Public transport studies funded

This article first appeared at Axel and Lan’s The Common Good site and is republished with permission.

The Press announced this week that two public transport studies have been funded by the Transport Agency. This has been a long time coming and we welcome that this is finally happening. The article in The Press gives some of the background; this post puts it into the broader context.

Public transport in Greater Christchurch is in bad shape. Bus user numbers plunged immediately after the earthquakes (no surprise there, and nobody’s fault) and never recovered to pre-earthquake rates (probably nobody’s fault either; it put the central city out of action). The central city has got going again (currently 35,000 jobs within the four Aves; pre-EQ we had 50,000) and in the context of a strong recovery, it is rather surprising that bus use (per person per year) has been falling since 2014. I suggest that’s scandalous. Here’s what the stats look like in comparison to the two other big NZ centres.

Public transport use (per capita per annum) in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch

Let’s look at the high-level reasons why things are so dire in Greater Christchurch. Reason number one is that over the last few years, we’ve put massive emphasis on building new roads while at the same time the funding for public transport has stagnated. The following graph compares spending on new roads in Canterbury with public transport funding.

New road funding has sky-rocketed while public transport funding flat-lines

What can be seen in that chart is that beginning with the 2010 financial year, spending for new and improved roads started to ramp up with ongoing explosive growth. The base chart has been amended by data extracted from the Transport Agency website from 2019 onwards and peak road spending will only be reached next year, with funding for new roads significantly reduced in the 2021 financial year to just three times what it was in 2007. From 2019 onwards, the proportion of funding for new and improved roads going to the Transport Agency for state highway projects is shown as red columns; it can be seen that the majority of the funding is for that category. Public transport funding, meanwhile, has remained flat and the funding is 2021 is less than what it was in 2007. The spending profiles reflect the emphasis that the Fifth National Government put on new road construction. Whilst in power from 2008 until 2017, so much forward spending was locked in via construction contracts that spending only reaches its peak in the next financial year.

Reason number two is shown in the next chart, which compares the per-person public transport expenditure in the three large centres in the 2015 financial year. It shows that Auckland and Wellington are both getting heaps more money from central government to run their public transport than what we get – Auckland double and Wellington triple. There’s a bit more to it and I shall explain that in a separate post.

Per person, Auckland get double and Wellington triple of our public transport funding

It’s not hard to see that if we had chosen a balanced approach to transport funding over the last decade, the public transport offering in Greater Christchurch would by now be superb, enabling people to travel on mass rapid transit. Instead, we chose an approach of building a limited number of roads that initially cause urban sprawl and subsequently congestion (e.g. Brougham Street).

The rapid transit studies cannot come soon enough and we are glad that this work will finally be commissioned.

One thought on “Public transport studies funded

  1. A radical but logical proposal.

    To have efficient PT requires PT efficient land use.

    This is best achieved if PT & PT efficient land use is controlled by the same organization.

    At the moment PT services and land use are dealt with by different parties, with little coordination and no financial incentive to move in the same direction.

    Best way to achieve this:

    1) free up the RMA to remove density and zoning restrictions

    2) Ensure all commuter parking is charged for/levied so that users are paying their real costs.

    3) Put PT providers into local government owned entities/companies, with a statement of corporate intent to run PT services and develop PT efficient land use.

    These entities would require continuous capital injections from ratepayers (as is currently done by ratepayers straight to councils anyway) but given that they can also develop property (sell or rent) over the long term the capital requirements would reduce. There is no guarantee that profitability would ever actually be reached but the funding gap would reduce which is more efficient.

    That said there would be upfront capital requirements so that the PT company can acquire and develop land on a commercial basis.

    The PT companies could still tender out PT service provision if desired.

    Funding by Councils would still be required in terms of bus lane provision and shelters, and upgrades of services, e.g. to BRT.

    4) A logical property group to roll into the PT companies would be Housing NZ and the local government social housing arm. However the PT companies would still be free to undertake any type of development. Clearly mixing affordable housing with other housing types & other land uses is advantageous from a social outcome perspective & not building future slums.

    5) A similar approach could be adopted for Chch’s rail corridors.

    6) Freeing up the RMA would also incentivize the private sector to undertake similar developments. Its also really important that the PT companies have to do the land development on a commercial basis so as to not crowd out the private sector. (this would require transparent separation of social housing provision costs from non social housing development costs)

    This framework is similar to that in Hong Kong where the MTR operator was effectively given free land by the government at greenfield stations for development. The mechanism was so successful that the MTR operator is a publicly listed company.

    We don’t have the Hong Kong density of development (its one of the densest cities) in Chch nor the free land to give away but there is clearly an opportunity to influence land use development patterns, increase PT ridership, increase access to transport for the poorer in society, and reduce the PT funding gap over time.


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