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.

Post-local-election thoughts [1]

So here is the first part of our take on the local government elections, Christchurch being the main focus for this first part. It was pleasing to see Justin Lester tipped out in Wellington because he campaigned on taking control of public transport there. However that is only a small consolation because the Government has bent over backwards to make it much easier for public transport around the country to be seized off regional councils by territorial councils. This is actively being sought in both Christchurch and Dunedin. It is all smoke and mirrors because the main obstacle to improving public transport, which the mayors of both cities have been lobbying on for decades, is the amount of subsidies that either local or central government are able to put into the operation of routes. The current level of funding requires that fares make up at least 50% of the running costs of bus services and has not been changed in 10 years, meaning the Labour Government has not addressed this issue in almost 3 years in office.

The fact is that Lianne Dalziel the Mayor of Christchurch who is a master at political scheming and manipulation, a very formidable political campaigner who was seriously underestimated by the unsuccessful challenger Daryll Park, almost as soon as she was elected into the job the first time, lobbied Ecan for a Joint Public Transport Committee and has spent the past two terms wearing down the opposition from Ecan councillors by haranging them at great length about essentially how useless they are at running public transport and how it should be taken over by the city council. The next step was a joint approach last term with Steve Lowndes, Ecan chairman and a fellow Labour member, to the Government, claiming that a Bill amending the Local Government Act was intended to facilitate the transfer of services between councils. The Bill in question that National introduced was nothing of the kind; it envisaged transport being moved into multi-agency CCOs which may have been intended to have a similar scope as Auckland Transport has in Auckland. Since Labour took over the Bill they have pushed through major amendments including gutting all of the CCO provisions and adding the actual transfer functions with amendments into the Land Transport Management Act and related legislation that was never in the original Bill. The result is to make it much easier for these services to be transferred. This amounts to about all that the Labour government has done for public transport during its first term of office and apparently this is the most important priority for them – that their role is to be an enabler for their members who are local government politicians first and foremost. This would have to be a very corrupt policy from central government if that proves to be the case.

The latest claims from Dalziel claim a fully integrated public transport system across Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn will result, and she went further during the election campaign by saying CCC should actually be running all of the services itself, that is, they should own all of the buses and employ all the drivers, cutting out the use of bus companies that are presently contracted to run the services. This has been the end goal for CCC ever since they bought Red Bus off the Christchurch Transport Board back in the 1990s, but CCC has never administered or operated public transport services in Christchurch at any previous time because we have always had regionalised services due to them crossing territorial boundaries. That will not change and makes regionalising important. Also it is very unclear what a “fully integrated public transport” system actually is. At the present time, regional and territorial council staff already work closely together to deliver public transport services in the city, making such claims essentially meaningless.

The problem is that for a political schemer like Dalziel, making it easy for people to live outside the City boundaries, by having public transport services go into Selwyn and Waimakariri and give people in those regions an easy way of getting into the CBD, is contrary to her political interests as the City’s mayor. There has been a similar negative reaction to the development of the Christchurch Northern Corridor in enabling people to drive easily to Christchurch from residential communities further north, and by implication in the south. There is already enough debate in the City about the merits of of the Mayor’s push for the central business district to be the most dominant part of Christchurch, without bringing in the possibility that people living outside the city entirely could have as easy a level of access to the CBD as its own residents, without paying any rates. This is one key reason why the Joint Public Transport Committee has been dominated by the Mayor’s campaign for control of public transport, and why it has failed to consider heavy rail as a possible option for public transport in the city. However, equally concerning has been the Government’s attitude to the development of rail commuter services in the City, in which despite an election campaign promise of up to $100 million in funding, it was handed over entirely to local bodies to make the case for the service to be developed. Apart from the fact that the chosen Rolleston rail corridor is very hard to intensify, CCC for the reasons outlined above is the not the slightest bit in favour of a rail passenger service going outside its boundaries.

The agenda for public transport development for the past three years since a Labour Government was elected has gone entirely into political ideology over enabling local government politicians with greater control over services that run in their areas and leaving them to it. Mike Williams, the former president of the Labour Party, has made it clear he supports the call by Phil Goff, a former Labour Party leader and current mayor of Auckland, for reform of the structure of the Auckland Transport CCO. Giving greater power over the CCO to the elected politicians of Auckland Council is almost certain to result in its public transport development programme being severely curtailed in years to come, as road transport is the dominant preference of ratepayers in practically every city in New Zealand. Wellington will then simply say they are facilitating more democratic control by local politicians, when in reality local governance is so weak and corrupt that it disenfranchises a significant chunk of its electors. Williams also claims that the Auckland structures are the reason for the low electoral turnout in the City despite this being a nationwide trend. The Government has further cemented the view that they are entirely out of touch with reality by saying that electronic voting will be the saviour.

Well having looked at where Christchurch City will go in relation to public transport, we’ll have a look at other considerations in the second part of this series.

