Sunday, February 25, 2007

Brian Rudman is intellectually vacuous on transport

Brian Rudman has been the Herald's leftwing pinup columnist for some years now. In that time he has rallied for several causes, one is his tired old conservative leftwing view on transport. It's a view that few transport officials take seriously, unless of course, you sit on the left hand side of the Auckland Regional Council. Given his prominent column, he is an opinion maker in Auckland - there ought to be a corresponding opinion piece given by someone at least armed with facts. Rudman's view is rather simple - Auckland bureaucrats get it right, Wellington bureaucrats get it wrong - in fact both get it wrong and right at times, but hey simplicity is easy isn't it?
^
According to Rudman, Auckland's transport problem would be fixed if only an absolute fortune was poured into rail, including a large underground electrified rail loop in the central city. The cost of this is in the multiple billions, but never mind he thinks government (that means you) can pay for it. Never mind that 88% of Auckland's employment is not located in the wider central business district, so that 4 out of 5 commuters (let's be generous and assume 8% could catch trains between locations outside the CBD) would find no use for this. Never mind that the ARC's own CS First Boston report indicates that the full rail business plan would improve average traffic speeds on the parallel motorways by less than 0.5 km/h. Never mind that the Ministry of Transport/Treasury's own analysis said that Auckland's congestion could not be fixed by spending up large on public transport.
^
Now he is bleeting on about buses, the much ignored mode of transport in Auckland. The mode that saw ever decreasing patronage over thirty five years under local authority ownership and control, retrieved from decline after privatisation in the late 1990s. In his latest doggerell, Rudman calls the current model for bus regulation and funding as the "disastrous" Thatcherite model, but fails to note the appalling standards of service, chronic underinvestment and ever growing subsidies (and declining patronage) of the old system. This system that has "dogged" Auckland for 15 years has only been operating fully for 9 years (check the legislation Brian) and for most of those years has seen increases in patronage, a reduction in the average age of buses operating, the first air conditioned buses and most of this without substantial increases in subsidies. This doesn't suit Brian's socialist unprofessional viewpoint.
^
He unashamedly takes ARTA's view on bus regulation, not challenging any of the notions like how "That most civilised cities used the simple contracting model they were proposing". Well actually they don't Brian, most provide the services themselves and see ever declining patronage, look to the US for such examples - where union dominated operators run by councils run adequated fleets with ever growing subsidies and ongoing declining patronage. The "extremely unattractive" model run in Auckland actually has saved ratepayers a fortune and seen patronage increases. However, you'll need to look elsewhere for a columnist who might hold ARTA to account. He did note that 26% of Auckland bus services are unsubsidised, and these carry 46% of all bus trips - so nearly half of all trips don't need a dollar of taxpayer money? Extremely unattractive only to those who are bent on control. He twisted stats to say "Is it pure coincidence that in the 15 years the current model has been in place, bus patronage growth in Auckland has been the worst in Australasia - down 34 per cent relative to population?". No Brian, the current model has been in operation since 1998, and it is NOT the worst in Australasia, in fact there have been declines in the last two years largely attributed to the collapse of the Asian language student industry in Auckland (where large numbers rode on buses on corridors in the isthmus) and the replacement of some services with his much loved trains. He fails to note the reason why Stagecoach pulled out of commercially running some services is because of competition with highly subsidised rail. He claims reforms will make the trains run on time, even though they are all currently subject to a contract with ARTA that ARTA specifies.
^
A couple of weeks or so ago he took the Winston Peters approach to congestion charging, a populist no - even though it has proven to work in Singapore, London and Stockholm. He misconstrued the results of the study on Auckland road pricing as negative, when in fact it said that congestion could be considerably reduced if Auckland adopted congestion pricing. He claims "For years this region has received less than its proportionate share of national road and transport funding." without identifying what a "proportionate share" means. If he means by population, then Auckland can claim that for just about everything involving government - but I doubt he'll go tripping around the South Island, Northland, East Cape and Wairarapa demanding "Auckland's fair share". If he means according to where money is best invested, he'll find funding has generally followed where it can best deliver bang for the buck - but I didn't think Brian cared much about efficiency. Besides, it is not the point - when demand exceeds supply for someone that is essentially free, the price should go up to ration it. You see Brian can't figure out that having roads priced the same regardless of time of day or location (socialist pricing) is the problem, and that road pricing COULD be introduced to replace fuel taxes and ratepayer funding of roads - but he doesn't understand that. Nowhere in the world has congestion been solved without pricing, unless you count banning cars.
^
Before that he moaned about Wellington Regional Council short listing suppliers for new electric trains while "Despite what seem like 101 reports in support of Auckland's passenger train network going electric, they who know best in Wellington keep asking for yet another report". Mainly because no report has actually said there are net quantifiable benefits in electrifying Auckland rail.
^
He criticised the Ministerial Advisor Group report on roading costs because it criticised the exhorbitant cost of the Victoria Park Tunnel proposal (which is about increasing the lanes on State Highway 1 from spaghetti junction to the southern approach to Auckland Harbour Bridge from 4 to 6 lanes by putting 3 lanes in a tunnel, while converting the viaduct to 4 lanes southbound), which in a highly overengineered solution when a duplicate bridge could do the job for a fraction of the cost. However he doesn't say where the extra money should come from to support his green-plating.
^
Other things Rudman knows little about include:
- Motorway ramp metering (it works well in the USA, reduces the likelihood people use expensive motorways for short trips). He could argue for far more information on electronic roadside signs to divert motorists from incidents instead;
- For Auckland transport the "obvious answer is everything to be publicly owned" by the same entity, in other words the model Auckland had for decades. In other words, no pressure to innovate, be efficient and full capture of subsidies. So obvious that no officials recommended it.
^
Rudman is clearly an intelligent man, but his columns are as partisan and one-sided as you can get. You'd hope one of the Herald's leading columnists might argue the alternative point of view as having some merits, but he doesn't. He is vacuous on transport, he is mostly wrong and almost anything ARTA says he will swallow.

No comments: