I wrote previously about the recently released National Land Transport Programme. This sets out transport funding for the next three years.
Canterbury missed out badly on funding, recieving only about half what it should have.
If you look just at public transport, the gap widens even further.
Over the next three years, Auckland will recieve $2.8 billion for public transport (both capital and operational expenditure). Wellington will receive $1.2 billion.
Canterbury, which is more populous than Wellington and about a third the population of Auckland,will recieve $0.2 billion.
This funding difference is outrageous. Canterbury has a bigger population than Wellington and is growing at a faster rate; it should be receiving similar or more public transport funding i.e. $1.2 billion over the next 3 years.
I started thinking, if Canterbury did get parity with Wellington and recieved an extra billion or so over the next three years, what would we spend it on? Well, here’s a possible suggestion.
Firstly, we should accelerate the rollout of improvements detailed in the PT Futures Business Case. This business case includes a whole pile of basic improvements to the existing bus system, designed to get the system up to the level that is standard for a city Christchurch’s size. It included running more buses, installing bus lanes to make them faster and more reliable, and making the whole system easier to use through better information, marketing, apps, website and street presence. Modelling predicted all these improvements would increase patronage by 46%, reducing car travel in the city by some 20 million kilometres per year.
This business case is fully endorsed by all councils and government. But it has a slow 10-year rollout, with the majority of the improvements occurring in the last 5 years.
In terms of capital expenditure there is $68 million scheduled in years 5-10. Government could agree to fully fund these components and bring them forward, to get near immediate benefits.
Operational expenditure (mostly bus operating costs) is currently scheduled to increase like this:
If central government funded more of this, we could skip straight to the complete bus network, which would mean spending an additional $130 million over the next three years.
So by spending an additional $200 million in the next 3 years, central government could accelerate the work that both local and national government have already agreed to do, and get all the associated benefits almost immediately.
This in itself would be massive for the city, but we’d still have $800 million to play with to reach a billion dollars. Rapid Transit is the logical next step after we get the bus network humming. Work done this year priced an ultimate solution for Rapid Transit between Rangiora and Rolleston at somewhere in the order of $1.8-4.4 billion depending on mode and route. However we wouldn’t build this entire solution all on day one. You could take the first step towards this long-term solution for a lot cheaper.
For example, one option would be to start a passenger train service on the southern line between Rolleston and the city. This could be done relatively cheaply and quickly because it is already double-tracked for most of its length and has a more modern signalling system than the antiquated, single-track, northern line. The cost to build or upgrade stations, and acquire rolling stock, would be in the low hundred millions rather than billions.
Similarly, bus rapid transit could also have a relatively cheap first step, in the tens or hundreds of millions rather than billions, by using the existing motorways and only building dedicated right of way in the worst congested sections nearer town.
Light rail doesn’t have such an obvious cheap first step, it would need a bigger initial investment to get something in place, and may take a bit longer to get off the ground as well.
If Christchurch public transport was funded at a similar level to Auckland and Wellington, then in three years time we could have a vastly improved bus system carrying almost 50% more people than it currently does, and subsequently 20 million fewer car-kilometres being driven every year. We could also have the first step of a rapid transit solution, for example passenger trains operating between Rolleston and the central city.
There’s plenty government could be investing in to get Christchurch public transport up to a level where it’s no longer embarrassing. They just need to be willing to negotiate higher than standard funding levels, as they have already done in Auckland and Wellington.