This week the Herald is backgrounding the key issues of Auckland Council’s draft budget for 2023-24
Part 5: Transport funding
To help fill a $300 million shortfall in its budget, Auckland Council has asked AT for cuts of $25 million and another $7.5 million in its current plans.
Transport is the council’s big spender. In a total budget of $5 billion, the AT operating spend is $1.18 billion and the capital spend is $1.06 billion. That adds up to close to half.
But most of the transport money is committed, so cuts are hard to make and almost all the “discretionary” spending is controversial.
AT decided last December to raise fares by 6.5 per cent, which is expected to generate $4 million. Councillor John Watson, from Albany, has publicly questioned the wisdom of that – and he’s the chair of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee.
Council has told AT not to cut “the number of public transport services”. But driver shortages have forced AT to do this anyway. Some of those cuts could stay in place.
Some people complain when bus service is reduced, others complain when they see an empty bus. Getting it right is hard. And it’s easy to forget that half the buses are “empty” at peak time: they’re heading back to pick up more passengers.
Many footpaths are in poor repair and it’s been a bad year for potholes: more trucks and wet weather are the culprits there. And the budget certainly didn’t allow for the extent of recent damage to roads connecting the west coast beaches.
Austerity budgets always make new spending harder to introduce. Mayor Wayne Brown is keen on technology-driven solutions to congestion and climate change, like “dynamic lanes” and smart traffic lights to speed the movement of buses. But there’s little in this budget for that kind of spending.
Council even intends to review a $10.5 million allocation for buses under the Climate Action Targeted Rate, which will delay the addition of new bus services and could delay the purchase of more e-buses.
Although it’s council policy to achieve a two-thirds cut in transport emissions by 2030, AT says it doesn’t have the funding for it. The budget offers little hope of speedy progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Then there’s the road safety programme, which includes slower speeds on many roads and “raised tables” (wide speed humps) on some suburban streets. They “calm” the traffic, although they also infuriate some drivers. In suburbs like Mt Eden, where they’ve had speed humps for many years, they may wonder why there’s such a fuss in some other parts of town.
As for cycleways, their future was tested this week when nine of the 21 councillors wrote to the AT board, protesting at delays to projects in the inner west.
One of them, on Meola Rd, is a good example of how transport plans can become mired in disinformation. It’s a $47.5 million project, but only $6.2 million of that is for the cycleway. Much of the cost will go to drainage and road repair, because the land is sinking.
When Brown was elected he instructed AT to “completely rethink” and to “listen to communities”. As a result, Meola Rd and other projects were suspended. But the local boards, schools and dozens of other community groups have made it clear they want it to proceed. Local councillor Mike Lee has acknowledged this and agrees.
Meola Rd will now be built, but the fate of the planned cycleways it might connect to in Westmere and Grey Lynn remains undecided.
Council wants to hear what Aucklanders think about all these things. But remember that KiwiRail, not AT, is responsible for the train tracks being dug up. And Waka Kotahi, not AT, is responsible for all state highways including the harbour bridge. Both, like Auckland Light Rail, are Government agencies.
Auckland Council budget: Have your say
All this week, the Herald is backgrounding the key issues.
Thursday: Community services and the arts.
Today: The trains, buses, cars and bicycles debate.
Saturday: Climate action and emergency planning.
Public consultation on the draft Auckland Council budget runs until March 28. You can have your say online, or by phoning or writing in. The council is also holding dozens of “drop-in” events, community barbecues and public meetings. The details are here.