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Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Ever since Auckland started demanding a fair share of the Nation's transport budget the Treasury has been pushing toll roads. Right up until that point tolls were unneccessary. Afterwards they became absolutely indespensible. As they drag their feet on major projects each extension that was once part of the normal funding procedures becomes uneconomic without tolling. The Puhoi extension from Orewa is just the start or this bureaucratic buck passing.

Typically our local government leaders are just mindlessly chanting Treasury's mantra as their officials and Transit find excuses to make their projects cost even more money - knowing that the motorists will be paying directly for 30 years... or more. Forget that Dr Cullen has a massive surplus or that 92% of his fund is invested overseas - we, apparently, must pay foreigners for the privilege on driving on our own roads. How will this help our chronic balance of payments deficit?

Call me skeptical.

One solution is a two-tier motorway system. To some they are "Lexus lanes" and a class division on public highways. To others they may be an excuse to get the big rigs out of the passenger lanes, to reward High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV/HOT) and Buses with a free run into town.

Washington State Hot lanes in this article.

California State Hot lanes in this article.

My solution to Auckland's (now abandoned) Eastern Highway is to widen the Southern motorway (properties, esp. residential should be relatively cheap next to it) and create an inner two lanes on each side to take trucks and those willing to pay a toll. Not perfect, but practical. Resource consent isn't going to be much of a problem (the stumbling block with the Eastern Highway).

There are problems with these lanes of course. This Washington Post article reports:

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Howard Gottesman jumped onto the Route 91 Express Lanes the day they opened in 1995. For a mere $2.50, the property manager and father of two could veer off one of Southern California's most congested freeways and zip home on the private new toll road that paralleled it. Some days, it nearly cut his evening commute to Corona in half.

Soon, though, the secret was out. More and more drivers filled the Express Lanes, and on some nights the drive wasn't so express. Road operators reacted by jacking up the peak-hour fees -- to $2.95, and later $4.75, then $5.50 and more. Last month, Gottesman was staggered to learn that his evening drive would now cost as much as $7.75 a day.

Too much? Maybe. Enough to send him back to the slow lanes? Never.

"It saves a lot of wear and tear on your car, and wear and tear on your mind," said the 44-year-old California native, who often drives six miles out of his way to enter the 10-mile-long Express Lanes. "It's worth more than eight dollars, my time."

So once implemented we will be stuck with a dual system whereas with tolls over the whole thing at least after a generation we may theoretically be free of it. Theoretically. Not even the Attorney-General could stop the cash-strapped Tauranga District Council with their illegal toll bridge. It took angry truckies to do that.

Traffic will be worse in the future even if we had the ultimate 100% of the population within 200m of a train station that runs once every 5 minutes scenario. People love their cars. We have to acknowledge that - but it is not an excuse to punish them, especially since the current alternative (and indeed all that is planned) is shitty bloody buses.

Denver, Colorado.

My brief submission to the Auckland City Council earlier this month emphasised that there has never, NEVER been a rail feasability plan for the North Shore. The most one can find is a single paragraph in a report from the 80s dismissing the idea out of hand! Our slug planners are wedded to buses. The problem is since they have no plan after the buses they will never finish the bus plan, because then what would they do? How can they "plan" for something that has already been on the books since the 70s? What the fuck are they doing!? Their current bus plan is for people to drive their private motor cars through crowded, peak-time traffic anarchy - creating even more local congestion so they can take a bus that stops at the side of the motorway. So you need a car to catch a bus! Anyone see any problems with that plan?

Mr Hubbard then informed me that he was meeting with Transit on the harbour tunnel issue and was pushing for a dual rail line to go in it as well. Bravo, Mr Hubbard! If he gets that through he would have truly broken a pattern of planning failure. Good luck to that man.


At 21/6/05 8:06 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

In any case I doubt NZ (even Auckland) would have the population to sustain a two tier system on a large scale.

The calif example you use sounds like creeping privatisation to me, especially as a right wing govt could further penny pinch by not maintaining/extending public roads on the grounds their is a private alternative available - companies that just happen to be big financial supporters of theirs.

I was in London when Ken bought in the congestion charge - and I suspect this will become a favourite example for treasury. But London have had a very well developed public transport system for years, so when Ken says the poor use the buses he is right, but given we lack the same infrastructure here I strongly doubt the same argument could be sustained for NZ cities.

At 21/6/05 9:33 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Maybe you haven't seen peak traffic in Auckland to say it can't be sustained. Projected traffic congestion combined with the 70's bus plan will provide all the cars needed to make a two-tier system viable. Even traffic on the Southern at the wekend is very heavy - in the future of twenty years with another 300,000 people they can't all be on buses or working from home.

Your privatisation concerns are quite legitimate. I would prefer at least part of the motorway to be public (ie. "free") than a whole section to be tolled - as the current plans are. The "creeping" scenario was well illustrated by that Washington Post article, $2.50 is now almost $8, and our toll roads will probably end up with price creep too - as I have no confidence the Govt. will get the legislation and contracts right. I think the whole thing is a crock. We have a surplus - let's spend it on infrastructure like a normal first world nation, esp. if it is on a cost recovery (tolled in some way) basis.

London: Yes, Treasury would love this idea as they don't have to build one metre of extra road or even one metre of extra lane to extract large amounts of revenue. This idea has been supported by our local body politicians as well, albeit with the usual reservations. What it does is punish people who need it whilst wealthy people can pay for their freedom. On this basis alone it is wrong. And yes, I agree that our bus system is no viable alternative to a car at present and never will be, no matter how much praise the Councillors (with their car allownaces) tell us it is.

It is the ultimate bureaucratic dream isn't it - they can regulate and restrict freedom, raise revenue, lecture and hector the public about how immoral they are for not choosing their inferior system, increase punitive measures to achieve targets that they themselves set, and in actual fact do absolutely nothing at all to positively remedy the situation.

At some stage Auckland has to complete the 1955 motorway plan.But before we do that we have to have a credible rail plan (like every other city has).


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