Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Locals: Public transport in Auckland

In the first part of our series on local body elections we took a look at housing, libraries and water issues. In this second part of our season on the haunted house of local governance we turn the spotlight on another important issue - public transport.

The only place you’ll find more out of control cars than Kiwi horror The Locals are the streets of the nation’s largest metropolitan centre- Auckland. Local government politicians are like McDonald’s advertisements, both profess to promote healthy alternatives but in reality all they do is clog up arteries and arterial routes.

Big business have done all they can to ensure that Auckland has a public transport that is ridiculed across the world. Visiting Canadian economist Jim Stanford would write in one of his county's major papers a column that deserves wide republishing around Aotearoa,

City planners impose various pseudo-quantitative performance indicators on the contractors, such as sophisticated GPS systems to monitor on-time performance. But even this minimal nod to public accountability produces unintended consequences. Bus companies fear being fined for missing schedule targets, but are driven by the profit motive to ruthlessly minimize outlays on equipment and staff. The resulting pressure is intense on drivers (some of whom don’t even get paid overtime) to meet unrealistic timetables – a media exposé last year showed this often requires breaking the speed limit. Several times, we’ve watched an awaited bus race by without stopping, the driver shrugging helplessly and pointing at his watch.

That anecdote sums up perfectly the system’s irrationality. The top priority becomes ensuring that a private company reaches profit targets, not picking up people who need a ride.

Yet Aucklanders still pay for transit – three times over. Once through taxes – subsidies to private transit consume half of all property taxes collected by the regional government. Then again at the fare box. And finally a third time through inconvenience. No wonder Aucklanders take transit one-quarter as often as Torontonians.

So before you get carried away with enthusiasm for the inherent efficiency of the private sector, visit Auckland. It’s beautiful. But you’ll need to rent a car.

A disaster all right, public transport run down and privatised in the interests of corporate vultures. As Chris Trotter summed it up in a post on his blog,
The Auckland we’ve ended up with is a city of individuals who travel by car. It’s a city based on the tried and true formula: "real-estate equals roads – roads equal real-estate". This is what I call the "Auckland Racket", and it underpins the city’s speculative economy, its nouveau-riche property-developers’ culture and, most importantly, its far-right neoliberal politics.
If anyone has any doubt that selling the country’s rail network to the robber barons of the ‘80s and ‘ 90s like Michael Fay and David Richwhite was a bad idea they need only read the short history of the deregulation of railways provided by the Campaign for Better Transport,
The new owners began massive “rationalisation”, which meant sacking thousands of staff, closing stations & depots, cutting passenger services & some branch lines. The “human presence” of railways vanished as the workforce necessary to market, manage, load & operate the system were laid off. Soon less staff meant less business & less profit. This neglect of customer’s needs was quickly catered for by hungry truckers who soon captured the freight market from smaller business in the provinces.
Tomorrow the Green Party will rally its supporters of public transport for the launch of a campaign- Fast-Track the CBD Rail Loop. Under the slogan “A Super Rail Network for a Super City” the Greens aims to put pressure on Government policy makers for a “greater sense of urgency”. The facebook event has just 11 attendees suggesting that Aucklanders themselves aren’t all that bothered about the rail network. Yet a 2003 survey showed that poor public transport was the second most common complaint about living in the Auckland region (traffic congestion was number one).

According to the giddy McCarthyites of the Act Party, public transport advocates are, “scared of cars because automobiles allow individuals to make their own decisions. Car drivers can turn left or right, they can travel for miles or stay in the city, they can live out and commute in or live in and commute out. Planners and politicians can’t control them.”

Riiiggghhttt. I mean how many car turns can a car make when it is stuck in gridlock? The hilarious reality is that Auckland’s traffic jams and low public transport use are the direct result of the privatisation shock doctrine that the new right darlings brought about in Auckland in the early 1990s: “bus boardings declined from 42 million per year in 1990 to 31 million in 1994 – a drop which is not correlated with urban density or dispersed employment, as neither of these factors changed substantially over the period”

We don’t even have to look very far back to realise that this current crop of local body politicians hate sensible transport. Take the November ’08 announcements in John Bank’s “Christmas Grinch budget” where he slashed public transport in order to fund more roads and the Rugby World Cup piss-up. Socialist Aotearoa at the time said, “The $345 million dollar Eastern Highway will mean we can keep on driving till the icecaps melt and the oil wells run dry. Just don’t worry about what we’ll do after the oil runs out because this Council plans to cut footpath, cycleways and walkways spending by $66 million, public transport spending by $20.8 million and new park-and-ride facilities will be slashed by $5 million. So say hello to Smog City, a city where Banks can drive his Bently down the freeway while we all eat dust.”

2010 and not a lot has changed for Auckland. The Auckland Regional Council’s regional growth strategy makes for alarming reading,

• Car use is growing by around 4% pa.
• Congestion is perceived by the public to be one of the region’s most significant problems.
• Vehicle use , especially under congested conditions, is a major source of pollution.
• Total cost of congestion to the region is estimated in the order of $750 million pa including loss of production and costs of delay in moving goods.

