Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back on track: not so new

Most of you will have noticed the front-page headline in yesterday's Dominion Post: $200m to ease Wellington rail misery. The more observant among you may have noticed that the improvements mentioned in the sidebar (not online) don't quite add up to $200m, but a slightly less impressive $135m. The even more observant (and presumably long-suffering) among you might also have noticed that many of the upgrades sounded very familiar. Is this really news?

As luck would have it, I was giving an oral submission on the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) that day, so I was able to ask. Terry McDavitt confirmed that most of the figure (I think he mentioned something like 90%) is not for anything that hasn't been mentioned before: all that's new is that some of the projects are taking steps towards securing central government funding. Some of these, such as electrification to Waikanae and doubling the track from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki, are mentioned in the draft RLTS report (page 123) as “to be confirmed”, although the cost estimates have already been included in the various figures that have been bandied about.

Don't get me wrong: these are all welcome announcements, and although many of them are just catching up on past neglect (such as upgrading signalling and power supplies, replacing tracks and upgrading tunnels), some will actually increase capacity and improve service. That is indeed good news, and will indeed ease some of the irritations felt by current commuters while attracting others (back) to rail. But in the context of road spending, it's still a pittance, and nothing we didn't know about before. I don't really think that the Regional Council is deliberately trying to mislead people about this (it's more a function of the complexity of the various upgrades and funders, together with reporters not cross-referencing with earlier stories), but then again, they don't seem to have gone out of the way to make things clear.

It's interesting to note today's story about Kerry Prendergast saying what a lot of people have been saying: Transmission Gully is unaffordable. Of course, she's not saying that because she wants the money spent on public transport, but because she wants to build a Grenada Village to Hutt Valley link road and put money aside for the Ngauranga to airport corridor. There's always a chance that once the study is finally finished, it will recommend a high-quality light rail link for the latter, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Given the road-mad biases of most of the people involved, it's bound to mean more and wider roads from the Basin to the airport. Oh, and no real money for public transport for a generation.


At 2:29 pm, March 21, 2007, Blogger llew said...

Am I alone in thinking that the Lower Hutt to Grenada road is another white elephant?

At 4:58 pm, April 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are benefits from the Lower Hutt to Grenada link, it will improve accessibility throughout the day, better link industrial and commercial areas and relieve congestion on SH1/2. It could even just possibly provide for a direct bus link between Porirua and Lower Hutt. Of course all that depends on it being done properly. I do think its about time we were shown some plans for the route ...

But just because something is a road doesn't make it inherently wrong or evil. I support and want improved bus and train services (I use the bus and train to get to work myself) but it gets up my nose how people get classed as either for roads or for PT but can't support a balanced solution.

I agree we are spending too much on roads like TGM but that doesn't make other roading projects wrong - particularly when they can also support improved buses/trains.

At 3:47 am, May 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the petrol tax was introduced (in 1927) it was a good way of recovery the increased costs of maintening gravel roads because road damage and fuel consumption were affected by the same factors.
That link disappeared with the increase in the amount of tarsealed. Now that the petrol tax is being used to subsidise urban PT it has become a stupid form of revenue. The petrol tax can't distinguish between rural highways and arterial roads that compete with urban rail or correctly price the costs of peak congestion. Thus making the road users subsidise PT is only half as effective as it could and should be, and allows some perfectly valid arguments against using petrol taxes to pay for trains and buses. Electronic tolling of all roads seems to be the only way of getting road pricing and PT subsidies fully linked in a transparent way, ie the "congestion" charge provides money to fix the congestion, either by adding lanes, building TGM or improving the rail service, whichever is cheapest. In fact just making sure that the BCR uses person km travelled instead of vehicle km travelled would be a big step in the right direction. Especially if it values commuters and tourists at their real values to the economy.


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