Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Labour brings you more petrol tax and a useless railway

Yes, electrification of Auckland's passenger rail network is to go ahead, but don't expect those using it to pay for it.

No. Dr Cullen has said you'll be paying, if you drive in Auckland.

Motorists will, with a new petrol tax for Auckland. Even those driving in Warkworth, Waiuku, Orewa, Bucklands Beach, everywhere without being a "cooee of a railway station" as the PM once said. Yes, Labour is taxing all road users in Auckland to benefit a relatively small number of people who can choose the train to go to work, and those with adjacent properties.

You see in Auckland only 12% of jobs are in the CBD - and perhaps only another 2% are served by other stations along the Auckland rail network. Only 3 out of 9 of Auckland's main transport corridors are served by rail (the one's that aren't are North Shore-CBD, North Shore to West Auckland, CBD-central isthmus, CBD- Pakuranga, Pakuranga-South Auckland and West Auckland to South Auckland (unless you accept it is very slow)). So of that, let's say 15% of jobs, only 5% of commuters could even USE rail, if it was convenient times etc. Around 30% of commuters to downtown Auckland already use bus, so many of those using rail will be ex. bus users, bus services that in many instances are commercially viable privately run operations.

So this is about benefiting at best maybe 2.5% of commuters - it wont reduce congestion, it never has done anywhere else, it will take people from buses and will be a very expensive subsidised trip for those lucky enough to live near a station and work near one.

It's a show off toy for politicians to open. Are you prepared to spend more on petrol to pay for something you don't use? If you want it, are you prepared to pay a fare that fully recovers the cost of providing the service? If not? Why are you prepared to pay a fare that does if you want to fly to Wellington?

Why should urban public transport not be expected to be self sustaining?

The Auckland Regional Council thinks it is essential - it is entirely in the thrall of the failed Smart Growth rail based public transport religion that has seen billions wasted throughout the USA to no avail. "regional council transport chairwoman Christine Rose said it was essential electrification be secured through a fuel tax" the same silly bint who supported the illegal cycle protest over the Northern Motorway, and who wants to waste money on an expensive cycle bridge over the harbour.

Unsurprisingly, the Nats haven't said if they would reverse the petrol tax, but they wouldn't reverse the waste of money of electrification. Fine if it is a contractually committed sunk cost, but that's it.

Auckland has wasted a lot of money on rebuilding its virtually useless railway system to replace a lot of bus services, it is about to spend a fortune on pursuing electrification which may generate more trips, but at a huge subsidy - and with virtually no impact on congestion. Aucklanders who want a railway should pay for it - those who don't shouldn't. How hard is it for people to pay for the transport they use? Yes, that does mean tolls for new roads, it does mean no more ratepayer funding of local roads and it does mean not building a tunnel under the PM's electorate for a motorway.

Can someone at least ask for an independent study into the economics of Auckland passenger rail?

3 comments:

john-ston said...

"You see in Auckland only 12% of jobs are in the CBD - and perhaps only another 2% are served by other stations along the Auckland rail network."

While the first part of the statement may be true, you forget a few facts. Within access of the rail network, you have the 50,000 students of Auckland University and AUT University; you have several large schools which provide a large number of rail passengers including St. Peters. You also forget that Newmarket is a significant regional centre.

Indeed, I was informed by a planner (not a council one, this guy does planning consents for individuals and so on) that 40% of all Auckland's jobs were within walking distance of the Link Bus. The CBD is only a small part of the employment picture, and we still have a reasonably centralised workforce.

"So of that, let's say 15% of jobs, only 5% of commuters could even USE rail, if it was convenient times etc. Around 30% of commuters to downtown Auckland already use bus, so many of those using rail will be ex. bus users, bus services that in many instances are commercially viable privately run operations."

Actually, let us use some figures to outline how ridiculous the above comment may be. Last count, there were 200,000 residents within a kilometre of a railway station. If we take 20% of them, that gives us a 40,000 person rail catchment, and therefore gives us twenty million passengers per annum potential. Of course, this fails to take into account the increased likelihood of people that live near a rail corridor working in the CBD, and assumes that everything will stay static over the coming decades. What it also assumes is that we have a walk up to the station commuter; once we include feeder buses and Park n Rides (like what Perth has, not the pathetic things that you may see in other places), that catchment would expand.

