Auckland Transport Agency
Beehive announcing an Auckland Transport Agency.
"The Auckland Council will set the strategic direction, appoint the transport directors, including up to two Councillors, provide planning guidance and determine the levels of regionally sourced funding."
The governance structure of the Auckland Transport Agency will be incorporated in the third Auckland Governance Bill to be introduced later this year.
Having advocated long and hard for a transit authority and unitary authorities for Auckland I should be delighted with the Transport Minister's creation of a public transport authority - even if it is unilateral and preemptory.
I would prefer a transit agency just for trains. An organisation focused exclusively on the train network so the job can be done properly. Because if it's just a general public transport group trains will always be sacrificed because of the higher capital outlay, even though they will yield the most efficient way of moving the most people about the city. For short term planning buses will always win out - it's just easier for them. The noisy roading lobby doesn't object to buses as they come within the same budget, but trains? Every dollar spent on the train system is a dollar off the road system and they won't be having it.
A long-term funding for the upkeep and development of the capital infrastructure of the rail system should come primarily from a dedicated transit rate (perhaps to be struck in areas within one mile of a full service, full frequency train system to encourage more stations and lines). However the next best thing, certainly the most obvious, would be what Joyce has gone for. The provision to have Councillors directly on the board is a safe move. Two will get you the ability of moving and seconding a motion - to at least get an issue discussed by the board. That seems reasonable, even if the governing ministers will never allow that rule to be applied to their own boards of patronage. These Councillors will be like Transit Commissioners.
The problem is that ordering of priorities, that is where rail will always lose out. The Wellington-based government will never give Auckland enough tax money to build the type of electric system the nation's Capital has had for many decades. They will always promise, but the target date of funding is always 3-5 years away. It has been this way since the 1930s. For 70 plus years electrification of commuter rail has been at various stages of 3-5 years distant. It will continue to be this way under the stewardship of this new agency.
The Transit Commissioners will not be able to do anything about the relative retardation of rail and the Promised Land of electrification without either:
A dedicated rate, a dedicated petrol tax, or any other sort of compulsory levy dedicated specifically to go to rail, and:
A separate rail organisation funded by it, and
A separate piece of legislation to define it,
Additional central government funding.
Auckland is going to have to find its own funding; but unless it is ring-fenced and independently mandated there will be no electrification and extension of the lines. The structures they keep throwing up will never achieve these objectives.
And if there is a transit rate within a certain radius or radii of a station (inner and outer rates on a 1.0 and 0.5 multiplier?) then perhaps they can elect the transit commissioners since they are paying the bills/using the service? There is a logic to it. However, that's not going to happen on this government's watch.
The new agency will work closely with and be partly modelled on the NZ Transport Agency which operates at a national level.
The government and the current local authorities together provide about $1.5 billion per annum for Auckland transport.
Interesting he should compare it to the NZTA. They are wanting to tax people on the motorways - a fine for having run out of gas on the motorway! What about having to pay $20 to get a couple of litres of gas from the traffic police - wouldn't that be more helpful?
The AA spokesman on RNZ seemed like he actually wanted it - probably because they can then get their patrols to do that trick. The fine incentivises and creates a revenue opportunity for them.
NZTA has a new rival in the ATA. And it will seek to expand into the motorway system: taxing and tolling, fining and enforcing - that is where all the agency creep will be directed. It will not be directed at improving the trains.One idea may be to have tolls only on the outer border with a ban on all tolls within the city. Freedom of movement within the city. That allows them to keep the Waiwera/Puhoi toll if that is to be the Northern border (see post below) and allows them to have tolls to the South between Auckland and the Waikato/Hauraki region. I would far prefer that than having motorists pay to transit the isthmus or have to pay for every stretch of new road separately for 30 years while an Aussie firm clips our tickets.
[UPDATE: 26/08/2009: NZ Herald reporting that funding is still... 3-5 years away:
The capital cost of the electrification project - double tracking, the new trains and the electrification of lines - amounts to $1.6 billion and will spread over several years.
Mr Joyce said the Government was committed to the rail electrification project and providing the $500 million that the abolished regional fuel tax would have funded.
"There is no more than that.
"Mike Lee has this lovely paranoia that we are not going to come up with the electric trains and we are, but it will have to be done on a sensible basis and it will have to come within the cap of $500 million."