frequently in Auckland if it were more reliable, frequent and safe. The redesign of the bus network needs to be a priority for the Auckland council, our ability to get more people on buses is about ensuring that on main arterial routes.
One area of public transport that is not enough part of the discussion is walking and cycling. This is particularly important in an area like central Auckland where we need to ensure there are safe walking and cycling routes to get across the city. Walking and cycling are also a vital part of the mix to address Auckland's congestion.
Major gains will be made by delivering the regional radial routes, developed by Cycle Action Auckland and supported by the NZTA. The first of these is completion of the North Western route to link with the University and Central Auckland.
I want to acknowledge the gains in cycling in Auckland that have been made with the help of groups like Cycle Action Auckland.
Finally, one issue that I campaigned on was ensuring an integrated ticketing system was delivered for Auckland. In early April integrated ticketing was rolled out in Auckland with the new HOP smartcard launch. HOP will enable Auckland public transport users to access all public transport services with just one smartcard. Integrated ticketing is an important part of establishing a more efficient, effective, and user-friendly public transport system. The smartcard technology will mean passengers can travel across a city or region using buses, trains and ferries while getting the best available fare for their journey. What's more, public transport users will enjoy fast and convenient ticketing.
In order to guarantee our city an enduring public transport system we need to make sure it is affordable, integrated, cost effective, reliable and safe. To do this we need to work collaboratively, smarter and make longer term investments in public transport.
I am confident we have started moving our Auckland in the right direction but we have a way to go.
Do you have a topic you would like Nikki Kaye and Jacinda Ardern to tackle?