Bridges bashes Auckland Council's transport plan

Transport Minister Simon Bridges

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Simon Bridges does not have confidence in Auckland Council’s transport plan, saying the city needs “more, less iconic big projects and more smaller-scale projects that actually deal with congestion.”
 
On TV3's The Nation, the transport minister iterated the points he made to NBR last week about what he wants from Auckland’s plan, suggesting axing a plan for rail to the airport and increasing funding for local roads.

His comments came in the same week that the council voted for a new $114 a year transport levy on rate
 
Mr Bridges said he wants the city to wait for new spending until the government and council can reach “alignment.”
 
He urged the council to focus more on “getting good roads,” but also said, “We’re not prepared to give those [funding tools] until we see a strategy that deals with congestion and more effective public transport for Auckland for the next 20, 30 years”.

 If those roads aren’t built, “we think that it slows down the ability to have greenfields development and more special housing," he said.
 
He described comments by deputy mayor Penny Hulse on stopping Special Housing Area developments where there isn’t infrastructure as “leveraging” because the council knows “it is so important to the government to see more housing in Auckland.”
 
Mr Bridges insisted National is “doing a huge amount” in Auckland and that nothing he was saying undercuts the government’s commitment to making the Auckland super city “master of its own destiny.”
 
Mr Bridges stuck to claim that Auckland Council plans to spend less on transport compared t\with the past three years, although Auckland Council told The Nation that isn’t correct.
 
He denied his government is waiting for Len Brown and the council to be voted out next year.

"What I’ve been offering, and I know the mayor is very keen on this, is the option to actually explore formal engagement," he said.

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RAW DATA: Lisa Owen interviews Transport Minister Simon Bridges