Both of Auckland’s mayoral frontrunners profess support for further development of Auckland’s public transport system but cynics might say there proposals for integrated ticketing and upgrading ferry and rail networks are simply- too little, too late. Aucklanders who seriously want to unfuck the public transport system will need to do more than vote to end local Government inaction. Getting active in community campaigns for free and frequent public transport and against further roading spending is the first step. Fighting for public ownership of transport companies and free and frequent public transport as well as a massive investment in the innercity loop, rail link with the airport and a cycle lane on the bridge won't be easy. Direct action like the GetAcross Harbour Bridge protest or the anti-SH20 protests will no doubt become more common, but Aucklanders have to keep fighting for these improvements and more if they want a liveable, sustainable, free flowing and connected worldclass city in the future.

Post by Omar. From socialistaotearoa.blogspot.com

Moving our city with free public transport

photo by flickr.com/photos/flissphil

The Dominion Post reported; “Round-the-clock gridlock has been predicted if The Terrace and Mt Victoria tunnels are closed for five weeks to kickstart a $80 million project to remedy serious safety problems.”

Could we use this sense of crisis to achieve immediate improvements in public transport services and safe cycle and walk ways between Wellington CBD and its suburbs?

A report to the Greater Wellington’s Transport and Access Committee is proposing that all fares be increased from 1 October 2010, to take account of the GST increase, and to produce a 3% increase in fare revenue to balance increased costs

Fare increases: bad timing

Greater Wellington Regional Councillor Paul Bruce said that coinciding Public Transport fare increases with the Mt Victoria tunnel safety upgrades is bad timing. “If we are going to close off routes, we must provide some counter balancing measure to help people move freely about Wellington city.

One of these measures could be moving the subsidy for free weekend public parking to zero inner city fares. Mr Bruce said that many other cities provide zero fare services, including Auckland, Christchurch and Invercargill.

Use the business levy

Shifting some of the Wellington City Council business levy to cover bus fares in the central business district ties in with a move towards integrated fares, allowing people arriving from outer suburbs to proceed through to Courtenay Place without any extra cost.

This will attract extra riders and lead to fewer cars in the inner city area, which in turn will improve traffic flow and air quality and thus ambience and … retail sales. Convenient public transport will also give an added pull to tourists.

Other advantages to alternative transport

There are also health, social and environmental advantages to funding alternative modes of transport such as cycling, walking and public transport.

Physical inactivity accounts for almost 10 percent of New Zealand’s 20 leading causes of death. It is a contributor to obesity and type 2 diabetes, which together cost the health system over $500 million per year. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is now promoting “car reduced” communities. And the British government’s 2001 planning document says: “Development comprising jobs, shopping, leisure and services should not be designed and located on the assumption that the car will represent the only realistic means of access for the vast majority of people”.

Car parking

Wellington is an extreme case in terms of provision of car parks, with the highest number of parking spaces per job, according to figures collated by Kerry Wood. We outrank Christchurch and Auckland, and well known US cities, Phoenic, Denver, and Detroit.

Wellington City Council “free” weekend car parks cost a lot in foregone revenue, in fact four times more than the inner city public transport weekend fare, and about half the total weekend bus revenue take. Free parking contributes to vehicle pollution and traffic snarl ups as cars search for parking spaces, and may actually diminish retail sales. In a time of diminishing resources, a subsidy for free parking isn’t the best plan.

Creative solutions

Improving Wellington’s transport network can happen with some creative solutions. Our transport network includes every bus, car, skateboard or pair of feet that people use to get around, each with different requirements, whether in use or not.

Wellington’s compact size means space is at a premium downtown.What goes unnoticed are the ways in which we prioritise and even sponsor car use above every alternative. Private cars are the part of that network that take up the most space and energy, for the least return.

Instead, providing some real alternatives, such as zero inner city public transport fares combined with safer cycling after the removal of some parking, enhances the village atmosphere that we all seek.

Paul Bruce concluded that the closure of the Mt Victoria tunnel for safety upgrades should be seen as an opportunity to promote our public transport system. “Greater Wellington provides a free connecting bus service on the Kapiti Coast to connect with train services, and has found this to be a great success. What about moving towards zero weekend fares for Wellington city?”

Number of CBD parking spaces in 1996 per 1000 CBD jobs

(figures collated by Kerry Wood)

Wellington 1050
Christchurch 940
Auckland 650
Sourced figures:
Phoenix 910
Denver 730
Detroit 710
Perth 630
Houston 610
Los Angeles 520
Portland 400
Melbourne 340
Brisbane 320
Sydney 220
Copenhagen 220
Zürich 140
London 120
New York 60

Zero fare public transport services

Auckland Free downtown bus loop, ‘City Circuit’
Christchurch Free downtown bus loop, ‘The Shuttle’
Invercargill Free downtown bus & free off peak buses
Adelaide Free downtown tram route
Sydney Free downtown city bus loop
Melbourne Free downtown tram and bus loop
Chapel Hill , USA Free area-wide bus services
Hasselt , Belgium Free area-wide bus services


Economic benefits of people-friendly streets

Parking lots to parks – designing livable cities by Lester R Brown

Paved with gold – the real value of street design – by CABE, UK

Economic value of walkability – Victoria Transport Policy Institute [PDF, 233KB]

Bachels, M, Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Indicators of urban transport efficiency in New Zealand’s main cities. Perth: Murdoch University, ISBN 0 86905 669 7

Newman, P and Kenworthy, J (1999). Sustainability and cities — overcoming automobile dependence. ISBN 1 55963 660 2.

