Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [5]: Political realities

Right now we have a Labour government in Wellington, and we have Ecan headed by a Labour member (Steve Lowndes) and we have the Christchurch City Council headed by a Labour member (Lianne Dalziel).  And this is like political heaven for the Labour party, and as long as it continues we will never actually see any progress in commuter rail in the city. That is because the main focus for Labour in local government is not serving you and me, and standing for anything like they do in central government. It is about getting elected and being in office and having as much power as possible. Local government and other local institutions are what Labour uses to support their national organisation, and train and groom people for national office. So the focus is on getting more political power.

In the transport sphere, we saw that when Ecan was ruled by commissioners and Sir Bob Parker was the Mayor, their focus was quite different in Christchurch PT. They were successful in getting the Riccarton Metro Suburban Interchange built. When the Council staff stalled and welshed and tried to get out of building it, Bazley called them liars and Bob Parker actually got up and apologised, and the interchange got built. What most people missed is that when Lianne was the MP for Christchurch East, she promised to lobby for a suburban interchange to be built in New Brighton. That’s gone very quiet since she became Mayor. We’ve heard no more about any suburban interchanges from her Council in two terms; they are now touting bigger bus stops and calling them “suburban interchanges” despite the earlier plans for proper interchanges that Council staff were putting into annual plans for years in the 2000s.

Instead Labour in the Council has focused on a time wasting exercise of seeking to take over the city’s public transport network. It’s always a goal when there is a Labour controlled council to achieve what they’ve wanted for decades. Once upon a time, Denis O’Rourke was an elected Labour member on the council. Unfortunately he is another politician well past their use by date, who is the chairman of Central Plains Water Trust, that great CCC Labour initiative (started by Garry Moore) to make money off an irrigation scheme that will intensify farming and increase freshwater pollution. O’Rouke was first appointed to CPWT way back in 2000. He lost his council set in 2004, and was unable to gain any office in 2007 Ecan elections, or 2010 elections for CCC and CDHB. He then stood for NZ First on the party list at rank 7 and was elected in 2011 and 2014, but with a drop in rank for 2017 he did not return to Parliament. O’Rourke as a Labour councillor made incessant attacks upon the regional council, claiming they should be abolished. It was obvious this included taking over public transport, but there was no progress towards this achieved during his time on the Council.

It is clear from around the country that Labour are empire builders at local government level and are looking for power and influence over everything else so we should be extremely wary of a situation where they are in control of both central and local government and are looking to feather their nest. For this reason we believe the best way we could see public transport advanced in Christchurch, including commuter rail, is if the Council swings to the right at the present elections. Another example of this is a Labour councillor who is currently being investigated (his name is all over the media at the moment) who has said he opposes Government moves to mandate intensified development in parts of our cities. It is only with that type of development and proper planning focused along transport corridors, such as rail lines, that we will see a development of the city of Christchurch that is properly designed for mass rapid public transit. Just the fact that the government being Labour giving a nod and a wink to its members who have power in the City Council and Regional Council is a recipe for stagnation, not for good policy action that will move the City forward.

Hence, we have to wait for the local elections to see which way things will go in the development of public transport in Christchurch.

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [4]: MFM campaign highlights transport funding debacle

We welcome debate on the public transport system here and are interested in any proposals to improve the system. It’s abundantly clear in our other posts that we are concerned that the City Council has not given public transport a high enough priority to development of a public transport network in the city, by being prepared to fund its component of public transport adequately. The Minto For Mayor campaign has raised the question with its free buses campaign policy. The state of funding for public transport is in many ways similar to other key public service areas (like social housing) where the priorities the Council has are completely wrong. People ask about PT funding when large amounts have been spent on cycleways, and as the MFM campaign has highlighted, millions of dollars have been given in rebates to apartment owners that would have paid for the social housing upgrades, proving the Council has definitely got its priorities wrong.