Lisa Owen: The Government invests around a billion dollars a year in Auckland’s transport system, and Auckland can’t introduce tolls or fuel taxes without a law change, what Wellington says matters. Transport Minister Simon Bridges is with me now. Good morning.
Simon Bridges: Morning.
This week Auckland Council voted for a transport levy. Now tell me – is that a smart move? Is it the right thing to do?
I think ultimately it’s for them. We don’t disagree with them doing that, as I think it is for them. I think what is true, though, is when you look at it, I suppose what we think is there’s a disconnect between the reality and the rhetoric. Actually, what we’re seeing at the moment, for example, is compared with the status quo of the last three years, a decrease in spending in the Budget coming up in transport at least.
Well, the council categorically denies that. They’ve told us absolutely not is there a decrease in funding. In fact—
Well, let me give you the numbers.
In fact, the proposal that they put up was if they didn’t have this levy, so—
Well, let me give you the numbers. Over the last three years, they’ve spent just under $2.5 billion. In the next three years, they’ll spend about $1900 million, $1.9 billion. That’s including about half a billion from the levy. So overall while they’re getting more in rates, it is not going on transport.
But the council says those— Minister, the council says those figures are based on not including the levy. Now that they’ve got the levy, the spend will be the same.
No, that’s incorrect. That’s my understanding.
So you’re saying the council’s lying on that point?
Well, no, I’m not, but I’m giving you what I understand from the very latest figures in their budget, which is about 2.4 billion for the next— for the last three years, 1.9 billion for the three years coming.
Is it—?
That’s including about half a billion in transport levies.
It is possible that you’ve misinterpreted those figures? Or you’re 100% sure you’re right on that?
I’m sure about that, but let me tell you this – regardless of the financial situation, I think what we would say is we just don’t think it’s a good enough plan for Auckland and for Aucklanders. And we say that because we don’t think that it does move the dial in terms of effective public transport that lowers congestion, and it doesn’t actually deal generally with congestion across Auckland in the next 30 years.
We’re going to come to that in some more detail, but in terms of the levy, do you think it’s fair for all Aucklanders, rich and poor, to pay the same amount?
Well, I think that’s for Auckland. I mean, I think, you know, what I would say—
What do you think?
What I would say is if you look at Auckland from a central government perspective, it is incredibly important that it succeeds. The demographic change here – three-quarters of a million people growth in, I think 40 years – means that we do need to, if you like, fix Auckland transport. The government’s been investing the lion’s share, as you said in the intro there, $1 billion that’s been going in all manner of projects – Waterview, electrification of the rail, the Victoria tunnel – so I think we’re doing our bit.
Part of it’s a loan, though, isn’t it? Part of it’s a $500 million loan. It’s not a free hit.
I think however you slice it, we’re spending very significant sums in Auckland. It’s about 40%, actually, of our transport budget and much more than the council is, and that’s because we recognise how important the city is to New Zealand.
Okay, well, you have described the plan that the council has put out as being ‘not optimal’. Exactly what bits don’t you like?
I think it comes down to two things generally. Firstly, if you look at the council’s own figures, again what you see, as compared with their basic model, which clearly they didn’t want, you’re only getting about a 1% increase into the 2040s in public transport; you’re getting a 40% rise in congestion. So at a big-picture level, it’s not solving the problems that we think Aucklanders want to. And then I think to answer your question directly, you get into the mix of projects and—
So about that mix of projects – that’s what I want to drill down into, because that’s what people want to know. Which bits of the projects do you not favour?
Well, I think firstly what we’ve got to say is I want to engage seriously with Auckland, the Government does, to actually go through and test assumptions and have some give and take on that. So, actually, we’re forming, if we can, some sort of alignment on the projects. But let me answer your question.
Yes, please.
I mean, I think what we’re talking about here is in broad-brush terms and open for testing is a view that we need more, less iconic big projects and more smaller-scale projects that actually deal with congestion and that mean, for example, that the 85% of commuters who aren’t commuting to their jobs into the CBD are getting good public transport and are getting good roads to get to their work.
So what are the iconic projects that you think are a waste of money?
Well, I’m not saying they’re a waste of money. There’s any range of projects that if you had the funding, you would do. But let me give you an example - $1.8 billion, half of the new public transport spending for the next 20, 30 years, according to this plan, to go on the rail link to the airport. Well, you’ve got to test that, I think, actually – is there enough infrastructure and investment going to busways and so on to get most people to their work each day?
So perhaps that’s one thing you would not spend money on.
I think that’s an example where it needs to be very seriously tested, certainly in light of limited funds, a decreasing budget from council and the need to get the optimum sense of prioritisation of projects.
So you said less iconic projects and other smaller projects. What are you talking about, then? More arterial roads?
Well, I think, for example on that front, we’re talking about only 15% of the budget that Auckland’s put forward going into- an increase going into local roads. If we think we’re building the highways, if we’re doing those things, we need to have effective local roads. We’ve seen that debate, really, in relation to special housing areas. We are- You need to make sure you’ve got the supporting infrastructure. We think that's very important, and we don’t necessarily think that we see that in this plan. In fact, we think that it slows down the ability to have greenfields development and more special housing.
I suppose the conundrum here, though, is that didn’t we get a supercity? Didn’t Auckland get a supercity so that it could be the master of its own destiny so it could make decisions for itself? Well, it has made the decision. Maybe you just don’t like it.
Well, I don’t think there’s anything that I say that undercuts that. Auckland, I think, as Len Brown said, can go ahead-
How can you-? Excuse me, sorry, I just have to stop you there. How can you say that? Because you’re telling them you don’t like the project; you’re not going to allow fuel tax or tolls. So how are they the masters of their own destiny?
Because they’ve ultimately put up this budget. They’ve approved it; it’s what’s going to happen according to the council. They can do that. What I’m saying, though, is that if they want more funding than the very significant funding that they’re getting from central government to really back Auckland, Government needs to see a plan and a strategy that it’s confident in, that it thinks does the job for Aucklanders that does a good job, and we don’t see that now. But it’s not all negative. Actually, we’re prepared to work with Auckland on that.