Local Government Amendment Bill pushing another political agenda

A Bill called the Local Government Amendment Bill No.2 has just been reported back from a select committee to Parliament. This Bill is of significance because it proposes to make it easier for local authorities to reorganise themselves by attacking each other and taking over services that the other provides.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of local government structure as it now appears. We have territorial councils that run a city or town and we have regional councils that govern entire regions and have regional responsibilities assigned to them. Before 1989 the regional councils did not exist, but there were a range of regional governance arrangements in place; for example there was Auckland Regional Authority, and closer to home there was Canterbury United Council. When local government was majorly reorganised nationwide the regionalisation arrangements became the norm across all areas, so that ARA became Auckland Regional Council, whilst CUC was essentially superseded by the Canterbury Regional Council. Many territorial councils were amalgamated together into larger bodies. This was done in a very piecemeal way rather than following common sense in a lot of cases, and this resulted in some unitary councils in places like Gisborne and Nelson-Malrborough for no good reason, and in some areas very small territorial councils like South Wairarapa District Council (total population 10,000), Kaikoura District Council (total population 3830), and three councils for the West Coast with an average around 10,000 in each of their districts.

So other words what is the point of having such small territorial councils and the reason is purely political. And what is the point of having unitary authorities and again it is political. When we see that there are clear benefits in the way regional councils and territorial councils are organised with clear responsibilities then the fact there are unitary authorities in some areas means that the regional and territorial functions are combined which creates a clear conflict of interest. This results in the regional function being minimised in most cases in those areas. To be able to look at the issue in this way we have to be able to understand that territorial forms of government are relatively weak and therefore prone to corruption and self interest. This weakness both comes from and contributes to a low standard of candidates for territorial council offices. Local governance is weak and corrupt because the wards that elect councillors are small and are therefore dominated by very local issues. The most local interest that any voter can have revolves around the house they live in. From there things scale up into their neighbourhood and its character. For political blocs to take control of a council they have to campaign across all the wards regardless of their character and therefore in most cases have to campaign on populist parochial platforms that will make the areas they represent more desirable, which usually involves spending lots of ratepayers’ funds. These platforms are in turn captured by interest groups that have the most time and money to spend on lobbying, generally the more prosperous areas in a city or town.

Both major political blocs recognise there are objectives that they can achieve through local government. National generally favours keeping councils locally focused taking as many responsibilities from them as possible or placing them under heavy government regulation. Examples: changing the Resource Management Act multiple times to push through development without public consultation,; mandating interference from NZTA in public transport tendering; forcing councils to sell their shareholdings in electricity retailing and public transport operations; mandating council corporatisation of commercial holdings, etc. National also supports councils becoming unitary so that a layer of bureaucracy is eliminated. Labour on the other hand supports councils that are involved in more things with more deveolved powers from central government, less regulation, more public consultation powers, more assets owned by central government etc. The problem is that both of these differing objectives fail to make local government more equitable. The populist character of local government campaigning and representation is not being addressed. This means that less populist causes such as core council functions and better services in areas such as water and public transport are not well served by local government.

National brought this Bill together to provide for new CCOs that would be owned by multiple Councils and organise infrastructure and services such as water and transport services into such organisations. Reorganisations would have to be under the supervision of an increased Local Government Commission with more members and powers than before. Labour has gutted key sections of the Bill, most notably the additional powers and duties assigned to the Local Government Commission and the sections changing the functions of CCOs. probably because the National Party model of a CCO would look more like the ones in Auckland, which follow a more corporate model of organisation that has less direct accountability to elected governance. Since the effect of National’s proposals was to regionalise local government more and the Labour proposals are to territorialise it more, the outcomes of changing this will be more negative for functions that are currently regionalised in local governance. This has come about because the Labour mayors of large cities which do not control functions such as public transport have been lobbying for decades to take over control of these functions regardless of the merit of any such proposals, which in most cases is non existent.

The problem with this Bill that Labour is pushing through (to serve their own political interests) is that the local government weakness is going to become more empowered by this law. A territorial council can instigate a reorganisation proposal out of naked self interest, usually from a political bloc who will claim they can do something better than another group of politicians. An example in Christchurch is the campaign by CCC to take over running local bus services from Ecan. There is no substantive basis for this claim except for naked self interest and political greed from CCC politicians, namely the Labour-Peoples Choice bloc. The much wider agenda is making it easier for territorial councils to seize power from their regional counterparts in every area possible. This means that CCC could also campaign to take over the responsibility for air quality, another area where they have proven particularly ineffective in the past to regulate due to a well funded vocal lobby of heating appliance and car owners who believe they have a right to pollute. Another example could be water quality. CCC is currently one of the biggest freshwater polluters in the city due to overflows from the wastewater system that it steadfastly refuses to fund the upgrade of. The reasons for pushing these measures through are not to improve services to ratepayers, but to advantage political blocs like Labour.

Once the Bill is passed we can expect to see the political blocs in various cities exploiting the very weak reorganisational mechanisms to push through various takeovers and the Government will stand by and do nothing as it is a political advantage to them to have territorial authorities that have more fingers in pies than ever. In public transport, because the existing provision of PT functions by CCC is already very weak, an improvement is unlikely.