On Thursday Auckland Transport released a draft budget that caused an immediate uproar – and then transport minister Phil Twyford said it was all a mistake. Auckland councillor Richard Hills explains why the draft budget was so bad, and what he intends to do about it.
I was sitting in the office yesterday minding my own business, when suddenly my phone lit up. People were calling to express their concern that Auckland Transport had released a budget document that, in its funding choices, resembled something from the 1990s, before Auckland rethought its blind love for the car. It made no sense to increase the priority on roads and reduce the priority on public transport and cycling so much. It made even less sense when you consider the council’s beefed up letter of expectation to Auckland Transport which detailed our focus on public transport, walking and cycling – not to mention our shiny new government, which is deeply supportive of this transport planning direction too. I began to fire off very disappointed emails.
Thankfully the response I got was swift. After hearing from Dr Lester Levy, chair of Auckland Transport’s board, and seeing the response of transport minister Phil Twyford, who called the release of the draft budget ‘mistaken’, I firmly believe all will be okay – we will make sure of it. Dr Levy told me that this will not be the draft budget that goes out for consultation and that Auckland Transport is still very supportive of more walking, cycling and public transport projects. It will not cut operating budgets either.
I’ve had sincere apology from AT chair Lester Levy for internal “budget” document mistakenly made public. The doc certainly doesn’t reflect my conversations with @phil_goff and @AklTransport board and our shared commitment to building a modern transport system for Auckland.
— Phil Twyford (@PhilTwyford) January 25, 2018
Dr Levy told me that Auckland Transport are absolutely committed to the priorities of the mayor, Auckland Council, the government and the Auckland public. As he himself said in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RTLP) document released on Thursday, “We need to be more ambitious than we have been previously in introducing many more bus lanes and giving a higher priority to cycling, walking and service vehicles” and that “Auckland is on the cusp of transformational change”.
The sad thing is that this debacle has upset a lot of people and undermined the good work Auckland Transport has done over the past seven years. Good work like investing in public transport to increase patronage from 57,000,000 trips per year in 2009 to over 90,000,000 in 2017, kicking off the City Rail Link, and investing considerably in cycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Understandably, people were angry. I generally don’t find anger gets me great outcomes, but I was close to it myself. When you look at the facts you can see why;
- 2017 saw 3.67 million bike trips counted across Auckland by 28 regional and city centre counters, a 6.2 per cent (220,000) increase on 2016.
- On average, 10,055 bike trips per day, meaning roughly 7,200 trips that could have been taken by car were instead taken by bike (lined up, these cars would stretch for 32km).
- November 2017 was the busiest month, with 355,055 trips recorded. Usually it is March, which in 2017 had 345,156 trips.
- In 2016, 46,000 people took up cycling
- In 2017, AT’s Active Modes research showed that 35% of Aucklanders cycled – up from 31 % in 2016.
- Train patronage has doubled in four years.
- Record numbers of Aucklanders are using public transport.
Demand for these projects is high. Auckland Council’s 2015-2025 budget feedback showed around 90% of submitters wanted us to focus more budget on buses, 85% wanted more focus on cycling, 65% on public transport in general and only 30% wanted us to focus more on roads.
Fellow councillor Chris Darby and I have been very vocal about improving transport options for Aucklanders, and many times we’ve succeeded in gaining more investment in walking, cycling and public transport. The council’s attitude is not “anti-car”, as some would have you believe: the budget for roads will still be large – but we need to invest in these more productive modes now. Public transport, cycling infrastructure and pedestrian zones move a lot more people more efficiently, and in a lot less space, than cars do. Providing high quality alternatives to private car-based travel means those who need to drive face less competition for road space. It also means more space can be used for things like jobs, homes, agriculture, parks and recreation. Many studies have shown that widening roads without providing people with alternative ways to travel encourages more private car travel, and that within 5 -7 years congestion becomes just as bad as it before. Simply widening roads or carving up communities for motorways is short term thinking. It costs more too.
There will be some who might have celebrated the prospect of reduced funding for cycling, but I believe they are in the minority. Most people realise we have a responsibility to prevent more families grieving loved ones being killed on unsafe roads or local residents spending time in hospital after being hit. I see hundreds of kids in my community in our parks learning how to ride, only to later realise the roads are too unsafe to do the same. Many people complain about the costs of significantly popular projects like Skypath, Seapath, the Quay Street Cycleway and the internationally famous Te Ara I Whiti (Lightpath). Yet they didn’t bat an eyelid when we widened Glenfield Road at a cost of $40m or Old Albany Highway for $56m. Then there was the (now abandoned) East West Link, which was going to be $327m per kilometre – the most expensive road project in the world!
More trains are on their way – more double deckers too – Skypath is coming, the government will partner with us on more urban cycleway projects, light rail through the suburbs and to the airport is a priority, and rail to the Shore is an idea I am working hard to make a reality too.
While I am confident all these exciting transport improvements will feature in Auckland Transport’s budget – the real one this time! – it’s crucial that anyone interested in the future of Auckland transport submit on the Auckland Council 10 Year Budget and the Auckland Transport RTLP when consultation commences next month. I know you all keep saying the same thing, but it’s your voice that makes the difference! Not everyone gets it right all of the time, but we should expect and demand better for our city.
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