Sunday, December 5, 2010

Aussie Expert Doubts Value of Rail Extensions In Auckland

In Christchurch we have the farcial situation of a Mayor - with absolutely no background in the science and technology of public transport planning - advocating rail and light rail. It is perhaps ironic that someone who who studies what works and doesn't work in public transport, and can relate the cost to benefit ratio, Professor David Hensher, director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at Sydney University, should consider much denser Auckland (almost four times Christchurch's metropop) poorly suited to rail.

Professor Hensher told Friday's NZ Herald; "When you look at Auckland, which is fairly low density, I'm absolutely amazed that you'd even consider heavy rail."

"For every kilometre of heavy rail you build in Auckland you could do at least 27km to 50km of bus rapid transit on dedicated roads," he said at the airport, before being driven to Hamilton for the launch of Waikato University's new Institute for Business Research.

Anyone who reads around public transport issues in countries similar to New Zealand (big space, few taxpayers, wealthy, high car ownership) and cities similar in size to Christchurch (because in public transport (city) "size does count") about 120 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA - will know Professor Hensher's words only echo dozens of other studies. As other smaller cities have found - light rail or rail typical needs (a) unique circumstances, including geographical footprint that attract added patronage (b) a population one million plus (c) a big taxpayer payer base to meet the added set up and operating subsidy costs.

Alternately we could follow China's example - a country where government (and city governments) virtually stopped funding light rail back a couple of years (with light rail operative in only four of its dozens of cities!). Did the Chinese whose avowed policy is to jump over the outdated western technologies realise that trams in modern make over just don't do it? Instead the national Government is pumping its public transport funding into conventional heavy rail (in built-up areas), high spped rail (between cities, and as in Shanghai airport-to-city) and dedicated and separated (from other traffic ) busways in "smaller" cities below 10 million.

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