Minister, they’re not asking you to hand over some money. They’re asking you to allow them to use a certain set of tools to raise the money themselves. So they’re not asking you to dip into your pocket. They want you to let them to go to their constituency and get money from there.
You’re right. In a broad sense, they’re asking for funding tools from central government. We’re not prepared to give those until we see a strategy that deals with congestion and more effective public transport for Auckland for the next 20, 30 years. We just don’t see it. By the way, it’s not just us.
Doesn’t that bring us back to the same problem, though? ‘You’re the masters of your own destiny, but, oops, so I’m not going to allow you to use these funding tools to get money.’ They’ve chosen that plan – they’ve put it to the vote. 
And they’re doing what they think is right. They’re increasing rates; they’ve got a transport levy. As I say, actually, if you look at that, the transport portion of this higher rates is not increasing. You’re not seeing more money going on transport. But they can do that. From our perspective, though, it’s just very clear – and I’ve been clear with Mayor Brown – it’s got to be funding following good strategy, not just an open chequebook on the funding before we get a strategy that does the right job for Auckland.
Isn’t that funding to follow the strategy that you approve of? Because that’s basically what you’re saying, isn’t it?
I think we all – whether you’re a council, whether you’re Len Brown, whether you’re Simon Bridges – need to see an Auckland that’s moving, that’s got excellent public transport, because we back that and we’ve shown in our record. It’s about how you get there. And as I say, I don’t think I can be clearer – we’re not going to approve funding tools that we’re all already pretty sceptical of, unless we see a strategy that’s right for Auckland, because it is so important to Aucklanders but also to New Zealand.
You’ve said you want to talk some more; that you want another year of consultation. Isn’t that the problem? Aucklanders are fed up with talking. They want some action. The longer you leave this, the worse it’s going to get.
My view’s pretty clear. We could get on right now and they could build the roads and the big public transport projects that they want, but they may very well be the wrong roads and the wrong public transport projects. I think it’s the right thing, actually, to take some time on what is incredibly significant to see if we can get better alignment. To be very clear, it’s not going to be easy, actually, because there are differences. They’re not on personalities, and they’re very well with the mayor and the other leaders in the city, but they are in terms of-
Because the outside perception is this looks like a staring contest, Minister; that you were trying to stare down the council who have taken this plan to their people and have voted it through. Is it just that you’d like to work with someone else other than Len Brown’s council?
No. We’ll work with whomever the mayor and the council are. It’s about the fact this is so important that we need to get it right.
But are you actually working with them in a meaningful way when you say, ‘We don’t like your plan. We’re lukewarm on a levy; we’re not going to give you permission to use tolls, and no, no regional fuel tax.’ That’s not working with them in a meaningful way, is it?
Working with Auckland, I mean, our record speaks for itself. The hugely significant projects; the money we’re putting in; money talks, and we’re showing that; the projects and the investment going forward. So I think we are. And what I’ve been offering, and I know the Mayor is very keen on this, is the option to actually explore formal engagement. That’s not just talk. It’s about priorities; ultimately, projects.
The underlying message there, though, Minister, is, ‘Wait. Auckland, wait.’ You’re OK for Auckland to wait?
Well, it’s not waiting. Because actually, if you look-
But if you’re not doing anything and you’re just talking some more, then you’re waiting.
We’re doing a huge amount. I mean, you talk about Waterview; a $1.4 billion project opening some time in 2017. That will hugely move the dial for West Aucklanders where we’ve had the special housing issues and talk in the last few days. So we’re doing a huge amount. I mean, compared with $500, $600m from local government, we’re at about $1b. So we’re doing that, but while that goes on, I think it is right that we get together and we do talk it out. By the way, that’s what AA wants; that’s what the Employers and Manufacturers Association wants; that’s what most of the very serious submitters who submitted in process wanted.
I just want to look at one example in terms of waiting. Projections show that the Britomart rail hub is going to reach full capacity for trains and passengers in the next few months. We understand that the council’s looking at putting security guards down there to cope with the numbers. That sounds urgent, doesn’t it? It sounds like it needs action now. Not in a year’s time; not after some more discussion.
Look at the City Rail link. We are going to fund it.
I’m asking about this problem. So we’re already reaching capacity. They want to get ahead with the plan; they’ve chosen it. Why not let them?
That’s right. And if you’re talking about that, I think what Len Brown would say if he was here, or many of the councillors, would be, ‘What we need is the City Rail link.’ And if you look at that, actually, we’ve brought funding forward for that by a decade. It will start in 2020.
With some riders.
That’s right. Because actually, in regards to your question, the numbers quite clearly aren’t at the level.
They don’t want piecemeal as well, Minister. They want to get on with the whole plan, not just a little peck at a time.
Exactly, and that’s why I think seriously exploring formal engagement is so important. Right now, we’re not talking about a week’s time. We’re talking about the next 30 or 40 years, when three quarters of a million people are coming to this city.
But the reality is, the transport issues that Auckland is facing that’s affecting us now, even last week, the council has put the brakes on certain special housing areas because they say they need more roads and infrastructure. So now, you’re stalling the building of more houses in Auckland as well.
Well, I think what we’ve got, understandably there from the deputy mayor, is some leveraging going on, because they know it is so important to the Government to see more housing in Auckland, and we’re trying to—
But the houses aren’t getting built. They’ve put the handbrake on it because of the transport situation.
And I think that’s an example of the rhetoric and reality point I made earlier. I don’t think we can be blamed there in the sense that we really are pumping in the investment in that West Auckland part of Auckland, along that State Highway 16. And I’m willing very much through this formal process I’m talking about to engage with them on particular projects.
Okay, so very quickly, because we are running out of time. You’re talking to the council about a transport accord. A housing accord speeds up consents. What would a transport accord do exactly?
First and foremost, alignment. It would mean that— I think the questions you’re asking me would be answered. We’d have a sense of agreement on the problem, on the congestion numbers. We’d have a sense of the priorities and what we’re trying to achieve. Is it that fewer big projects, more projects around the city, or what is it? And then it’s that mix of projects that at the moment we don’t know.
All right, thanks, Minister. We’ve got to go. Alignment – that sounds like more talking.


