Christchurch At The Transport Crossroads In 2020 [1]

Whilst we may not be planning to blog as much this year, there are still things that need to be said from time to time. We have spent a few weeks thinking about this post, and just feel it is important to write it. It is partially a different way of writing about some of the issues we were going to put into a different planned article series in late December (which has been dropped due to our change in focus for this year).

Christchurch is a really badly planned city for public transport, and nothing much is going to change as long as the Government passes the buck on it. Whilst Labour did make an election promise for $100 million to establish a commuter service from Rolleston, like other Labour public transport initiatives around the country, this has fallen flat due to general political incompetence. Largely, this is due to the slavish political obeisance of the Minister of Transport to Christchurch City Council politicians. The way the power structures work in the City, these politicians have absolutely nothing to gain from any type of transport system that is not road-based. The Minister has spent far too much time listening to the lobbying of the Christchurch Mayor and not enough on actually understanding all of the issues at stake and the benefits that come from designing a public transport system that works across the whole Greater Christchurch area. It comes about because even though both central and local governance in Christchurch City is nominally Labour affiliated, the city council politicians only follow this in word and not in deed. The ideological focus of the “People’s Choice” political bandwagon in local Christchurch governance is, in practice, nearly indistinguishable from Independent Citizens or other National-affiliated right wing groupings.

So the only actual action on public transport reform we have seen from central government is to pass a law allowing the transfer of management of public transport systems between regional and territorial councils. This issue is largely irrelevant to the way these systems operate, and is unlikely to produce any real improvement in the way public transport systems are operated in Greater Christchurch at present. In fact, it is likely to work against improved systems of public transport being introduced in future, and we believe in fact this is a political calculation by the powers that be. We also note that the Mayor of Christchurch has been one of the chief cheerleaders for this legislative initiative, but we wouldn’t be prepared to put money on her being able to serve her full term at present due to questions being asked about her electoral finance returns at the last two elections. To put it another way, we have to ask what pressing issue the Mayor is trying to solve by campaigning to take over the operation of our bus services. We think it is becoming increasingly clear that it is essentially a political power game being played by Christchurch City against the regional council and territorial authorities further out, and is actually against the public interest.

So what are the political calculations involved? Firstly, let us conclude this first instalment of this two-part article by looking at how a local politician’s mind works when their territory is part of a larger urban area that is governed by multiple councils. This fact in places like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch has been addressed to a large extent by the local government reforms of 1989, which created regional councils to govern public transport systems over multi-territory metropolitan areas. In Auckland, of course, there has since been the further amalgamation of local areas to form the Auckland Council. Prior to that, in the early 2000s the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) was created to separate public transport management from the other roles of Auckland Regional Council (ARC). Auckland Transport is the successor of ARTA but with increased powers and responsibilities, for example management of Auckland roads. In Wellington, some smaller councils were amalgamated into the larger territories of Kapiti, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and Wellington City, but there is no present political impetus for a “Wellington Council” type of amalgamation. Wellington, however, did have bus services operated by Wellington City Transport (WCT) which was controlled by Wellington City Council. Christchurch, since the inception of public transport well over 100 years ago, has always had these services regionally managed; CCC has never been in control of them. This function was originally performed by the Christchurch Transport Board (CTB) (Christchurch Tramway Board in earlier years) and their function was handed over to Ecan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 1989.

Prior to the various local government reforms that have occurred, public transport was in some areas regionally managed from an early stage (Christchurch was the first area out of the three mentioned above to have this type of organisation) and in Auckland this system was introduced in the 1960s. In both Auckland and Wellington, the all important commuter passenger services were always managed in a regional fashion, firstly through the district offices of NZ Railways and latterly through the respective regional councils. This however has never been popular with the mayors of the largest territories. In such a politician’s small mind, they are seeking to maximise their political power by concentrating as much of the population of the larger metropolitan area as possible within their territory. They also want to make it more difficult for people to live outside their territory and commute to work within it. Therefore it is in a local politician’s interest to have control over all of the transport systems in their area. A regional transport system such as commuter trains that makes it easy for people to live north and south of Christchurch and commute quickly and rapidly into the city to work has long been despised by Christchurch mayors because these residents are not paying rates into the City coffers. These simple political facts go a long way to explaining part of the reason why Christchurch City Council does not have any interest in furthering the development of commuter rail services in the region. We will look into another key part of that reason in our second article.

