Sunday, June 30, 2013

Congested and polluted: Auckland's death by tarmac

This week, the government did an about-turn on Auckland Mayor Len Brown's pet transport project, the CBD rail link, and let slip that it will pay some of the cost after all. Sadly, when this well-timed leak was confirmed, it also said that this wouldn't be till after 2020, and only if certain conditions were met. Which sort of dulled the feel-good factor, but is nevertheless a start.

Queue mounting excitement coming up to Friday when the PM was due to make a 'major announcement' on Auckland's transport funding. Another helpful rumour pointed in the direction of funding for a second harbour crossing from the North Shore to Auckland proper. 

What Auckland actually got was a classic bait-and-switch: the promise of a rail link but in actual fact funding for a MASSIVE motorway building programme - roads on 'roids. The region's Mayor was delighted because this means central government will stump up for the big roading projects in the Auckland Plan. The usual suspects fell over themselves to give thanks for National's endless bounty: the Employers and Manufacturers Association (applauded the "candid recognition" of Auckland's traffic issues); the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (whose members will doubtless be toasting the PPPs they imagine will provide their deserving selves a taxpayer-backed cash flow in perpetuity); South Auckland local body politicians who still think motorways reduce congestion; the AA; the National Road Carriers (the main beneficiaries of this largesse); and a bunch of others with their snouts in the trough or in line for leftovers.

The big losers in this are the Labour party and its affiliated environmental advocates. Because they can't or won't question the Mayor's transport priorities, these now find themselves supporting a transport programme with not a cycle lane in sight (indeed with the noble exception of the Campaign for Better Transport's Cam Pitches, opposition has been non-existent). In effect, Labour's endorsement of this tarmac travesty limits the possibility of political support for any opposition to the Greens. And Labour wonders why its poll numbers suck.

The project that the PM had the most to say about and has the business community boned up is something called AMETI East-West. AMETI is the resurrected Eastern Highway which no longer runs through the back yards of wealthy Remuera-ites but terminates in Glen Innes. I'm reliably informed the modelling assures us the traffic will, from there, just vanish into the ether. 
Trucks good. Everything else, bad.

What's new is the 'East-West' bit (Auckland transport blog has proposed route maps etc here). This is a motorway conceived of by the freight lobby because the traffic pinch point around the intersection of Church Street/Nielson Street/Southern motorway gets congested once a day, and especially on Friday afternoons.This congestion could be dealt with cheaply and effectively should the various players choose but cheap and effective appears not to have been seriously considered. The subtlety overlooked by the unquestioning and sycophantic mainstream press coverage so far is that something that looks like an election bribe is in fact a REALLY BIG taxpayer/ratepayer-funded bone for the trucking and infrastructure lobbies. 

The fact that Labour now finds itself cornered into supporting these polluting, wasteful projects is gobsmacking given that the freight and road building lobbies are major National party donors, and it was the freight lobby that pulled off that grubby little pre-election stunt back in 2008. Aucklanders will still be required to stump up a significant portion of the cost of these projects, and Labour's core voters will come out worse off as a result of the inevitable tolls and other road user charges. In the meantime plenty of Aucklanders, including some in Len's old stomping ground of Mangere, will find themselves with no means to oppose the bulldozers in their back yards because naturally the government has waited to gut the Resource Management Act before pushing these projects through.

So will any of these motorways help make Auckland the world's most liveable city? No, it will become even more of a divided, congested and polluted clusterfuck. Gen Y hipsters, it's time step up and stop this death by tarmac because you will be the ones who will pay. And pay. And pay.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The demise of New Zealand's not-perfect-but-better-than-most education system

So we now have charter schools, an unaccountable breed of school foisted on the lower orders by people who would never send their own children to a school run by Destiny Church. Worse, this emerging two-tier education system is being underwritten by the taxpayer. Still, someone has to pay for Brian and Hannah's expensive hairdos.

In a classic bait-and-switch, charter schools have been touted by ACT as being the solution to New Zealand's underachieving 15% - mostly Maori and Pacific Island students. No discussion of why they might be underachieving has ever been had. Nor have any of the issues that contribute to poor educational outcomes ever been addressed, for example poverty, poor health and transience. But mostly, no one has asked why this man should suddenly be crying crocodile tears over young Maori and Polynesian men.

But while we expect unethical pro-corporate behaviour from ACT, the fact that the charter school legislation passed with the support of the Maori Party is truly disappointing. On Morning Report last week Pita Sharples dismissed criticism of charter schools with the well-researched and convincing (not) argument that we should 'give them a go'.

If that's the threshold for policy decisions in the Maori Party then it's time they packed up and went back to their turangawaewae. Good riddance.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Submit. Please.

Sorry about the lateness of this, faithful readers (both of you).

The Auckland Council's Consensus Building Group on alternative transport funding is seeking feedback on proposals on how to raise revenue to fund the transport projects outlined in the Auckland Plan.

The group has drafted a discussion document (here) detailing the issues and the proposed funding packages. If you have time to read the document please do. It is easy to read, having gone to some lengths to avoid the usual cliche-ridden jargon that plagues most council publications. If you don't have time there's an executive summary at the front. 

Aucklanders discover a more efficient way to move freight
In essence, the problem is that Auckland's population is growing (two-thirds of this growth is natural population growth and internal migration so we can't, as some talkback listeners have suggested, pull up the drawbridges), and the level of transport investment outlined in the Auckland Plan is not even going to keep up with this growth. Yet there is still a funding shortfall of about $12 billion (yes, you read that correctly). The two revenue raisers that have been selected from a large suite of options are a cordon charge, similar to what is in place in London; and a motorway network charge so people will pay to use the motorway. The details of these schemes is beyond the work of the group but it is likely that the motorway charge will vary according to the time of day (off peak would be cheaper). The nice thing about these is they also act to manage demand on the road network. The downside is that some people can't avoid them, and low-income earners who work in far-flung places and have little choice about when they work will effectively be hit with a regressive tax. But they will probably get to work faster, so there is a trade-off there.

The group was not tasked with evaluating the merits or otherwise of the projects in the Auckland Plan, and for the transport activists among you that is a battle for another day (we'll keep you posted), but - and this is a significant step forward in Auckland's transport planning - the discussion document talks about the need to front-load improvements in public transport and cycling and walking.

So the point of this: please read at least the exec summary and make a submission. As a cyclist and bus user I would encourage people to endorse the idea that public transport must be improved as a priority. And even though no one likes paying, a motorway network charge that moved some people out of cars would be good for people's health and the region's economy. The decision is yours, of course, but one way or another we will all pay, either directly or through sitting in traffic. Please make a submission (here) so your voice goes into the mix of final options put to the council. Submissions due 7th June.