In this light the campaign by the current Mayor to take over the running of public transport system in the City has to be seen for what it is – primarily about the gaining of political power and not about improving the system. A prime motivation for this campaign is for CCC politicians to remove a major source of criticism from public submissions to Council consultation over public transport infrastructure from Ecan. We have observed this over many years through multiple Council administrations. As long as the Mayor or Councillors can shut down public criticism of their failures to properly fund or support public transport they can pull the wool over people’s eyes better when it comes to election time. This applies to other policy areas as well, so it is important to have this understanding

The Mayor of Wellington who is also a Labour member (it is almost always Labour politicians who want more political control and power for themselves) is obviously very interested in the type of political vehicle that we have in the JPTC and is proposing a similar agency if re elected for Wellington, so that he can gain more power over the bus system they have there. Like the JPTC this political creation would have no actual decision making power over the actions of Wellington City Council or GWRC. When our JPTC did the recent Regional Public Transport Plan four things in particular stood out:

  • The plan was almost all about Christchurch passenger transport excluding other local authorities requirements.
  • The rapid transit corridors run only to the city limits.
  • The rapid transit corridors parallel the existing rail corridors.
  • All of the onus to do things under the plan was for Ecan to do stuff. There was never any onus under the plan for Christchurch City Council to do anything. CCC wants a network that gives them maximum advantage without putting anything into it themselves.

So ostensibly whilst this plan is supposedly about Greater Christchurch, in reality almost all of it is about Christchurch City.

The funding situation that specifically relates to the MFM campaign is they have said CCC should fund free buses. Now it is questionable if NZTA will give its usual 25% subsidy for a completely free service. So far we have been told the free bus services policy will not get an NZTA subsidy and possibly not an Ecan one either. In which case the amount CCC would have to put in would greatly increase. So at this time the financial basis of this campaign promise is a bit suspect. That part of the policy aside, the key issue that relates to the existing level of CCC public transport funding is that it is wholly inadequate, as are most aspects of CCC’s public transport policy in general. Community boards are delegated the decision making power over bus routes and stops in their areas. This means that these decisions are dictated by local residents rather than the needs of bus passengers. The result is there are many questionable decisions over routing, bus priority and stop placement that do not take into consideration what is the best way to run a public transport network for the greater good, instead it comes down to what is the least inconvenient for people who drive cars and who don’t want a bus stop outside their house. It also means bus priority lanes and other measures are considered less important than lanes and parking for cars.

So the conclusion of this post is that CCC overwhelmingly favours cars in its transport funding decisions and public transport is well down the list in priorities. The failure of the public transport system can be partly sheeted home to these priorities.

MaRTI invigorates rail PT along the Main South Line

This evening we caught sight of the MaRTI presentation at Turanga. MaRTI is a proposed redevelopment of the Middleton rail yards for urban housing. The concept is certainly well conceived. There remain various questions relating to where Kiwirail would relocate the various functions that are currently performed at Middleton yards. Aside from the container terminal and the freight sheds (which until relatively recently were still under Toll Freight control), Middleton also houses the main locomotive depot for Christchurch.

One suggestion is moving the rail yards out further west, between Islington and Rolleston being options. The main challenge there is to get Kiwirail’s freight from customers around Christchurch to somewhere that is convenient for them. We would guess this includes freight from points to the east of Middleton as well as parts of the city. Middleton is the key freight yard not just for Christchurch but for a lot of the surrounding area north, south and west of Christchurch. Kiwirail has a few other sites in Christchurch City but they only have limited facilities for specific types of freight or servicing; they are at Lyttelton, Woolston, Waltham, Addington and Hornby.

Since viewing the presentation, Kiwirail has stated they have no intention at this stage of relocating from the Middleton site. Also, as Talking Transport has highlighted in its MaRTI debrief, “some officials have raised concerns with us that some ideas may counter to what is being planned through the ‘proper channels’. This could only be a reference to the existing work of the Joint Public Transport Committee, which is attempting to wrest political control of public transport, and with it all transport and urban planning, firmly into the grasp of City Hall, despite the fact Greater Christchurch is a partnership between four local government authorities and central government. The reason for this is that City Hall is focused on the dominance of the city centre, the “Four Avenues” as we know it, or the CBD, although the latter is in actuality a subset of the former. There is already a great deal of political conflict going on over the CBD-vs-suburbs debate and this is obviously a part of it, when the “official channels” want to focus on owning all of the transport infrastructure and operations, and directing it towards the CBD. This conflict is very apparent already with the JPTC playing down the merits of rail as a means of moving people outside the Christchurch city limits, and similar reactions (from the Mayor of Christchurch) to the northern motorway corridor, both options which will make it easier for people to live outside Christchurch City limits and travel into the city for employment. This shows why the Government should be stepping in and overriding the city council with its selfish parochial political power plays.

