Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Transport Plan - to take almost a billion dollars out of quake damaged Canterbury?

Threading through one of the many road and sewerage repair sites in post-quake Christchurch may be difficult but arguably not as hard as sifting spin and bullshit from the political sector!

Currently I feel like a cat who has had a large plate of something that might be meat put in front of him or her, and is sort of circling it, sniffing it, poking it tentatively with its paw, all in all - extremely suspicious!

I refer to the recent announcement that the National Government was going to invest $130 million into Christchurch public transport over the next three years. This is part of a three year package of $12.3 billion for a wide range of transport projects around New Zealand.  This amount is being met by increased fuel taxes and road user charges and about 25% by local ratepayers.

As Canterbury has 15% of the country's population and contributes a similar amount of taxation and the highest rate of car ownership, one might expect about 15% of that amount - $1.84 billion - will be raised in Canterbury  and spent in Canterbury. Of course with e disadvantages of the earthquake damage Canterbury costs are likely to actually higher than the average costs, so this time round anyway, the distribution of these funds will be slightly tilted in Canterbury's favour, just to get things back to a level playing field.

Although life and national (with a small n) economies aren't quite that simple, obviously, keeping this $1.84 billion figure as natural payback in mind  does provide a starting point, rule of thumb, a measuring stick. Are we getting back anything remotely approaching what we put in?

I might be wrong (I am no economist) but it seems to me it is "business as usual" with Gerry Brownlee at the helm and about a billion "transport dollars" are being lifted out of the pockets of  Canterbury taxpayer and motorists and exported across Cook Strait. There may be other funding inputs towards roads and transport related to the earthquake (in particular) that fall outside this exercise but certainly National is not giving Canterbury anything obvious in this current Transport plan. 

This said, greater Christchurch (about 80% of Canterbury's population) does appear to get a few peanuts more than usual back for public transport infrastructure funding.

Public Transport Funding

Looking around other NZ main centres that received public transport funding may  gives some perspective

The commentary below shows all may not be what it seems, Brian Rudman, experienced leading NZ Herald writer on infrastructure and transport issues was certainly quick to read between the lines, in a  column entitles Brian Rudman; Aucklanders dorked again 

"What failed to appear in Mr Brownlee's press release, and got only an oblique reference in the NZTA statement, was that $2.6 billion of that cash didn't come from fuel taxes and road user charges, but from local ratepayers.   In Auckland's case, of the $3.37 billion Mr Brownlee plans to invest, $816 million comes from Auckland Council.

When this shared funding is taken into account, the Government's claimed love affair with public transport - support up 21 per cent, according to NZTA - suddenly looks rather weak. Of the $802 million expenditure highlighted for Auckland public transport, nearly half ($365 million) comes from ratepayers." 

ALSO later in that same opinion piece;

"As the home of roughly one-third of New Zealanders, and the payers of at least 33 per cent of central taxes and petrol imposts, the $2.6 billion of NZTA cash to be spent in Auckland represents 28 per cent of NZTA's funding. On a per capita basis, we should be getting another $500 million at least."

To this last comment NZ in Tranzit says welcome at long last  to our campfire mate!   In the previous decade Canterbury is 13% of the population; generates 15% of the tax and has paid - on this pro rata basis of funding - about $300 million towards Auckland and Wellington public transport infrastructure expenses, with only a few million back towards three bus lane corridors, and the temporary bus exchange and the promise of $41 million for a central city bus exchange, pre-quake, in return.  

The NZTA statement for the Waikato notes that "$50m has been allocated to running Waikato's public transport services and infrastructure" ...so this statement makes it fairly clear, this three year payment is actually includes operating expenses and a budget (and a cap?) for the Government's contribution towards farebox recovery. Presumably this is also true for Christchurch.

As pre quake about $17 million a year came to Christchurch towards city bus services, and post quake the Government is meeting about 50% more, for a brief recovery period - the $120 million for Christchurch looks like it might be more likely to be only $60 million towards infrastructure. And do city ratepayers meet half of this? I don't know, I don't have enough knowledge of this but the implication of Brian Rudman's column above is that they may. 