Less Blogging For 2020

In 2020 this blog will be a lot less busy than in 2019. This is just an inevitable outcome of changing personal priorities. We plan to mainly focus on supporting the work that other people are doing to improve transport in Christchurch.

Heathcote Expressway Cycle Route Powers Ahead [1]

One of the best developments for transport in Christchurch in the last few years has been the new network of cycleways. The most relevant one to us is the Heathcote Expressway from the city centre to Heathcote, which we generally make use of around half a dozen times weekly nowadays. This is because we often cycle into town along Wilsons Road, which incorporates a section of the cycleway from its intersection with Charles Street, along Ferry Road to my regular destination at No. 150, and from there into the Four Avenues to join up with other cycleways such as St Asaph St / Colombo St et al.

This very same cycleway also heads in the opposite direction towards Ferrymead, which just happens to be where we currently cycle up to twice a week and return. We have been cycling alongside SH76 from Opawa to reach Port Hills Road, Martindales Road and Truscotts Road, but have found the section along SH76 (Opawa Road / Port Hills Road) to be very challenging due to the heavy trucks which are so close to the shoulder themselves requiring one to keep a very close watch out and nerves of steel. The Council did make it a little easier to go along this route some years back by converting the footpaths underneath the Tunnel Road / Scruttons Road interchange to shared paths, but this only affects a small part of the entire section and risk. There is a significant part of the section where there are no usable footpaths at all.

To get into the Woolston Loop area from our part of the city we have been following back streets and cutting across the Hillsborough loop in the Heathcote River by using the footbridges at both ends of Ford Road, emerging onto Aynesley Terrace and then going straight onto the westernmost section of Garlands Road to the signalised intersection with Opawa Road where Garlands becomes SH74A as part of the Ring Road. Previously here we would have made a right turn onto Opawa Road / SH76 but now we will carry on up the south side of SH74A on the footpath, crossing the Main South Line, to reach Maunsell St and then using that street and Cumnor Terrace alongside the river, eventually emerge onto Chapmans Road, cross the MSL again, and then reach SH76. Here there are some non-continuous sections of footpath that can be used to reach and cross over the Tunnel Road on-ramp and then we can use the existing shared path to get through the full interchange to Port Hills Road and so on as existing. This section has the issue that it is a long way around to reach Ferrymead because of the double back along Truscotts Road to reach the Park. Currently this is a total length of 7.0 km taking up to half an hour to cycle.

Obviously another question has been whether we can actually use the cycleway from Wilsons Road instead. This has been completed only as far as the Tannery in Woolston meaning our new section through the Woolston Loop is going to have to be tacked onto the end of the existing cycleway until the rest of it is completed. The first issue is that Cumnor Terrace between Garlands Road and Maunsell Street was absurdly changed into a one way road to fit in more car parking alongside the Tannery so the first requirement is to cross Garlands Road at the new signalised cycle crossing and double back to Tanner Street to Maunsell Street. From here we can go onto Cumnor Terrace again and then feed into Chapmans Road and SH76 as mentioned above. In total, this would make the entire journey 9.3 km long which is 2.3 km more than presently so there is no real advantage from what we currently use.

The other option we have looked at is therefore using our current route to join onto the new section of the Heathcote Expressway in Woolston and the total length that would give to our commute. Here we have detoured slightly from using Maunsell Street, to going from Garlands Road up Radley Street and along Marshall Street to get onto the Expressway at Cumnor Terrace on the north side of Garlands Road, avoiding use of the footpath along a short section on the south side of Garlands Road. This makes the total length increase, but this is compensated for the much more direct access into Ferrymead as the new cycleway section which runs right alongside the MSL making use of an existing water supply easement eliminates the doubling back along Trustcotts Road. At the moment it is a toss up whether to use Radley/Marshall or Maunsell either now or when the cycleway is opened and this will be evaluated from now until the cycleway extension is completed.

In part 2 we will take an actual look at the new off-road section of the cycleway from Cumnor Terrace to Ferrymead with maps from NZ Rail Maps to show how it fits into the Ferrymead landscape.

The Burbs Don’t Owe The CBD A Living

Well we are back in business, now we see the potential for Ecan to hit the ground running with new public transport development focus. Unfortunately the turf war with the Christchurch City Council just got a whole lot bigger with a stupid law passed by the Government to facilitate the transfer of public transport services from regional to city councils. This government has made the issue too much about politics and their unquestioning faith in the ability of local government and not about the government’s own commitment to properly funding public transport development. There is only so much that can be achieved with weak support from the Minister of Transport, something has become increasingly obvious in Auckland and is becoming an issue here with the limp wristed outcomes to date on their promise to develop urban passenger services.