Furthermore, there are hardly any bus routes that are in direct competition with rail; the only ones I can think of are the Great South Road route through to Papakura (47 lot); the New North Road route through to Henderson (21; 22; 23 lot); and at a stretch, the Otahuhu via Glen Innes route (71, 75 lot). Of course, there is a very logical reason why they would move to rail and that is the speed difference. Would you rather commute on a slow bus, or a fast train. The answer would be pretty obvious.

"So this is about benefiting at best maybe 2.5% of commuters - it wont reduce congestion, it never has done anywhere else, it will take people from buses and will be a very expensive subsidised trip for those lucky enough to live near a station and work near one."

But it will result in a boom for the public transport network; Perth had that happen when they electrified in the 1990s. Look at a couple of graphs:

http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8060/railinvestmentou4.jpg

This one shows how Perth's overall public transport patronage increased after they electrified. In spite of the decrease in bus passengers, the increase in rail more than made up for it.

http://img529.imageshack.us/img529/1966/perthvsadelaidexy3.jpg

This one shows Perth against Adelaide. Notice how Adelaide's figures have continued to decrease, while Perth's increased

Of course, I could look at Brisbane too, however, I don't have the precise figures for bus traffic in the 1970-2008 period.

"Why should urban public transport not be expected to be self sustaining?"

Because it is not expected in the centres that we compete with. Aside from taxes and incomes, one of the major reasons why people are moving to Australia is the superior public transport system in their cities. We need to have a superior public transport system (as well as high wages and low taxes) so that we can compete with Australia. Furthermore, it is interesting to observe that Adelaide is Australia's weakest centre commercially, and is also the only centre with a diesel rail system.

"The Auckland Regional Council thinks it is essential - it is entirely in the thrall of the failed Smart Growth rail based public transport religion that has seen billions wasted throughout the USA to no avail."

The billions have been spent in Australia with plenty of results. In 1970, Queensland Rail was seriously considering the closure of rail lines between Keperra and Ferny Grove, Kingston and Beenleigh and Dutton Park through to Lota. After electrification, line closures were rarely considered, and the three lines that those sections are on (Ferny Grove Line, Beenleigh Line and Cleveland Line) are now reasonably successful and busy. Brisbane has had a 650% increase in rail passengers since 1970 and Perth has had a similar percentage increase since 1990.

The reason why the money was wasted in the United States was because they were constructing light rail systems, that is a different kettle of fish to the heavy rail system that Auckland, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and others have.

"Auckland has wasted a lot of money on rebuilding its virtually useless railway system to replace a lot of bus services, it is about to spend a fortune on pursuing electrification which may generate more trips, but at a huge subsidy - and with virtually no impact on congestion."

Um, explain to me why traffic on the Harbour Bridge has fallen by 10% over the last year, and explain to me why in that same time, the number of passengers taking the bus from the North Shore has surged? Perhaps there is a link between public transport improvements and congestion reduction.

Also, the rail system has not replaced many of Auckland's bus routes, perhaps at most, it has a direct impact on a couple of dozen of Auckland's bus routes. There are several hundred routes which are not going to be effected by rail improvements at all, and will probably be enhanced.

Of course, if the system is useless, then why are people flocking to it in droves? Perhaps it isn't as useless as you thought.

"Can someone at least ask for an independent study into the economics of Auckland passenger rail?"

I believe that was done, and that was the Boston Report of 2003. Of course, it made some assumptions that have been proven to be far too conservative.

The other issue is that we really have two options, electrify or close the system. Closing the system would cost a billion dollars; electrification would cost the same, so the figures balance out. Why do I mention closure? Because, the existing fleet is old, worn, failing, and needs replacement sometime in the near future. There is no real third option.

Furthermore, there is the embarassment factor. Should electrification not occur, by 2018, we would be the last city in Australasia with a diesel rail system.

Joshua said...

Brilliant comment john-ston, I think it pretty much covers everything I would say.

Perhaps I could add that public transport IS the only real solution to traffic congestion. Furthermore, have you even considered peak oil libertyscott? What good is a diesel train system going to be when oil's $300 a barrel? Electrification is essential in that likely circumstance (even if it is 10-15 years away). Building more roads has never solved congestion.

And finally, many studies have shown that the most car dependent cities in the world are the cities whose residents spend the most on transportation. In Japanese cities people generally spend about 6% of their income on transportation, compared with up to 20% in sprawling American cities. This means that a good public transport system works for everyone.

Regarding your comments about the limited reach of the rail system, I agree. Let's start expanding it.

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