English Has Road Blinkers On
The Government continued its loud mantra that Auckland’s future public transport is mainly about buses.
And buses need roads, and highways and a harbour bridge. And they say the’ll keep building them in Auckland. For cars and buses.
Finance Minister Bill English told parliament that Auckand’s recent massive growth in public transport was mainly from buses!
In a question and answer session with Greens’ Gareth Hughes the dreaded train /rail words were never used by the Minister and he made his statement without daring to acknowledge that for the financial year-to-date, eight months to February, Auckland rail patronage has grown by +14.0% (744,000 boardings).
Senior Government ministers Key, Joyce and English are now busy singing from the same hymn book in ignoring Mayor Len Brown’s call for rail projects by insisting roads are the way to go and buses are the answer.
This also matches their barely disguised view that a rail tunnel is not needed to the North Shore in the future as the answer has proven to be the Northern Busway. (Steven Joyce has publicly stated this in the past).
English’s statement was related to the overcrowding situation on Auckland public transport.
His direct quote was:
“If fuel prices continue to rise…we will continue to see more of what is happening in Auckland now, where Auckland Transport needs to put on more buses to cater for the upsurge in demand for public transport, not all of which is on trains. Most of it is actually on buses, which need to use the roads.”
“I imagine that Auckland Transport right now is rethinking how to expand capacity to cater for the increased demand. However, I do not think any increase in demand that I can imagine will have most people giving away the opportunity of having their own car, and the freedom and mobility that that gives them. With that in mind, the Government will continue to invest in a comprehensive roading network in Auckland.”
The full Q&A is below followed by the video if it is easier to watch (but not more easier to swallow!)
Gareth Hughes (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “[e]very day New Zealanders are making decisions to change their behaviour based on changes in the oil price”; if so, how will those behaviour changes be reflected in Government infrastructure investment
Bill English (Minister of Finance) : Yes; what we do know is that in response to price increases, fuel technologies continue to evolve. Vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, as we see in modern diesel engines, the development of hybrid engines, and also more and more talk of electric cars emerging. I think that if fuel prices continue to rise, we will see a faster uptake of these technologies, and we will continue to see more of what is happening in Auckland now, where Auckland Transport needs to put on more buses to cater for the upsurge in demand for public transport, not all of which is on trains. Most of it is actually on buses, which need to use the roads.
Hughes: What choices does a shift worker living in Flat Bush, Manukau have, with 91 octane petrol at $2.19 a litre, to avoid those high oil prices, when there is no public transport and that person cannot afford a new hybrid electric car?
English: That is the opportunity that Auckland has, now that it has a unified council—to rethink its transport services and its public transport services, so it can meet the needs of the increasing number of Aucklanders who want to use public transport. That growth is most likely to be strongest in buses, and buses need roads that are not congested. If we can deliver an efficient highway network, I am sure we will see a stronger uptake of public transport, particularly if fuel prices keep rising.
Hughes: Does the Minister agree with Dr Stephen Rainbow from the Auckland Transport Agency, who said bus congestion is a problem in downtown Auckland right now, and “we are not going to resolve that until the central city rail loop is completed.”?
English: Well, not necessarily. All sorts of benefits are claimed for the central business district rail loop. We are going through a considered and hard-headed process of analysis with the city council, to make sure that the considerable expenditure Aucklanders will need to make in the loop will yield the benefits that are claimed.
Hughes: How will there be enough buses and trains to meet the huge and growing demand, when the Government has effectively capped transport funding for public transport services over the next decade?
English: The figures I have seen show that this Government is spending more money on public transport than any Government has ever spent. We have spent quite a bit of time on reorganising the funding and governance arrangements so that there is clear accountability, full transparency in relation to the funding, and strong incentives for improved performance in public transport. So although we have a big roading investment, we see that as being complementary to our public transport policy, and public transport policy has never been in better shape.
Hughes: Given that petrol is now the most expensive it has ever been in our country’s history, what choices to people actually have, when buses and trains are overcrowded and the Government is spending $10 billion on more motorways that people cannot afford to drive on?
English: I agree with the member that ideally our public transport system would be running with sufficient capacity to enable people to have reasonable choice about whether they use a private car or public transport. I imagine that Auckland Transport right now is rethinking how to expand capacity to cater for the increased demand. However, I do not think any increase in demand that I can imagine will have most people giving away the opportunity of having their own car, and the freedom and mobility that that gives them. With that in mind, the Government will continue to invest in a comprehensive roading network in Auckland.
Hughes: Given that we now have the most expensive petrol in New Zealand’s history, what choice does, say, a Gisborne-based logging company have to avoid high oil prices in truck transport and still get the logs to market, when the State-owned railway company is potentially closing the local railway line?
English: The practicality is that even if the railway line was open, or even if it was carrying a lot of logs, companies would still need trucks to get the logs to the railway, and then to get them off the railway and into the port. The fact is that logging operators, whether they like it or not, will have to make the same choices as anyone else—that is, if they can find more fuel-efficient trucks and make the logistics of shifting the logs more efficient, then they will be able to reduce their fuel consumption. I am quite sure most logging operators are thinking that through right now, precisely because fuel prices are so high, as the member said.
Hughes: In the upcoming Budget will the Government change its transport funding and switch to projects that reduce our reliance on expensive oil, and will it plan for more buses and trains that New Zealanders desperately want to take now, instead of wasting $10 billion on more motorways that they cannot even afford to drive on?
English: I think the difference of opinion here is not so much about the effect of high fuel prices. High fuel prices are going to force people to make different choices about their transport, whether it is to use more efficient fossil-fuelled transport or public transport. The difference is that we do not see public transport and building roads as being mutually exclusive. We are doing both. We are doing both well. We can argue about whether the level of investment should be higher than it is, but I have to say the level of investment in both is higher than it has ever been in New Zealand, because we believe efficient infrastructure is important in terms of having a productive economy, more jobs, and higher incomes.
Hughes: I seek leave to table an excerpt from a Cabinet paper by the transport Minister Steven Joyce, which says he effectively capped the funding available for public transport services in 2009.
Mr Speaker: What is the date of this Cabinet paper?
Hughes: It is November 2010.
Mr Speaker: Leave is sought to table that document from a Cabinet paper. Is there any objection? There is no objection.