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TOLL THE MOTORWAY SYSTEM, follow the lead of Brisbane!!
Government and Local Government pay to install electronic tolling on all vehicles using the motorway. Problem solved as long as Council don't use the money for other means.

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Oh yes, we do so love paying TransUrban $7 to go 30 kilometres. Most definitely an example to follow.

Now, if the private sector stumps up the lions share of the cash, and the government constrains the tolls to sane levels (not $7-$10 like here), well that could work and would be worth supporting.

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Don't toll anything. Don't add to rates. Don't build monuments to the Council. Get an independent auditor in who knows how to run a business and ask where all the money is going. Cull the 'nice-to haves' and focus on core infrastructure. We can do without the odd festival and kilometers of unused cycle lanes, ever increasing installation of speed bumps etc until the core is sorted.

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Time for the Auditor-general to move in. Fire the 'generals' propping up Brown and recruiting Goff (who they clearly believe they can manage too). And then send in the gang who have sorted out the municipal excesses and cock-up in Rodney, with some spares from Christchurch. Freeze all salaries above $100K for four years (no they won't get better job offers) and let's have Bridges' plan -- and his cheque-book -- on the table. Len can go back to being a bush-lawyer.

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Building more roads is about collecting more indirect tax, because we know there is more tax collected on petrol and what goes into building roads.

Some quick numbers of this:
- 2 million cars consume 50 litres a week each or 100 million litres a week or 5.2 billion litres a year
- Petrol excise tax is 67 cents a litre plus GST on total price.
- At current prices, this makes the government collect in the regions of $1 per litre, which equates to $5.2 billion collected per annum.
Referring to NZTA annual report, their spend is $2 billion. Lets remember this quick calculations don't include other transport consumables, or other taxes; including tolls, rego etc.

The sad part of this plan is it collects more tax from those that can least afford it. Creating more public transportation options; ie the Auckland Inner city rail loop, does not provide the tax collect National government are hoping for to support the unsustainable tax reductions for those in the $100,000 plus bracket; which by chance form a big part of people that vote in Auckland.

The challenge for other parties is to get those whos equity is compromised the most is to get them to vote next time round. Clawing back those unsustainable tax break gifts would be a good start.

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Actually building more road is about NOT SPENDING stupid amounts on a rail system no-one will use. Name another technology that is 150 years old and has not substantially changed.
Anyway , isn't everything going to change within the next 20-25 years with driverless cars? What is the point of a massive investment in rail (or any other public transport system) that will be obsoleted well within it's capital return lifetime.
Your argument that this is all to benefit the rich is just daft, and how exactly will an inner city rail loop help "those that can least afford it"? They neither live nor work in the inner city.

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You are absolutely right. For those of you stuck in traffic jams: HOLD TIGHT! In 20-25 years you will be stuck in a traffic jam with a robot.

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Simon Bridges sounds far more sensible than Len Brown and Bridges doesn't even live here or have to put up with Auckland's roads every day. If the small time lawyer local body grafter we presently have pretending to be the leader of Auckland really believes that Aucklanders support him and his desire for an overpriced under delivering rail project, he should do us all a favour and resign and see if the long suffering Aucklanders vote him back in. Not likely on either count.
Len Brown is an embarrassment as a mayor and he should be removed before he can do any more damage to Auckland, and the councils desks and sofas for that matter. Come to think of it, the whole council should be removed as Mike Hosking suggests. What a bunch of under qualified bunch of small minded wannabes messing around with other peoples' money and property. Auckland deserves better.