Whether they do or not the second biggest payment Christchurch taxpayers will anyway have to make towards public transport sector will be the almost $120 million taken out of Canterbury and (de facto) sent to Wellington. It looks like poor old pussy may be having his dinner snatched away and given to the neighbour's cat!


  "Details of an ''unprecedented'' $1.25 billion investment in Wellington's transport network have been revealed, including almost $350 million for buses and trains" according to this article in the Dominion -Post last week. This is almost three times the amount being spent on public transport in Christchurch a city of similar population size. And this although Wellington already attracts twice the annual public transport patronage and has hundreds of millions already spent on a rail system that has failed to attract significant growth to date. All things being equal wouldn't it be wiser to pump money in to create real quality public transport systems in Christchurch? Or give every smaller city and town at least one quality bus system?

Again, I don't know anything about economics, but the simple farmer in me says (leaving aside Auckland and all other transport projects) if two cities of equal size both put in $2 each into a common kitty and city (A) then takes out $3 and the other (B) gets $1, then I can't for the life of me see this as anything else than city (B) giving city (A) a $1.00. 

Or to be precise; quake damaged Canterbury and Christchurch ratepayers/taxpayers are not only fully paying for their own repairs and  new public transport infrastructure but = de facto also giving Wellington  about $120 million towards the Capital's  public transport system.


"The NZTA’s Regional Directorfor the Southern region Jim Harland, says between $130 and $180m is expected to be invested for each of the next three years of the 2012-15 National Land Transport Programme in emergency works in response to earthquake recovery challenges. The thrust of the programme for the next three years is to grow the Canterbury’s economy and support the recovery of Christchurch. 

A key focus of the programme is continuing to support the region’s resilient export sector by progressing the Christchurch Motorways roads of national significance projects, and maintaining and improving Canterbury’s strategic freight routes.

Another priority is public transport, with $130m being invested to increase public transport patronage in Christchurch which has dropped by 40% since the 2010/11 earthquakes. The NZ Transport Agency supports Environment Canterbury’s recent proposal for a redesigned public transport network for Christchurch that will more efficiently service the market at lower overall cost, he said."

How can a service that used to run directly from one point to another be replaced by a service at reduced levels of frequency on main corridors, reduced level of route density (for instance in the east) and 50% reduction in services in the middle of the day on some routes (eg 40 Wainoni)...

...AND which as proposed requires about 40% of passenger trips (at a very rough guess)  to be broken - with transfer between buses needed, even to make (what used to be) a short 20 minute journey in lots of locations ......AND in which the transfers are between services may occur between bus waiting times as long as 59 minutes, but at very least must average an added disruption time of at least 10 minutes per trip requiring transfers [the minimum needed to minimise the proportion of buses/passengers missing connections] ......phew  ......How can such a clumsy option more efficiently service the market?

And WHERE in the world is a model of a small city, of comparable population, density and footprint size, that has run an effective transfer based system based on interacting bus services as much as an hour apart in time!??

Or for that matter where is the proof that ECan itself has ever had the ability to effectively co-ordinate bus departure times to minimise overlapping and maximise service options?

Ahhh. Mr Brownlee and his handmaidens running ECan aren't talking about customer satisfaction, or the total number of people using buses, or the cost per kilometre per passenger carried etc but about one thing only - the overall cost of the service. 

Significantly there is no stated services aspect in the stated goals of this Government Transport Plan despite the biggest user groups - children, teenagers, tertiary students, the mentally and physically handicapped (visibly so or otherwise), single car families with both parents working, retired persons and city visitors and tourists being dependent for the social and economic quality of life on quality public transport.  

All in all, for what appears after-operating costs/ farebox contribution of around $50 million ?? - Christchurch will have enough left of its own money to see completion of bus lanes and a few relatively low key transfer facilities. 

A genuinely integrated service with centralised computer control, bus gate entry to uncontrolled intersections, removal of all congestion choke points; purchase of property for road widening or bus (bike, skate and pedestrian) "cut throughs" to make more effective routes, express busway corridors with under passes; and major secure, attended day time, transfer stations and multiple transfer nodes is not on the agenda. 

Only rail gets that sort  of level of expenditure, and the only commuter passenger rail Canterbury residents are funding is the $120 million it is sending to Wellington to try to lure another few thousand living north of Wellington onto trains. 

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