Back on track: but only just
As I speculated in my last post, and as John confirmed in his comment, the council has announced that they've stopped the consultation process for the Johnsonville line and gone with the so-called "base case" of refurbished units. So in one sense this is indeed "back on track": the future of the Johnsonville line as a set of train tracks is secure. But (to stretch the metaphor still further), the wheels are spinning and we're going nowhere.
The "base case" will satisfy no-one. Not the supporters of rail or light rail, not the supporters of the busway, not even the tiny fraction of submitters who wanted to close down the line entirely. That's because the base case was never presented as an option for consultation, and it's actually a worse public transport offering than the "enhanced rail" scenario, which I considered fairly minimal and uninspired. As the technical report (824kB PDF) says on page 8: "The difference between the base case and the enhanced rail scenario is that the base case provides a less frequent train timetable (same as the existing), no improvement to bus services (the same as existing) and does not allow for any significant improvements to the stations." Woo fucking hoo.
So why has the council gone with a scenario that was never offered as an option? Given the mayor's indignation at the so-called "stoush" with central government, one might expect a fit of pique on the council's part: "if you won't give us your rail line, we won't do anything for public transport". But the technical report, which was close to completion long before the government acted, apparently "showed that none of the scenarios justified further investment". That's extraordinary, since it implies that even if the government had done nothing, the council would have reverted to the base case anyway. In that case, why the big stink? Alternatively, maybe the council would have ignored the report and gone with the busway, despite its poor evaluation, had the government stayed out.
But what about the report itself? Here's the overall summary of its evaluation, from page 31:
For the moment, let's ignore the great big gaps and assumptions underlying the models and criteria (including the extraodinary assumption that "future fuel costs ... are assumed to remain constant over the forecast period"!) and try to understand the implications of these results. There's been no attempt to weight or compare the seven objectives, so you can't just add up the ticks and crosses to come up with an overall winner. If they were all weighted equally, then all the rail scenarios would work out better than the base case! The only way that the enhanced rail scenarios would work out less justifiable than the base case is if "economic efficiency and affordability" is weighted much more strongly than all the other criteria: even above economic and regional development. In other words, the long-term economic health of the region is ignored in favour of short-term bean counting. And they say Aucklanders lack vision!
Is there any hope here for those of us who believe that public transport capacity and quality actually needs to be improved rather than grudgingly maintained? It's notable that light rail came out on top on two of the categories (including the trivial matter of "environmental sustainability"!) despite a model that was stacked against it, and was first equal on two others. The report says this on page 32:
Light rail generally performs as well or better than the other scenarios across all objectives except economic efficiency and affordability and risk, where it performs relatively poorly. It has the highest benefits of all scenarios but also has very high costs. The funding contribution required from GWRC over the next 10 years is significantly more than allowed for in the LTCCP. On this basis it would be difficult to choose light rail without a significant commitment of additional funds from another source (such as central government) and a reduction in the risks associated with the scenario. Without a commitment to extension of light rail to serve the wider region, deployment of light rail on this corridor alone would not seem sensible.I think most advocates of light rail have never seen it as a solution for "this corridor alone", but as part of the wider picture. So, the most optimistic view of the "base case" result is that it's just a holding pattern, and the much-delayed Ngauranga to Airport study will finally look at the benefits in an integrated way rather than as a series of disconnected studies that always fall down on narrow economic analyses, but I'm not holding my breath.
Oh, and the DomPost finally got around to publishing my latest letter yesterday, so at least their readers have seen some minor and belated correction of their vast misprepresentation of the support for light rail. Yay.