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you was going ok until you starting quoting mike hosking LOL

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Except Hosking is right, the Auckland City Council, under Len Brown and Penny Hulse, have proved that they are part of the problem, not the solution. We need practical people who understand that things cost real money and need to be prioritised. You have to so no, we can't afford that, every no and then. Len and Penny simply do not understand that. They have a captive revenue source, ratepayers, and they are taxing the city to death. If National leave them in place, the city will end up like Detroit.

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the vast bulk of our rates goes to un elected and un accountable CCOs set up be rodney hide - theres actually sod all any council can do about them. Just look at how our port behaves towards its only share holder or auckland transport publicly stating the the public arent even one of their concerns when planning transport

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Simon Bridges is out of his depth and not totally honest by pushing this agenda

What Auckland needs and NZ in general needs is an Auckland that functions properly for once and for all so this situation is not repeated every ten years after more growth

What Auckland needs is a Prime Minister and Transport Minister that do what is best for Auckland and NZ - not what is best for them politically. It is the Government costing Auckland Ratepayers not the Council - the Council can only do so much - whether its Len Brown or whoever is in the seat - Bridges needs to grow up and do what is best.

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Criticising the Auckland Council 's plan - which I think is very weak and will not achieve many, if any positive outcomes in trasnport - without having your own detailed plan is a weak response. What local roads would Mr Bridges improve? In what time frame? At what cost? What other investments would he make?

If Mr Bridges is seriously interested in Auckland transport - and I doubt that he is - he should table a detailed plan for the next 5 years, fully costed, including who will pay what and when. He has a huge bureacucracy in Wellington to help prepare such a plan.

Until such time, he is just another politician, all talk, no action, or even proposed actions.

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Getting rid of the tragically compromised Mayor Brown and the red council is the best thing Auckland can do for itself. The super city was a terrible idea that is bearing it's wicked fruit in the outer reaches in full now. The size of the stuff ups are becoming mind-boggling, along with the legacy debts that the bankers must be rubbing their hands over.

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while i agree that LB is a terrible weak mayor lets all remember two important things

1) the mayor is just one vote - they dont really have much overall influence and is more a PR role
2) the super city was designed by act - a party that has been trying to kill of local govt for years - the nonsense we are seeing in AK is partly down to the deliberate set up of the super city by rodney hide. He actually threw away all the recomendations that tax payers paid for and drew it up according to act party dogma.

Len brown is weak - but he has also been knee capped by the hard right in AK from the get go

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"Len brown is weak - but he has also been knee capped by the hard right in AK from the get go".

Whilst in agreement re: Brown, the rest of this statement is unbelievably off the mark by all objective measures.

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Until we have a satisfactory MTA here Auckland will simply have no answer. I have been using the train for over a year now and to date I have yet to find a train arriving on time. Ironically I catch the train in the early mornings when you would think the service would be free from such delays or hold ups but no they are equally as bad as during rush hour.

Some time ago most carriages were festooned with propaganda showcasing how well in % terms the service was operating but now this self serving rhetoric seems not to be posted.

The price has just been increased and the quality of service has been reduced begs the question on how effective AT actually are.

All we seem to get is offer manned areas at Britomart at 0630 and security cards from 1700-1830 who taser you if you darn encroach the yellow line.

Come on get a grip AT and Auckland Council the buck stops with you so sort it out. MTA in HK or Singapore operates with obscene punctuality so why cannot Auckland we have a lower population so what are the issues? Management, staff, trains, weather, leaves on the tracks or regular breaks for a cuppa and biscuit.

Ironically the staff on the trains during the early hour shifts are pretty much AT's only real saving grace, they are polite and courteous.

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The possibility of 'fast rail' to Hamilton was raised on 9/5 The Nation and again on Nine to Noon 11/5. My understanding is that 3ft 6inch track can support speeds up to 110mph or about 176kmh and I would guess raising speeds of electric units to about 130kmh would not be that expensive. About 1970 an underground station was actually constructed in Hamilton with the expectation of such a development. Most passenger trains over the last 40 years have covered Auckland-Frankton in about 2 hours but I am sure it could be brought down to 1hr 30 min relatively easily with electrification and sealing off the tracks with a few underpasses and bridges over the track and a few road closures.
In some ways work on Papakura- Hamilton electrification and a third line thru Auckland should take priority over the loop. The NZH 11/5 A8 details subsidies for each of the current rail trips on the Auckland system attracts a subsidy of twice that of a Wellington electric patron and suggests current Auckland passenger growth may be rather soft, if rail and bus were treated equally.

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