Over the next 30 years, Auckland’s population is expected to increase by more than 700,000 people. Local roads are already pushing the upper limit on how many cars they can hold without reaching a complete gridlock. Auckland’s transport woes have been a hot topic of debate between New Zealand’s major political parties. This article will explore the pros and cons of investing in different modes of transport in order to explain why the parties hold their conflicting views.
Anyone living in Auckland knows that travelling in peak hour traffic can be an excruciating experience. With a growing population, it is only set to get worse in the coming years. Congestion wastes not only fuel emissions, but time and productivity. Investing in new road networks and widening existing motorways is arguably the most direct way to tackle congestion.
A report from Roads of National Significance notes the potentially large economic benefits of investing in roads. Around 92% of all freight in New Zealand is moved by road. Industries that are critical to the economy such as dairy processing, forestry and tourism are key beneficiaries of better roads. The report makes the connection between speeding up freight movements and speeding up the economic growth of these key industries.
Opening and widening roads can have counter-intuitive side-effects, however. Multiple studies have applied the economic concept of ‘induced demand,’ by which increasing the supply of something makes people want that thing even more. It isn’t simply the case that public transport users will decide to switch to cars, or that people will start going out more often. New motorways open up the CBD to people living further and further away. If you expand people’s ability to travel, they will do so. Several studies even show a one-to-one relationship: as road capacity increased by 10 per cent, the number of drivers in that city also went up by 10 per cent.
Public transport enthusiasts Greater Auckland (www.greaterauckland.org.nz) and Generation Zero (www.generationzero.org) have been calling for extended rail networks for years. Perhaps the greatest benefit of trains is that they have massive rush-hour passenger-carrying capacity, while taking up minimal city space. Even AT’s smaller 3-carriage electric trains seat up to 232 seated passengers. This potentially translates to 232 fewer cars on the road.
Trains are faster and tend to cover greater distance than other forms of transport. As the cost and time for a journey falls, labour markets expand. This means people are able to take up jobs in urban centres, increasing economic output in these areas. Productivity for new and existing workers may also increase as the amount of time spent in traffic decreases. Studies have shown that even if individual travel times stay the same, travellers are able to relax and work on their journeys. Additionally, lack of viable transport can be a profound barrier to job-seekers. Rail systems open up economic participation to those who cannot drive, such as the poor and disabled.
Electric trains are healthy for the environment as don’t emit exhaust fumes. Rail networks are also beneficial, as people who do not take cars to work are more likely to walk throughout the day. Despite their benefits, it is difficult to ignore that rail networks are expensive and are no easy task to build. The City Rail Link is proposed to cover a mere 3.5 kilometres and has been priced at up to $3.4 billion taxpayer dollars. Former prime minister John Key warns that Australia’s new light rail network suffered a significant cost blowout, and suggested that a similar network would take 20 years to build in Auckland.
The humble bus, while a source of frustration for many, is a cheap and efficient way of getting people to and from work or school. A well-designed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system can move passengers over more kilometres of roadway, faster, and for lower cost than any other transport system available. If buses depart regularly enough they can in fact match the rider capacity of trains. At the same time, BRT has huge potential to relieve congestion and the air pollution that comes with it.
The key argument behind BRT is that it is far cheaper to open new bus routes than it is to build roads and railways. The majority of expenditure on BRT comes out of employing drivers. In fact, the US Transportation Review Board estimates the average cost of BRT at $3m dollars per km, compared to light rail at $70m. The ability for vehicles to act independently of one another and cover many routes is something buses do well, while trains do not. For this reason, BRT is the most accessible mode of transport of the three.
The benefits of BRT are heavily dependent on circumstance, however. Too many buses will only increase congestion and cost, as more drivers need to be employed. A report by AT noted that it is essential to open bus lanes and bus stops in order to achieve the kind of speed and cost efficiency goals Auckland needs. It is an unfortunate but inescapable truth that few people enjoy riding the bus – they can be bumpy, smelly, slow and overcrowded. So vehicle quality and maintenance is something else that needs to be considered.
Party views on transportation:
Labour promises to invest in infrastructure to cut congestion; “our first commitment is to build a light rail line from Mt Roskill, through dominion road to the CBD. This will eventually form the basis for a light rail network.” The party believes that light rail is urgently needed to allow ease of travel for Aucklanders. They argue that investing in bus fleets after a certain extent will only add to congestion in the CBD, and project that Auckland CBD will be at capacity for buses in five years.
National loves building roads. Their transport plan for 2016 aimed to bring forward $800 million of roading projects in Auckland, including work on parts of state highway one and state 20a to the airport. This plan also includes Investing in the Auckland western ring route and the much-hyped Waterview tunnel.
National has shown some interest in public transport by formalising their funding commitment to the
City Rail Link. Construction is expected to be complete in 2024.
Consistent with their low-emission ethos, the Green party has aimed to minimise construction of roads and motorways in their transport plan. The plan will redirect spending “away from motorways towards trains, buses, walking and cycling infrastructure to transform our towns and cities.”
New Zealand First
New Zealand first states that they will subject every new major roading project to the requirement that its transport objective cannot be partly or wholly achieved through public transport initiatives. They aim to prioritise high capacity vehicles and services, and are in favour of high frequency services at peak times.
The Maori party aims to reduce transport disadvantage by shifting the focus of private car use to one where public transport, walking and cycling are core. They aim to “improve urban design and broadband, so that people are less likely to have to travel, or can walk or cycle.”