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.

Greater Christchurch Passenger Rail Stations [1]: Main North Line

If we are going to have a passenger train operation from Christchurch to Rangiora, it will be necessary to look at where suitable locations are for stations. In Auckland and Wellington the typical spacing of stations is 1 to 1.4 km. This is considerably closer together than the stations on the old Christchurch suburban network. To make passenger rail work in Christchurch, more stations would be needed than was historically the case.

If we start from Moorhouse Avenue as a terminus at approximately  11 km, the old Addington station is at 12.7 km so that is almost justifying an intermediate station except that there is no residential population except around Addington so we can let that one go, maybe. Going north, Riccarton at 2 km is too far and the first station, ideally, would be just south of the level crossing, where sufficient space exists for a platform. My view is these stations can be small platforms in the denser residential areas as not all stations need to have car parking facilities. Hence the next station, Station B, would be just past the 2.5 km peg in Clifford Avenue. The old Bryndwr station would be the site of Station C at 3.8 km. Station D would be at Papanui, 5.3 km. Station E would be near Northcote Road crossing, 6.3 km. Station F at 7.7 km near Sturrocks Road. The old Styx site is not ideal and probably 9.1 km is the next best place for Station G. Station H at 10.3 km just south of Belfast and Station I at Belfast at 11.3 km get us to the edge of the residential boundary at present.

North of Belfast with presently very little population we could probably put Station J on the old Chaneys site of around 13.4 km and Station K on the old Kainga site about 15.2 km. Station L can be at 16.3 km near Tram Road. The old Kaiapoi site is unavailable so we could go for two stations in the area, Station M at 17.7 km and Station N at 19.05 km near the Williams Street crossing. A third station (O) along Adderley Terrace near the motorway overbridge is also an option. We are now on the outskirts of Kaiapoi so there is no need at this stage for closely spaced stations.

The next location (Station P) could be at the old Flaxton site around 23.3 km. Station Q could then be placed at 26.8 km just south of Southbrook, with Station R at 28.8 km and the terminus Rangiora (Station S) at 30.1 km. Therefore we have a total of 18 passenger stations in a 30 km distance on the MNL, or 20 if we include Christchurch and Addington.

MNL Passenger Stations

(Click here for larger version of map)

 

Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [3A]: Accessible City sabotaged (2)

In my last post on this topic I addressed the way that the Accessible City plan has been sabotaged by wealthy elite interests. These interests and the council’s craven cave-ins to them are substantially responsible for many gaps in the provision of services and inequality in the way citizens are treated by the Council.

Simon Barnard writing in his Cycling in Christchurch blog highlights this very succinctly in a recent post called “Local Government – Muddling through Democracy“. One example he highlighted is the High Street redevelopment. I made a submission on this project but the Council staff have stuck to giving priority to car traffic and parking in ths street and have ignored the submissions like mine that questioned why it was necessary to deviate from the AAC treatment developed for this street.

I today spent about an hour walking around the CBD precinct. Here’s an example, the Terrace development faces onto Oxford Terrace and the section directly in front of it is pedestrianised, or open to one way traffic at 10 km/h. This is quite a small section of road to be closed off to traffic and it being like that actually adds a lot of atmosphere to the outdoor dining areas of the various restaurants and bars that would be impossible to have if the road was clogged with two way traffic at rush hour. There is actually a lot of foot traffic through these areas of the malls. There is also a great deal of carparking close by. In this case there was a carpark right at the end of the strip where the Terrace buildings sit. People would be able to drive in there and park with very little inconvenience to their visit to the restaurants or bars. Having the road closed is also safer for people accessing the premises which can often be very busy at peak times of Friday and Saturday nights.

I took the opportunity to walk through High Street again and was able to confirm my view of the area which was taken into account in my submission and has not changed. In respect of High Street and Victoria Street, they have to be seen in context and that context is that they are part of a CBD streetscape and they really are just parts. There are loads of surrounding streets that are still open to cars and aren’t being closed off. The impact really is limited from changing these streets around. There is plenty of carparking space and road access nearby.

However I don’t support the more extreme views taken by some of for example the cycle lobbyists who have suggested the whole CBD should have been completely closed to cars. Likewise there are those who are aggressively defending the amounts being spent on cycleways around the city. The very large expenditure on cycleways is probably out of wack with the rest of what is being spent on roading in general.

Christchurch Local Government Elections 2019: Key Issues

Christchurch will very soon be facing the Local Government Elections in 2019. In my opinion this is quite a significant election because of certain policy directions taken by the Council in the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city in the last couple of terms.