The key concept for the development of intensified housing along the corridor is to have a lot of it. The debate is whether to have large developments around a few stations, or smaller developments spread all along the corridor with stations every kilometre or so. In New Zealand to date the latter has tended to be the predominant model as it is used in Greater Wellington and Auckland. Redesignating land within (for example) five hundred metres on each side of the rail corridor for its entire length is the way this could happen. However a strong case would exist to exempt those commercial areas that make heavy use of rail, which are at Woolston, Waltham, Addington, Middleton and Sockburn. These areas should be kept as compact as possible otherwise no improvement from the status quo will be achievable. The Main South Line is already difficult to develop a suburban passenger business case for due to the historical fact of planning designations placing a great deal of industrial development along much of its length so this is something of an obstacle to making it a viable residential transport corridor. Christchurch has obviously lacked the sort of foresight that was integrated into the development of Auckland and Wellington, especially in the development of the Hutt Valley as a rail served residential area in the 1920s for example.

If Middleton is not an option then former rail land at Waltham and Linwood could become viable alternatives for large scale development. As it stands, without the impetus that developing a large site like Middleton would produce, it is difficult to get the intensification happening along the rail corridors. The real challenge is that the District Plan targets different areas for intensification, and the City Council will not want to change that. This illustrates the uphill battle against the established town planning schemes to get an initiative like this off the ground.

MaRTI proposal impacts public transport development

Chat Club (Christchurch Housing And Transport) has today released its proposal for Kiwirail to relocate its Middleton rail yards to the Rolleston area to enable the existing site to be freed up for affordable housing development.

Currently as many know, Middleton is the historical site of the main Kiwirail freight handling yards for Christchurch. It is also closely connected with local rail served transport logistics hubs operated by several of New Zealand’s major freight companies, such as Mainfreight, Daily Freightways and PBT, although their sites are to the west of the freight yards, closer to Sockburn, and may not be directly affected if the proposed area of redevelopment is strictly confined to the current Middleton site.

Middleton was first developed for rail freight around 100 years ago and an early development there was for the purposes of creating a hump shunting yard, similar to the one that was developed at Te Rapa near Hamilton in the North Island. The Middleton hump facilities, like the ones at Te Rapa, were removed later on. Middleton was just one of a number of freight facilities in Christchurch until the mid 1980s when work began on rationalising yards due to the increased competition from road transport at that time. It then became the major shunting yards for the whole city and relocation of various ancillary functions from other parts of the city, such as the locomotive running depot from Linwood, have continued to the present day.

At the present time Middleton forms the nucleus of the bulk of rail operations in Christchurch, with most freight and support operations handled either at the yard itself or at Sockburn to the west and Addington to the east. Woolston and Lyttelton also handle freight further east, both mainly used by Port of Lyttelton, whilst logs are the main traffic now handled at Hornby.

At the present time the main running lines from Lyttelton to Middleton are double track. From Middleton to Sockburn there are four main lines due to the volume of freight handled on private sidings in the area. The Third Road ends at the Sockburn overbridge while the Fourth Road to Hornby where it connects to the Hornby Industrial Line. We could expect to see these lines remain in their current form. From Sockburn to Islington is double track. The line was singled between Islington and Rolleston in the 1990s. We could expect to see this line doubled again if the railfreight yards were relocated to Rolleston as suggested in the proposal. The main lines at Middleton itself were diverted around the southern side of the rail yard some years ago and probably would not need to be relocated.

The main questions related to this proposal include the following:

  • Impact on freight handling from Middleton yard into the rest of Christchurch.
  • Impact on rail operations, including the relocation of the locomotive depot.

Both of these issues can be handled to some extent using other rail properties in the city. Land may be available at Linwood, unless it has been sold.

