Government, Auckland agree at last on transport funding approach
The government and Auckland Council have reached a detente over transport funding, establishing a one-year, collaborative timetable for decisions on funding for the city's transport infrastructure growth in the next 30 years after the government refused to fund the $2 billion of short and medium-term plans outlined in Auckland's draft Unitary Plan.
"The parties agree that an aligned strategic approach that provides a compelling case for additional transport investment is a prerequisite for any future government consideration of additional funding or funding tools," the jointly signed terms of reference say.
Finance and Transport Ministers Bill English and Simon Bridges signed the terms of reference with Auckland mayor Len Brown and council member Bill Cashmore, a transport infrastructure advocate from semi-rural Franklin county, who told BusinessDesk there were easy wins available on the way to getting an aligned approach to Auckland's congestion and public transport imperatives.
"We could see a far better return on our dollars with a smart, coordinated approach," he said.
Former Labour Party leader Phil Goff, widely tipped as a front-runner if he chooses to contest the Auckland mayoralty next year, criticised a decision that "now means another year will pass before remedial action will be taken."
The government put a spoke in the wheel of Auckland Council's plans earlier this year when it outlined requests for taxpayer funds for roading and public transport initiatives that were rebuffed as government ministers sought more focus on the city's two biggest transport problems: road congestion and public transport.
The terms of reference set out a one year timeframe for a joint project that needs first to agree on the scope of the problem, followed by a round of advice on the alternatives, and a final report "detailing the best intervention packages, a preferred strategic approach and recommendations including necessary changes to achieve implementation."
Among earlier proposals from Auckland Council, which Wellington rejected, was one allowing tolls to fund new Auckland road projects and allow congestion charging - a mechanism available already under existing legislation, subject to government permission. A jointly agreed approach to how to manage the transport needs of the 700,000 people who are forecast to take Auckland's population to 2.5 million by 2045 might unlock such permission.
The timetable would see agreed recommendations emerge for fixing Auckland's transport woes just before the next round of local body elections in late 2016 and a year out from the 2017 general election.
The terms of reference say the objective of Auckland transport plans should be: "to support economic growth and increased productivity by ensuring access to employment/labour improves"; reduced congestion, particularly improved travel times and reliability; more use of public transport "where it will address congestion"; and "ensure any increases in the financial costs of using the transport system deliver net benefits to users of the system."
The joint agreement between central government and the country's only city of global scale coincides with the release of a new 30 year infrastructure investment plan that assumes the ability to use 'big data' to price road access, especially for heavy and industrial traffic that competes with rail, and the rise of driverless vehicles to allow far more efficient use of existing road networks in the future.