The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup estimates that off-street parking subsidies in the United States are worth at least $127 billion a year.

Paul BruceFor more information

Contact Regional Councillor Paul Bruce
phone: 04 9728699 cellphone:021 02719370

From www.wellingtongreens.org.nz

Friday, July 23, 2010

Free transit promotes social inclusion

Let us reclaim human interaction - get rid of the anti-social private auto

Further evidence of the positive effects of free public transport can be gleaned from the Belgian city of Hasselt. Not only did use of Hasselt’s bus system explode once zero fare were introduced (from 331,551 in the old situation to an astonishing 3.2 million - and this for a city of only 70,000 people), with all the obvious benefits this shift suggests, but also, some rather unexpected advantages were produced as well. For example, following the introduction of zero fares, the number of visits to patients in the city’s hospitals was reported to have “increased enormously” (van Goeverden, 2006: 7). This suggests that individuals and families will take more of a role in terms of caring responsibilities if they can actually access the people who need to be cared for, and this could represent incredible indirect savings for the state in terms of social and health care budgets. Indeed, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has demonstrated statistically that people who socialise and participate in social activities are on average happier and healthier (2000:326-335). Of course you can only do this if you can get around, an evidence from a wide range of sources indicate that many people cannot ‘get around’ (see Church et al, 2000; Graham and Marvin, 2001; Hine and Mitchell, 2003; Knolwes, 2006 New Economics Foundation, 2003; Pooley et al, 2005; Raje, 2007; Reisig and Hobbiss, 2000; Shaw, 2006; Social Exclusion Unit, 2002 and 2003; Urry, 2007).

Bob Jeffrey - Towards a Sustainable Transport Policy

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Celebrity Stroke of Genius: Free Public Transport

July 16

Well known Australian author Graeme Base suggests free public transport. Certainly a good one for the wallet and bound to make happier commuters! It may even get more people using public transport so better for the environment and perhaps a more active option for commuters?

"Make all public transport completely free. With no insanely expensive ticketing system to keep going wrong, and no army of inspectors to police the network, plus massive productivity gains and lower health costs (mental and physical) from the easing of the ravages of traffic congestion – we could spend the savings on additional trams, trains and buses. Why, we could even bring Connies back – not to collect fares, but to help get prams on board, tell you what stop you need for the museum and to whistle jaunty tunes."

From: www.strokeofgenius.com.au

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hutt support for 'fare rise rebels'

June 29, 2010

Members of Hutt City’s grassroots council ticket, VAN – Valley Action Network, will be attending the Greater Wellington Regional Council meeting today, supporting a group of commuters, dubbed the “fair rise rebels” by the Dominion Post, protesting against train fare hikes on the Wairarapa Line.

“We’re going because commuters everywhere are facing a common problem”, says VAN spokesperson Michelle Ducat. “It’s the Wairarapa Line today, the Hutt Valley Line tomorrow.

“Last year, the government’s transport agency released a ‘farebox recovery’ plan to make passengers around the country pay a bigger share of the cost of public transport.

“Transport minister Steven Joyce pushed for the plan, to divert even more public money into building costly motorways. He has publicly singled out Hutt Valley rail commuters as another group who will have to pay extra.

“The Greater Wellington Regional Council made a submission opposing the plan and won important concessions, including the right for councils to set their own targets for how much of the cost should be borne by passengers.

“But under the new rules, says GWRC Design and Development Manager Brian Baxter, councils will still come under ’strong influence’ to make passengers pay up.

“The government already spends seven times as much on roads as it does on all other kinds of transport put together”, commented Michelle. “People know that this fuels ever-growing car use and traffic jams, more reliance on dwindling cheap oil and more climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Come July 1, it’s also forcing consumers to bear the cost of an Emissions Trading Scheme that’s been watered down and won’t stop climate change anyway.

“To fix the problems in a way that doesn’t shift the burden onto grassroots people, the country needs to move in the opposite direction, towards ideas like Free Public Transport.

“At the very least, local councils need to unite against this latest government farebox plan.

“Forty submissions were received on the farebox plan. Individuals, regional and city councils from around New Zealand spoke up against the government’s push to raise fares.

“Hutt City Council said nothing. This is just not good enough”, she said.

“Hutt residents deserve, and need a council that stands up for us, and for our environment.

“This is why VAN – Valley Action Network is standing for election to Hutt City Council in October.

“We’ll be pushing for Free Public Transport. It makes climate sense and serves the people!”

Content Sourced from scoop.co.nz