Ah, the rail advocates say, you forget the social and environmental benefits of being able to run more passenger trains because of reduced car traffic and traffic congestion. No I haven’t. They are just too infinitesimal to measure. The passenger train operational costs are 80% subsidised and the majority of users were former bus patrons. Many of those buses were not subsidised – so there is no net gain at all there in terms of congestion, just increased cost (a few buses off the road will make virtually no difference). The shift from car to rail is also very low – and makes virtually no impact on congestion - work done by the ARC a few years ago indicated that road traffic speeds would be improved by less than 0.5km/h. This taxpayer funding is around 50% more than the cost of building the Mt Roskill and Manukau extensions of SH20 (both of which will make a noticeable difference to congestion) - and those are funded from petrol tax, so are paid for by road users.
So should Auckland ratepayers be thrilled? Well being saved from funding the rail track infrastructure upgrade is one thing – but the quid pro quo is that capital expenditure on stations and trains will be entirely funded by ARTA, which means ARC rates and Auckland Regional Holdings dividends and cash assets. Operating costs continue to be subsidised 60% by Land Transport NZ (your petrol tax) and 40% from ARC rates. That will cost ratepayers a packet, and you wont see congestion reduce. The marginal difference to congestion made by these projects is tiny – because rail is very expensive, and most trains don’t go near where most Aucklanders work. Buses do better, they carry around 30% of commuters into downtown Auckland, but they are not sexy – and some of them are not subsidised. It costs little to put in bus lanes, or other measures to speed up bus journeys.