Friday, December 14, 2012

Argy bargy over the CBD rail loop

The political football that is Auckland's Central Rail Loop continues to be kicked back and forth between the Auckland Council and central government. The funding background is that up until the 2009 Government Policy Statement on land transport funding (the that gave us the Roads of National Significance),* metro rail projects were paid for through the national land transport fund. In the interests of freeing up more money for roads, this funding option was removed so that projects such as the CBD rail loop must now be funded either locally (most likely though rates) or by central government.

Aucklanders from both ends of the political spectrum, not unreasonably, think the government should stump up for the central rail loop. Auckland's ratepayers are mystified as to why they should cough up when they pay into the land transport fund. The government, for its part, remains deeply in the financial pooh from its own economic mismanagement, so is crying poor. Accordingly, they have gone to great lengths to justify not paying, of which this example of weaselification from the Ministry of Transport is but one instance. 
Dreaming...of Auckland public transport
As part of the tedious, unnecessary delay the Auckland Council and the government agreed to commission an independent report on the necessity or otherwise of the rail loop. This was released yesterday (here), and argues that the the rail extension "delivers the highest number of people, involves the smallest land take and has the most beneficial impact on car commuters and freight. It is the only headline option with any capacity after 2041." (p7) Got that, central government petrolheads? It will deliver benefits to car communters and freight.

Not surprisingly, the Minister of Transport, or Stephen Joyce (whichever is in charge), has dismissed the report, saying it "falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL)."

The best response to this nonsense (in our view) has come from Heart of City's Alex Swney. Admittedly, there's some self-interest at work since the central city will benefit from the addition of new stations and additional residents. In an interview with Radio NZ this morning Mr Swney let fly. Here's the transcript:
It's very very hard to talk to someone who won't listen. I don't want to be too harsh on Gerry  - perhaps he's just got his mind focused too much on Christchurch and Christchurch's problems. Auckland has some huge challenges. We're going to add the population of Christchurch to Auckland over the next 30 years. That comes with a huge range of challenges for us and they aren't going to be delivered by more tarmac and more cars. This [the CRL] is a modern solution for a modern city with huge growing pains. Auckland is getting highly brassed off when Wellington continues to say "talk to the hand". It's patronising to call this project a valiant [attempt], and it's a waste of taxpayers money when you will go and put huge taxpayer's resources and ratepayers resources together to deliver this report and seemingly dismiss it off hand like that. It's just - dare I say it? - it's immature.
We are bemoaning the fact that a generation ago we didn't begin this project when Dove Meyer Robinson first mooted it, and here we are stuck. We've still got Wellington and Auckland scrapping between themselves. Auckland has reached way over the half way mark, way over the Bombay Hills towards Wellington to come up with a collective response and I must say it's getting galling for Aucklanders to get the push back still, a generation later.
A modern solution for a modern city
Bravo, Heart of the City.
This might unsettle the stomachs of Auckland's normally Tory-voting middle classes, but transport funding needs to be an election issue. Metro rail funding needs to be put back into the national land transport fund from which it was removed in 2009, and  the roads of no significance need to be pushed back to, oh, about 3000.

*Please bear with us, gentle reader. New Zealand's land transport funding system is Byzantine and highly politicised.