The proposal densifies the rail corridor between Christchurch and Rolleston, and will be potentially beneficial to proposals for commuter rail for Rolleston, although there are a number of obstacles to be overcome to make this traffic viable.

We are currently preparing historical maps for Middleton for the NZ Rail Maps project which will be posted in the next day or two either on this blog or NZ Rail Maps.

What is the best administrative structure for public transport?

In New Zealand, since 1989, public transport around the country is governed by regional councils, whilst territorial councils are responsible for funding road-based infrastructure for PT that uses roads, such as buses. Where rail is a form of PT, the local infrastructure, however, is generally under the ownership of the regional council, the rail line and corridor being owned by the Government. Unitary authorities work in a similar way to a territorial council that has taken over regional functions. Auckland is in a unique position of being a unitary authority with all of its transport and roading functions placed under the control of a CCO, a company owned by Auckland Council which it only has governance oversight of, not direct operational control. This essentially means the board of Auckland Transport is not elected directly by ratepayers and therefore not accountable to them.

There is no perfect system for administering public transport because the sticking point is the source of funding for local infrastructure. Ratepayers in local government areas are very reluctant to see their rates being spent on public transport infrastructure, or road space being prioritised for public transport ahead of cars. So in Christchurch, bus priority takes forever to implement, and bus shelters and interchanges tend to be scarce. Residents opposing the operation of a bus down their street is also an ongoing issue.

Rail has a relatively easy ride compared to road transport because the rail network is a central government asset, and they are not directly accountable to local ratepayers. The operation of trains has to be contracted out, but the regional council governs the service just as they do with bus services. The crucial difference is that local ratepayers cannot hobble the operation of the train services. Train services are also different in that local infrastructure such as stations is owned by the regional council rather than by a territorial council.

Public transport therefore works best when it is governed by a non-territorial authority. This is precisely the reason for the system we have now. The problem is that as a long as roads are under the control of a territorial council, which is guaranteed to kowtow to the owners of private motor vehicles, public transport will always remain second priority and second rate because the money will never be found from rates to fund the infrastructure that is needed to improve the services.

The solution for road based public transport is probably to keep the governance of the services themselves at regional council level as is the case now. The second step that is needed is for central Government to fund public transport infrastructure directly, through either the regional or territorial council, preferably the former. Therefore for example, giving the regional councils the powers necessary to designate and manage a public transport network and the necessary infrastructure, is probably the improvement necessary to ensure that road based PT systems operate much better than is possible now. This essentially would mean giving the regional councils the power to override local councils in the matter of bus routes and corridors, and the funding to build the supporting infrastructure themselves. At that point, the operation of a road-based public transport system is similar to that of a rail network.

There are those who argue that the answer is to give full governance control to the territorial authority. This will result in the services being subsumed to the all-dominant motor vehicle interests. In short it is not going to improve on the current system as funding will still be at the whim of ratepayers.

CCC’s demands for takeover of regional functions is contrary to public service and good management

Christchurch City Council has recently been at the forefront of campaigns against the use and management of water by Canterbury Regional Council. The particular issues that have come up are the granting of consents to Cloud Ocean Water for water bottling, and the level of nitrates that is permitted in the artesian water supply aquifers in Canterbury. These campaigns are related to other Council campaigns against the regional council over air quality and public transport.

However, it is important and relevant to note that Christchurch City Council is at the forefront of promoting irrigation development and the resultant outcome of increasing farming intensification in Canterbury by its direct involvement in establishing and operating Central Plains Water Trust, which is an organisation that is facilitating the development of irrigation in Canterbury. This raises quite a concern about the political motives of the City Council in campaigning in relation to these issues and whether the obvious conflict of interest severely compromises the moral authority of CCC at the forefront of these issues.

CCC first became involved with this issue back in the day when it owned a gas company (On Energy) which was acquired through its former operation of Southpower as an energy retailer. When Government electricity restructuring forced retailing and distribution networks to be separated, Southpower was broken up and the lines network became Orion, which remains in CCC ownership through Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL). The gas company was not directly affected by the restructuring, but it did get sold eventually as CCC sought to divest their involvement in energy retailing, and so the funds released were then available for a new investment vehicle. At that time, the City decided they would get into the investment opportunities that would be available from developing an irrigation scheme. This is somewhat similar to the controversial Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s Ruataniwha irrigation scheme and ran into similar consenting issues over the large scale water reservoir that the scheme required. But whilst HBRC has abandoned its scheme for the present, CPWT’s scheme continues in a modified form without the reservoir, instead having smaller storage ponds distributed in different areas.

