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.
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.
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.
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.