Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To understand public transport in Christchurch one must start in Auckland

Hundreds of millions of dollars generated by Canterbury fuel taxes have been used to upgrade public transport in Auckland and Wellington! Meanwhile Christchurch continues to operate buses very much at at a clumsy 1970s level, as above approaching Northlands.

New Zealand is about to be swept by the restless tide of city and district council elections - NZ in Tranzit looks at some of the key public transport issues facing Canterbury councils. The elephant in the back seat of the bus that can not be ignored in Canterbury is the gross deprivation of transport funding that rightly belongs in Canterbury

New Zealand Transport Agency is gearing up to start the $550 million extension of Auckland's Northern Busway, 

An internal report obtained under the Official Secrets Act by Auckland Transport blog - the details since reprinted in mainstream media -  revealed the Agency feels the first part of the two-stage extension will be "economically justified" by 2015 and the entire project justified by 2019.

Though $550 million is a large sum of money for taxpayers to fund, it is very much small bikkies beside other Auckland transport spending (of all sorts), all relying on nationwide taxes  - for example the planned $4.6 billion Auckland Harbour Tunnel  and Government half share - $1.43 billion - of the Auckland underground rail link belatedly agreed to by Prime Minister Keys.

Even Government spin can not hide the fact that taxes of the whole country will be needed to subsidise Auckland, Canterbury taxpayers alone, about 13% of the population can expect to feed in about $700 million for just to these three projects alone, with almost twice that amount eventually expected for proposed other projects (the Waterview Tunnel under Mt Albert, the AMETI scheme and Eastern busway included).

Wellington doesn't miss out entirely when the cake is passed around - the Greater Wellington Regional Council just has just "spent" another $170 million for the last (for now) of the Matangi trains, the lion's share actually for paid by NZ Transport Agency, This brings to over $700 million poured into upgrading a Wellington region rail network, mostly commuter passenger train linked, over the last decade.  

Meanwhile the programme of bus laning of several major bus route corridors in Christchurch planned six years ago to be finished by 2012  is barely half-way. 

In November 2009 New Zealand Transport Agency, under dictat of the National Government so eager to pour at least  $7 billion taxpayer money into Auckland projects, reduced the previous [Labour] Government allocated funding towards cycleways, road safety programmes and bus lanes in Christchurch by at lest $4 million.

Without sufficient Government funding some bus lanes will not now be built until 2019 - a mind boggling 22 years after the first attempt to create bus lanes on Riccarton Road - and years behind most other cities. 

The only major project the Government was prepared to come on board with was an (expected) $60 million towards a new bus exchange, planned in 2010. Viewed against the imbalance of public transport expenditure and what Canterbury had contributed pro rata to public transport in Auckland and Wellington, this was not was a fraction as large an amount as it seems. To put it mildly. 

However even this imbalance palls when we look at Total transport income and expenditure across NZ these last six years, it becomes merely sixpence in the hat of a the man driven to beggary by the thief who stole his wealth. .

Of course, of course,  Auckland has some special needs because of greater density and its economic role; Wellington has special needs because of the special geographic character of the area. That is accepted. It is not expected spending in any field will be 100% in ratio to population.But this said transport is a fairly homogenous thing in NZ. Nine out of ten adults have access to cars, rail and trucking will probably be fairly closely matched to population size, with a few quirks. The main source of transport expenditure is fuel taxes, and I would imagine these are fairly homogenous pro-rata - ten times more people in a town, ten times more fuel tax generated. 

The Press on 28 August 2009 announced -

 ..."The large spend up on New Zealand Highways will see funding for Canterbury roading projects more than double to $636 million in the next three years. Transport Minister Steven Joyce released details yesterday of the $8.7 billion in taxpayer money to be spent on roading [and public transport etc] over three years.

Sounds impressive doesn't it, $636 million, until we check out what 13% of $8.7 billion actually amounts to. It is actually $1.13 billion. Even in this unusually large spend up (mainly for the Southern motorway extension) Canterbury fuel taxes etc are actually still flowing north to subsidise Auckland and Wellington transport, to the tune of pumping about $470 million across the Strait.

And that was a good three year  period for Canterbury - the previous three year funding period $7.2 billion was allocated to various projects across the country - Canterbury 13% of the population received back in transport projects , $325 million. That is to say, Canterbury received only 4.5% to spend on roads and public transport etc, only about a third of the 13% of fuel taxes it generated  In that period, our generous southern subsidy to northern cities was about $600 million! 

In other words over a billion dollars in six years (even with earthquakes intervening) has been taken out of the local transport economy and sent north.

Back in 2003 the outspoken (if intemperate)  city Councillor Denis O'Rouke did at least make a few decently loud squawks, claiming the city was only getting back half of the fuel taxes it paid. 

In 2005 Mayor Garry Moore made a few more polite noises on the same matter (on a richter scale measuring the effect in parliament probably equivalent to a series of genteel  farts), and this in 2007 just before he accepted a sinecure as a member of the Boards of Land Transport NZ and Transit NZ!!.  Yeah right. Lead on McDuff??

We need an united  civic leadership that has the nous to stand up for Canterbury, that can mount a strategic campaign to achieve a significant shift back towards fairness in transport funding. A council that  that works hard - on the national stage (just as Len Brown fought for Auckland) to see that hundreds of  millions of transport dollars are retained here where they are generated, in Canterbury  and the South Island in general. 

As far as resolving our ever more lousy traffic situation and grossly underfunded and undeveloped public transport system that  seems to be the most basic task of any incoming council.  

More on the Auckland sucks debate (lovely place but its got a junkie habit for the nation's wealth)


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