Never the less, one of the least known outcomes and one the Government should be front footing is an improvement in the funding formula, which is tipped to shift to a more favourable farebox recovery target of 33% locally. This will enable impetus to be given to the new regional public transport plan with the extra routes that are intended to go in. The Ecan public transport staff have been working away on this and sent out tender specs during the election campaign, which is questionable because it has limited the ability of the new council to influence the process. Rumour has it also that a living wage is on the way for local bus drivers, and the new tender specs have asked operators to put forward proposals for diesel and electric services. But one key issue for the latter is the much greater cost of buying electric buses, and their limited range, which on some routes would see buses pulled off in the middle of the day for charging. We don’t expect electric buses by themselves to make a big different to the desirability of public transport services. A whole lot more work is needed which CCC has consistently failed to deliver.

Now the real theme of this article as its title befits, is the endless war between the CBD and the suburbs, about which a lot has been heard since the quakes and continues endlessly. The real problem is that ratepayers are being asked to fork out constantly for the CBD to develop in ways that are not provided for universally across the city. When Bob Parker was the mayor he gave the finger to the Central City Business Association and fellow travellers and allowed a large amount of development to take place in the suburbs. Check and you will discover that many of the whining CBD developers also own property in the burbs and have benefited from developments out there. So here’s an article published in the Press before the local elections. Surprise surprise, a push for more freebies and corporate welfare for the CBD, but at least some kind of balance is achieved with Julie Downard of Extinction Rebellion countering many of the pro-development viewpoints. But the newly elected Council has once again pushed the agenda with a new thrust from Jamie Gough for more handouts. Let’s just understand that the CBD is good for some things but supremacy over the rest of the city does not cut it. The chief reason why all this support is called for is the very high prices of CBD property, which is due wholly to a historical fact of a closed market of property in the area with most of it being controlled by a relatively small number of landowners and no real competition. Much of the undeveloped land currently within the Four Avenues is being land banked long term by owners rather than release it for development at a lesser price. This gravy train is expected to be propped up endlessly by ratepayers all across the city. The Mayor has shamelessly jumped on this bandwagon which she sees as her power base, empire and re-election ticket. She would do well to reflect on the background of the groups she purported to represent at the beginning of her political career and her record has become tarnished in recent months with a number of political scandals, including the code of conduct fiasco against her protege councillor in the Central Ward and the latest revelation of a culture of withholding information from elected representatives and the public. No doubt we are going to see another power battle over the running of public transport in the city in coming months. We need an end to the gravy train for central city property owners.

Questionable Commitment in Greater Christchurch to Bus Passenger Service

As of now there is a process underway with Metro Christchurch / Ecan concerning their procedure for dealing with passenger complaints about the Greater Christchurch public transport services administered by them. This issue alleges that one of the bus operators failed to respond to customer complaints over an extended period of time and that Metro Christchurch / Ecan has not taken meaningful steps to enforce their stated contractural obligation for bus operators to respond to customer complaints in a timely way.

We understand that with the concern expressed about lack of enforcement by Metro Christchurch, the matter is likely to be escalated to Ecan at a more senior level, or to the Councillors of the Regional Council, or one of their committees (JPTC or RTC as appropriate). We have some knowledge of the issues but it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst this matter is still going through the customer complaints process with Metro / Ecan.

Continuation of blog and group

Since the local body elections which were somewhat underwhelming we have been considering the future of this blog and the accompanying Facebook group. We have pulled back our level of interaction with many local government politicians and community groups. However we expect to continue blogging but probably at a reduced output from before. The group has a very small membership but we hope to see it grow by publicising it on the blog and continuing to publicise the blog on Facebook.

Post-local-election thoughts [2]

So a look this time at some of the Ecan campaigns, the issues they ran into and so on. First one was Aaron Campbell’s campaign in Christchurch West for Ecan. It almost looked like he might have been worth voting for if I had lived there, however I since discovered that he was Dalziel’s campaign manager, something he certainly kept quiet during the elections. He missed out on being elected. Rik Tindall failed to fire in Christchurch South / Banks Peninsula ward, coming in last place, a long way down from his 2016 campaign where he came in at fifth place in what was then the four-seat constituency for the whole of Christchurch. My advice to Rik would be to quit politics altogether, given he seems to have large differences with the major political groupings in Christchurch. Axel Wilke made quite a good effort in Christchurch Central but came in 5th place and so was not elected. In my opinion this is attributable to the fact that his campaign crossed over from regional to local issues a number of times in advocating transport solutions for the city, as well as an intensive housing development proposal in Middleton. He reportedly earned ire and de-endorsement from Lianne Dalziel when he campaigned on opposing the takeover of public transport by the city, something that should perhaps have been kept under wraps during the campaign given how much support there is from Labour supporters for this course of action.  However it is quite good that Paul McMahon, James Dann and a number of other Peoples Choice Ecan candidates missed out, but as Phil Clearwater was the leading candidate he is very likely to be the next chairman and to be keen to continue greasing the wheels for a City takeover.