Talking Transport has ably summed up the election process here. One of the issues I raised in the comments is whether the City would do better in terms of city wide planning if territorial wards and boards were eliminated, and all representatives were elected from across the City and the boards were focused on policy areas rather than territories. At the moment the biggest concern and one which I have articulated on various occasions is that each community board gets to decide how to plan its own transport networks in its own areas. This frequently results in a narrow parochial local interests taking precedence over city wide issues, in which the role of transport networks in enabling people to move across the different parts of the city to reach a destination is made less important than the “rights” of residents in the local area. It is likely that this is a key driver of a car-centric culture in Christchurch and other major cities, due to the parochialness that is inherent in territorial local body politics.

The key aspects of the election which I will address here are as follows:

Firstly there is the regional council elections and the shift from a council that is partly appointed commissioners and partly elected councillors, to the restoration of a fully elected council. There are numerous environmental concerns that people are hoping will be more fully addressed by the change back to a fully elected Council. As far as this blog goes, public transport is certainly a key area. Due to government funding cuts but also a lack of commitment from the appointed commissioners in the last term, the public transport network has certainly slipped. In the first term of the commissioners we had the Hub-Spoke reorganisation of the bus network which brought with it the improved passenger facilities at Northlands and Riccarton, particularly the much maligned suburban passenger interchange at the latter, something CCC would have never built without a lot of prodding. More recently, the Joint Public Transport Committee approach with territorial councils has brought proposals to improve the PT network on the assumption of increased central government funding. The key aspects I would like to see happen better under the regional council are some gaps like an effective complaints procedure for public transport users, better communications with users who don’t have the use of social media or smartphones, and greater transparency and engagement with rail passenger service proposals. From my perspective I am personally endorsing the campaigns of Axel Wilke in Christchurch Central, Tane Apanui in Christchurch North and Rik Tindall in Christchurch South/BP. The first two having campaigned on improved PT options in particular and being in areas that will be key to rail passenger development. I am not particularly aware of pro-rail candidates in the other CRC wards. It is concerning to see Peoples Choice have stood candidates in every ward, selfishly oblivious to the possibility of vote splitting with similarly aligned candidates standing on independent platforms.

Secondly we have the territorial elections which for greater Christchurch are in Waimakariri District, Selwyn District and Christchurch City and it’s in the City that the greatest controversies have been raised that are likely to create the impetus for a big change in the look of the new Council. The key areas that I believe are a flashpoint for discontent in the City at the present time are:

  • Rates rises of 65% overall in the term of the current 10 year LTP.
  • The backlash against “An Accessible City” which was highlighted in one of my recent posts. Although the Council has backtracked on changes to High Street and Victoria Street, opposition to the redevelopment of St Asaph Street was only partly addressed by the Council which ignored concerted campaigning to reverse the removal of much of the carparking along the street. The lower speed limits and impacts on other thoroughfares such as Manchester Street and Tuam Street will also be relevant. This also can flow through into concerns about public transport priority measures such as bus lanes in outer suburbs like Papanui and Addington.
  • The impact of the city wide cycleway developments in the removal of carparking in many streets where these cycleways run and the overall substantial expense which many feel is being pushed through whilst roads in other areas are not being repaired to a reasonable standard.

I must make clear in this blog that I generally support the AAC and cycleway developments as being a long overdue rebalancing of transport focus into other modes of transport because prioritising cars will simply keep creating more congestion that can’t be ignored. This post is simply intending to identify where City politics is going amid concerns that transport focus is dominated by a vociferous car-focused lobby that fails to address many of the legitimate concerns about environmental impacts of large volumes of motor vehicle traffic upon neighbourhoods and other transport modes.

Whereas in the 2016 election the AAC opposition slipped under the radar and there was only one serious challenger to Dalziel (from the left of the political spectrum) in 2016, there was also no identifiable right-wing challenger and there was a record low turnout of only 37% in voting. This election there is clearly a mayoral candidate likely to attract significant support from the CBD business mafia and higher income neighbourhoods over ongoing concerns about the AAC, rates rises and cycleways, and with ward candidates tapping into similar suburban concerns, the Council could shift significantly to the right. The issue of rates rises is unlikely to be able to be addressed unless either the stadium project is suspended or major asset sales occur; cycleways can be put on hold and the Accessible City street level changes reversed in a number of areas.

So the elections will be fascinating to observe and the outcomes fairly important for the future transport directions of Christchurch.

 

 

“Planning For Successful Cities”: NPS on urban development out for consultation [1]: Background

Earlier this week the Government (HUDA and MFE) released a discussion document on its proposed National Policy Statement on urban development. Consultation is now being undertaken in relation to the issues raised in the document, until 10 October 2019 at 5 pm.

