It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get pen to paper (or is that finger to key?) on here, and that’s largely been due to competing priorities in my life throughout much of October and November. It’s been quite an interesting time, and whilst there are plenty of other sources covering the issues, the following really standing out for me:
Prospects of the 2020 election results
Yes, Labour coasted into government on 17 October. The surprise of the night was that Labour gained an outright majority of seats, something never before achieved in 24 years of proportional representation, and meaning they are the first political party to win a majority of votes cast since 1951. What does this mean for the big transport issues the nation and the bigger cities faces? It’s a big shrug from me, but I believe delivering on transport priorities is inextricably tied to delivery in other areas such as housing, climate change, and economic development. The government will need to get runs on the board this term, there are few excuses. Perhaps they can turn to some of the Greens policies on regional rail (as Labour were lacking anything of their own) to add to the NZ Upgrade Project pipeline, whilst in Auckland…
Auckland’s light rail project needs a saviour
The Auditor General has criticised the process for delivering Auckland’s light rail project, specifically the decision to pit the unsolicited private-public-partnership light metro proposal from NZ Infra against a competing Waka Kotahi (NZTA) led proposal. One of the key observations of this news is that it really confirms the project, which was pretty advanced at the time, was effectively taken back to first principles; i.e. the NZ Infra project, being light metro, was completely different in scale and scope, meaning the two competing projects were going back to basic policy implications. that is indeed highly unusual, and confirms some of my earlier thoughts on the subject. The new Minister of Transport, Michael Woodhouse, has a helluva job to sort this mess out.
Let’s Get Wellington Moving
Speaking of messes, this is another big project that needs to start delivering results. My take on it is that it’s become a little political, with businesses and road advocates undermining the evidential base with enticing – though flawed – rhetoric about car parking and car access needing to be prioritised for economic reasons. With the election over, I’m hoping those involved in the governance of the project can get it back on track (although the need for a review has undoubtedly dented the public’s confidence in recent weeks).
National Policy Statement on urban development
The biggest thing to come out of the previous coalition was the National Policy Statement (NPS) on urban development, bypassing councils and removing height limits and car parking minimums in central city areas. This will make it easier to build affordable apartments, and deliver on aims of reducing carbon emissions and making New Zealand’s cities more people, active and public transport friendly by increasing density in key areas. How this will roll out will be interesting to watch; what was horrific to observe, however, was the Christchurch City Council’s backwards reaction to this, calling it an imposed “Auckland policy”. This from a council that wants to increase public transport use and have more people living in its inner city. It’s little wonder Christchurch is New Zealand’s most car dependent city, and that’s not a title it should be proud of.
As I write this, a technical report called ‘The Congestion Question’ (really???) has been released and basically proposes a $3.50 congestion charge for the central city and “strategic corridors”. I haven’t read it yet – and will with an aim for a more detailed comment on congestion charging – but it aims to reduce traffic by 8-12 percent and would have a first stage of a inner city cordon operating at peak hours only. The cordon could have a capital cost of $46 million, $10 million per annum, and return $20 million in revenue, while a wider option could cost $185 million, $87 million per annum , and bring in $223 million of revenue.
Political support can be summed up as something akin to cautious optimism, but there seems to be broad agreement that public transport networks need to reach a level of accessibility and effectiveness as an alternative choice first. I somewhat agree with this assessment, but would point out that one persons “acceptable alternative” can be very different from another’s. This will be interesting to watch, but I do wish this had more of a national scope. Auckland is our biggest city, true, and that gives it a sense of priority, but there is no point in doing this if the benefits don’t flow. We are already seeing Christchurch follow Auckland’s past mistakes step-by-step, whilst Wellington would seem an ideal city to trial a cordon.
Local Government – is reform on the horizon?
A lot has been in the news lately about local government and the need to explore new ways of funding to help it deliver on infrastructure. There are other issues attached to this, including the prospect regional transport authorities, housing and delivery on other government priorities, RMA reform, and more. Whilst not strictly a “transport” issue, I am nevertheless currently preparing a future article on local government for this site. Stay tuned.
During my self imposed break from posting, I have been thinking a lot about what I want to get out of this site, and what I want others to get out of it. My day-to-day job is firmly ensconced in the transport sector, and I have been involved in policy setting on transport infrastructure investments, and advocacy for several years now. So 2021 will bring a bit of a reset. There are things I had planned that I never got around to this year, largely because a few other projects took priority, but what I can say is that 2021 plans are being made on how I delver on what I want to deliver. this may include a streamlining of content, and a slight refocus. I will keep readers posted.
One thing I have been meaning to do is get a Twitter presence for the site. This is the most straightforward thing, yet I’ve constantly put it off as it really does open a whole can of worms in terms of admin. However, in future I’ll post links to posts on the sites twitter account, as well as interesting articles and views, and maybe some commentary. This will go live soon.
Have a good week!