Saturday, February 2 was a great day for Aucklanders, with the opening of the much-needed North Shore Busway, which is already pulling people out of their cars and providing quick journeys from the up and down the North Shore, and making it easier for North Shore commuters to get to Auckland City.
Inspired by this, the Prime Minister should have loosened the purse strings for other vital public transport projects in Auckland.
Instead Labour developed a bad case of what we might call ‘tunnel vision’. It decided to spend $2.3 billion of our money on 4.5 k stretch of motorway from Mt Roskill to Waterview, 3.2 k of it through a tunnel. That is huge money, about half a million dollars for each metre of motorway.
If the government is keen on tunnels, then it should be throwing this money at a cheaper tunnel, to carry a rail line beyond the Britomart downtown terminus to Mt Eden. It is obvious Auckland needs a downtown rail loop (like Sydney) to have the frequency of services required — which is why the Auckland Regional Transport Authority favour this rail tunnel project.
But the government is stuck on the mantra “we’ve got to complete the motorway network”. The Greens have a slightly altered mantra, “let’s complete the rail network first”.
The rail network has 50 years of neglect to catch up on, and it takes people out of their cars, while motorways encourage them to hop in their cars.
The downtown loop rail would be expensive, but considerably cheaper than $2.3 billion. And new overground rail links don’t cost nearly as much to construct, A Southdown to Avondale line may cost $200-300 million, and a connection to the airport shouldn’t cost much more than that.
To get round the argument that rail projects should come first, the government is proposing a Public/Private Partnership (PPP) to build the Mt Roskill to Waterview motorway. It is sort of build now, pay later. But Melbourne taxpayers found that when they finally got around to paying for their PPP CityLink motorway it was twice as expensive as a fully publicly funded one would have been.
One reason privately funded ventures are more expensive than publicly funded ones is that the government can borrow money at a cheaper rate than private firms. There is no way the private partner in a motorway from Mt Roskill to Waterview PPP is going to pull the required $2.3 billion out of a back pocket. That private firm is going to borrow the money.
Aha, you might say, but isn’t some of the money going to come from tolling? The government might project that, but a couple of years ago there was a consultation on tolling for the Western ring route (of which this projected motorway is the part) and Aucklanders gave tolling an emphatic thumbs down. Tolling isn’t a runner.
The sort of tolling the Greens support is that which gets people out of their cars, often called Travel Demand Management — not tolling to raise money to build a motorway which will only put more people into cars.
The English Greens support London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s tolling around central London, which has reduced traffic volumes. But the key difference with Auckland at present is that London has really effective public transport alternatives to bring people in and out of the central city — particularly the London underground. Auckland is still a long way behind, and spending should be on helping Auckland catch up.
We want Auckland, the City of Sales, to also become the City of Rails.
If passed by this Parliament, Jeanette Fitzsimons Climate Change (Transport Funding) Bill, will help. It would ensure that transport funding is allocated mainly to encourage alternatives to car travel, rather than just build new roads.
It is not just the general need for public transport in Auckland that we are worried about, but the even greater need when the global production of oil peaks, but international demand keeps growing — pushing the price of petrol in Auckland through the roof.
It’s pretty certain petrol will be much more expensive come 2015, the projected opening date for the Mt Roskill to Waterview motorway to open. Throwing $2.3 billion at the project just doesn’t make sense.