Tane Apanui is the key pro-rail campaigner to win election to Ecan, which he did on a populist platform by drawing support from a range of political groupings and campaigning on a typical NZ First/PTUA plank of adding rail to existing transport networks, rather than addressing the need for car use to be reduced. We find his stance difficult to reconcile with an admittance that road construction materials are environmentally unustainable. Likewise, campaigns for rail have to be credible. A passenger rail service from Waipara or Amberley into Christchurch is not credible because these areas are so distant – Waipara is 63 km from the city and Amberley is 52 km, compared to Rangiora at 30 km. The populations of Amberley and Waipara are pretty small, unlikely to be able to support a train service. Likewise, the idea that one day trains will run to Christchurch Airport or that the powers that be will go for a really cheap train service are irrelevant. They are interesting ideas, but given the scepticism in the professional rail community over any type of commuter rail service, they won’t gain much ground. Much better to gain a consensus on a starting point such as a Christchurch to Rangiora service, as even that will require central government assistance to establish. Ecan cannot get any services off the ground on its own because they do not receive the funding to do so, and the fact that campaigns so far have focused on blaming Ecan and other local authorities, have been quite misplaced. However these types of campaigns have been very popular with Peoples Choice who have used this as a lever against Ecan to argue they should be in control of public transport. For these various reasons plus the involvement of PTUA in Auckland with their small support base, lack of success in their own campaigning,  and being widely disliked outside the rail community, we do not expect to see any real progress with this campaign, especially if the City Council takes over public transport.

The impact of CCC taking over the public transport is likely to be very negative for rail as Council will have additional levers with which to oppose the establishment of rail services, which it would have no control over. These finer points have been completely lost on the politicians in Wellington with their obesiance to local government. However there is a proposal in place at the moment from Government to allow for urban intensification along major corridors such as transport and CCC has submitted in opposition, claiming there is no housing shortage and that other priorities are more important, specifically rebuilding the CBD. It is apparent that the attempts by CCC to have the CBD dominate, which is well known to be a chief cause of the Mayor and certain Councillors who represent big business interests and wealthy landowners in the City, are resented in other parts of Christchurch, and this position for a Labour mayor contrasts quite noticeably with her predecessor who seems to have been the one who let a lot of the CBD be devolved into the suburbs. The submission from CCC is really business as usual in that it represents property owners’ interests above those of the common people. If they claim there is no need for additional housing then it heads off the possibility of the government moving to build affordable housing in the city which would impact property values. Likewise intensification is opposed on the basis of “loss of amenity”. As we have stated elsewhere we supported controlled intensification along transport corridors which we believe will create affordable housing developments that are needed for people. But Middleton may not be a good starting point. The Main North Line remains the most important corridor to focus on as it is already heavily residential and there is room to develop further north between Rangiora and Kaiapoi. So these Government proposals could aid the development of a rail service but as they are busy kissing local government’s butt most of the time it is an open question whether anything will actually happen and as we have said elsewhere, the Government has focused on greasing the wheels for territorial councils that Labour controls to be able to take over public transport, rather than actually making an effort to fix problems with additional funding.

Christchurch Transport Blog will probably wind down a bit in the coming year. We have worked with Chat Club to contribute to some of the work they have been doing. Essentially we do not expect the government to make any serious effort to promote meaningful commuter rail development in Christchurch City unless they are prepared to push in and intensify along the rail corridors, but they have gone so slowly so far (and so ineptly in government overall) that they are not likely to get anything in place before they inevitably lose an election. We do not of course know if they will repeat their promise for the next election but they have a serious credibility problem in any case. As such there is little to be achieved by further campaigning and with the assumption CCC will take over the bus services these will be swallowed up in to the rest of the Council and there will be no real improvement in them as Council does not actually listen to most of the people who actually use the services even now, as has been amply proved over the past decades.