The key issue raised in the DD is that significant problems exist in current urban planning and growth that are producing negative outcomes such as severe housing unaffordability, falling home ownership, increased hardship and homelessness, increased household debt, intergenerational inequality, congestion, poor transport choice and urban pollution. The Government therefore proposes its Urban Growth Agenda to provide the improvements needed to address issues such as these. It suggests some important issues that it aims to address are reducing car dependency, fixing the present broken system for funding and financing infrastructure, and ensuring central government works more closely with local government, the private sector and communities.

The following is a summary of the chapters in the DD and my responses to it. These responses will form the basis of my submission that I intend to produce for this proposal. Christchurch is one of the key growth areas identified in the government’s press release and public transport forms a key part of the solutions needed in the city. At the same time there is existing and substantial concern that the last government’s pro-developer agenda expressed through the combined impacts of the replacement District Plan and the Resource Management Act amendments pushed through in 2009 have gone too far in their impact on neighbourhoods.

As we already know, recent governments have attempted to fund ways to promote increased housing development in the major centres to increase the housing supply but this has produced quite a mixed bag of results with concerns particularly identified over National’s policy shift promoted as “reducing red tape” that has given developers greatly increased rights to develop without considering the impact on the environment such as through increased vehicle traffic in existing streets, removing trees, lack of carparking on site, etc. There have been numerous higher density housing developments recently in Christchurch that have created these concerns, but a much bigger one currently occurring in Merivale is the expansion of a local shopping mall which is likely to end up in court because the impacts are far from being “less than minor”.

The newspaper reporting on this NPS release has suggested this is “a government plan to sideline nimbys” and this could be a problem if it is an accurate statement. I am certainly hoping this proposal is a reasonably balanced one. Whilst it is undeniable that intensification of housing is always going to create challenges for some residents, the worst cases in Christchurch to date have resulted from the District Plan requirements being regularly flouted and concerns over streets becoming clogged with traffic and parked vehicles. Since the release refers to “high quality streets, neighbourhoods and communities” I certainly hope this is adequately addressed. Another issue that is important to be addressed is social housing development. Housing New Zealand is a key concern with their post-earthquake trend of pushing through many new complexes in parts of the City and changes in their tenant case management since the change of government, but CCC’s SH developments are also capable of creating similar challenges.

This NPS is expected to replace National’s NPS-UDC from 2016, by broadening its focus and adding significant new content. The key relevance for Christchurch is the existing Urban Development Strategy which has in turn resulted in some key initiatives taken by the preceding National government. The key ones which were relevant are:

  • Changes in the District Plan to produce increased intensification in various areas of the city.
  • Developing the Southern Motorway to enable faster road transport to/from Selwyn District.
  • Developing the Christchurch Northern Corridor motorway to speed up road transport to/from Waimakariri District.

These have all raised their own issues. Intensification has already been mentioned above. The key issues with the motorway developments have varying impacts. The Southern motorway project has been largely focused in recent years on bringing the existing SH76 through to join SH1 at Weedons, creating a bypass of the main urban areas of the south-west of Christchurch, so that freight and passenger vehicles can reach the city more quickly and conveniently from Selwyn District. SH76 joins onto Brougham Street, the main arterial route for freight to and from Port of Lyttelton. As this area has been intensively developed along these lines for decades, there has not been too much of an issue with the motorway expansion, which on SH76 itself has seen widening to four lanes completed just after the earthquakes, west of Barrington. However, the last National Government put forward an election campaign proposal to four lane SH1 from Rolleston to Ashburton which was dropped by the incoming Labour administration and has raised some local controversy. West of the city, SH1 which has run on that route for many years via Russley Road and Johns Road, was widened to four lanes and a bypass was built to go around Belfast at the northern end, the roundabout at the Memorial Avenue intersection was replaced by an overbridge and on/off ramps, the bridge with its large arches being a prominent landmark in the area. The Christchurch Northern Corridor, currently nearing completion has been the most controversial proposal. Although it runs mostly through greenfield land and the designations have been in place for decades, it will funnel a large volume of traffic into the existing roading network through Cranford Street and St Albans Residents Association has been highly active in campaigning against it and this is ongoing at the time of writing.

A key part of the counter proposals to address the impact of the CNC has been the proposals to develop a rail passenger service between the City and Rangiora and this has been well addressed by this blog and the campaign will continue. I will share some thoughts about the upcoming elections and the possible impacts in my next post. The NPS discussion will continue in part [2] of this series/