The real concern however is that current CCC campaigns against water management by Ecan are directly in conflict with its involvement and commercial interests in CPWT and as such, these campaigns appear to be less about actually improving water management and more about political objectives. They can be seen as part of a wider issue of CCC wishing to muscle in on some of the work that Ecan does and take it over. This is already seen in broad attacks by the Mayor of Christchurch on Ecan’s existing management of public transport and air quality in the city. Many of the candidates in the current elections for the regional council are sitting CCC councillors and board members. Their interest in becoming elected members of the regional council appears to lend itself to the suggestion that their role on becoming elected is to grease the wheels to make it easier for CCC to succeed in its takeover campaign. CCC’s interests in water management are directly related to its objectives in developing the City as the dominant economic power in the upper South Island and therefore in ensuring there are sufficient water resources that will not hinder growth of the City. This also drives the key objectives in other areas, which are to challenge the regional council and become the dominant political force in the Canterbury region. Currently the regional council has a supervising role over certain activities carried out by territorial councils and this is the source of endless political bickering and infighting from these councils towards the regional council. The objectives for territorial councils are for increased political power and influence, without necessarily achieving better outcomes for their people. Major concerns with CCC to date have been that they have not effectively managed water demand, which is important with a limited and precious resource, nor have they managed their freshwater or wastewater reticulation infrastructure in a way that ensures these resources maximise public safety. But the most serious concern about CCC is that while attacking the commercial extraction and exploitation of water by the water-bottling companies, and while attacking the pollution of the city’s water supply by nitrate run-off from intensive farming, the City Council also seeks to enrich itself from the commercial extraction and exploitation of water for intensive farming activities that produce nitrate pollution. The same conflict issue exists with public transport where the City profits from the operation of a bus company that receives contracts from tendering to run some of these services.

There is a great deal of merit in the Regional Council’s services remaining vested in that body and not being usurped into Christchurch City Council’s functions with the extremely weak accountability and myriad personal political interests that reign supreme in territorial council and by which any purported improvements in the management of the public interest in assets such as water or transport networks would soon be lost in the greater scheme of wheeling and dealing to buy political favours and outcomes. There are numerous examples of this that already exist within Christchurch City. Social housing is a key example that has proved to be a major political embarrassment for CCC in the last few months running up to the local elections whereby the housing has been run down for many years and in some cases is not worth spending money on to upgrade to current governnment-set rental standards. The city’s freshwater well heads were found to be unsafely constructed, requiring a rushed upgrade programme with mandatory chlorination in the interim, and at the time of writing, this has been extended until the City can prove that the supply pipes, which are in very poor condition in parts of the network, are able to be upgraded in a timely way. In public transport, the City is seeking to have a road based transport network, which ignores the environmental benefits of rail and the economic efficiency of re-utilising its abundant existing capacity without constructing new corridors and duplicating infrastructure in a proposed light rail network. This is also likely, as with other existing aspects of public transport that the City is responsible, to fail to be funded when ratepayer support is required. Ultimately when there is no oversight of the public interest, as is being achieved with the current split of responsibilities between regional and territorial councils, the public is who loses out. Territorial councils have too much power to suppress the public interest and in this case, transport administration is very poorly administered by CCC which has devolved the decision making power to local community boards, giving residents too much dominance over roads and other transport networks.

 

Minto campaign gathers steam

The Minto For Mayor campaign is gathering steam. On Friday I was at the Bus Interchange where a campaigner was handing out flyers explaining their free buses campaign promise.

minto

The other campaign issues are also being articulated in news media appearances, including this one talking about social housing in the city. We note in particular the comment that the Council is prepared to hand out free rebates to apartment owners. This highlights the inequality of funding in the City that characterises the failure to properly resource and support the public transport system in the City.