The Auckland Transport Alignment Project Interim Report sets out a logical theoretical case but serious scrutiny is needed, says New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) chief executive Stephen Selwood.
“The report balances investment, technology and demand management, but rigorous analysis of the costs and benefits of each approach is required to determine the optimum mix that will get Auckland moving,” he claims.
Selwood believes the ATAP process is a landmark in local and central transport cooperation made possible by the 2010 restructure of Auckland governance which has allowed a single interface between the region and government across key issues.
“What should not be lost in the discussion is that we have the government and Auckland Council sitting down to nut out the tough issues, with the result that the council has now strengthened its stance on tackling congestion and the government has recognised the potential of pricing roads.”
Both parties should be commended for progress thus far, Selwood believes, but momentum must be retained to ensure Auckland gets an outcome which reflects the wants and needs of transport users as well as their ability to pay.
“The purpose of a transport network is to enable the movement of people and goods and it is the responsibility of officials to achieve this at the lowest overall price,” he explains. “Demand management is an opportunity to get the most out of networks, not discourage travel.
“Further analysis is needed to demonstrate that demand management proposals deliver a net economic, social and environmental benefit, which is much broader than just managing down congestion.
Selwood adds that something still to be addressed through ATAP is determining the feasibility and timing of technology. “There are as many analyses showing road demand will increase, for example, as fall with the emergence of innovations like driverless cars.
“Given that the New Zealand vehicle fleet is on average around 14 years of age, from a technological and affordability perspective some solutions remain many years, possibly decades, away.
Options like traffic signal phasing, are ready to go now and need to be accelerated, he notes. “Other technologies like electric vehicles will lower the cost of travel and provide increased mobility. We wouldn’t want road pricing to reduce the benefits that these sorts of technology have to offer.
The NZCID report, Transport Solutions for a Growing City, identified poor integration between transport, development and density as major factors in worsening congestion, Selwood advises. “Much of Auckland’s road network is not configured to meet intensified land use and Unitary Plan provisions, which allow development in such areas without delivering public transport are increasing cars per kilometre of road, making congestion worse.
“Growth should be targeted around rapid public transport and ATAP should provide feedback to the Unitary Plan panel on the impacts of different growth allocations on transport.
“The challenge for the next phase of ATAP is to identify the optimum mix of investment, technology, land use and pricing that Aucklanders can afford and will support,” Selwood maintains.