Saturday, October 30, 2010
Owen McShane: Can the Auckland Council Survive
And so it came to pass in Auckland.
However, these voters should rapidly turn their attention to the policy agenda, because policy will determine whether the Auckland Council will succeed or fail.
Mayor Brown has declared that he has a mandated duty to provide a “Vision” for Auckland, and is determined to unite all Aucklanders behind that Vision.
The core of his Vision is an extensive rail network – including a rail link to the Airport, light rail on the surface streets, and a rail tunnel under the harbour.
The gospel according to Mike Lee lives on.
Residents of Rodney and rural South Auckland may not share this Vision – especially if they have to share the costs. This is the kind of division that led to Montreal’s de-amalgamation after only two years.
This is the Twenty First Century – not the 19th.
Personal mobility is a major contributor to connectivity and hence to urban economic development. US research reveals that each billion dollars spent on highways supports about 25 times as much personal mobility as each billion spent on public transport. The same amount of highway spending supports the movement of more than 1.25 billion tonne-miles of truck freight, which keeps product prices low and supports overall economic growth. Public transport carries zero freight.
Any informed analysis of the poll-driven Airport rail-link shows that it, too, is dead in the water. Introducing light rail (trams) onto Auckland’s narrow street network is equally nonsensical. Where is the room for light rail lines, vehicle lanes and bus lanes in say Karangahape Road or Parnell rise? As for rail tunnels under the harbour, the Governor of New Jersey has cancelled completion of the rail under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey to Manhattan. Shouldn’t we find out why?
Moving money out of roads and into public transport will increase Auckland’s traffic congestion, destroy jobs, and increase product prices by slowing down trucks and vans.
US researchers Hartgen and Fields demonstrate that wise investments in urban roading will more than pay for themselves by boosting the region’s economy, and thus tax revenues.
Back in 1968, a group of us working under Mel Webber at UC Berkeley found that the best way to help the Bay Area unemployed find jobs was to give them free Volkswagens. Current research in Los Angeles finds welfare recipients with a car have access to fifty-nine times more jobs than those who depend on walking and public transport. Recent studies of 23 cities in France find similar results.
In spite of pessimistic assertions to the contrary, cars are here to stay, and new technology is making them more efficient and effective than ever.
Seven Google test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.
Humans driving cars at 100 kilometres per hour can manage a traffic flow of 2,200 vehicles per lane per hour. Computer-controlled convoyed cars can raise that figure to 8,000, making roads much more cost effective.
Fully robotic cars can be summoned electronically on demand and shared among many users. This reduces the need for parking spaces, which consume valuable land.
The Avego system of cellular-automated car-pooling is already well established and spreading round the world.
General Motors’ Chevrolet Volt, an innovative electric car scheduled for launch next month, will get an equivalent of 230 miles to the gallon for city driving. That’s almost ten times better than current vehicles.
GPS based electronic tolling makes it possible to charge people very precisely for road use, defusing the argument that cars are subsidized at public expense. Electronic tolling of electric cars can replace the state revenue lost from fuel taxes.
Such innovations will make a mockery of efforts to wrestle people out of their cars. Why bother?
Investing in rail today makes no sense – for the same reason investing in telex machines, typewriters, and slide rules, made no sense during the sixties and seventies.
Stephen Joyce is right. The Rail Retros are wrong.
The new Council must also explain to Government that Auckland cannot be a competitive economy while mired in a planning system where development companies are expected to enter expensive and time-consuming consenting campaigns with no certainty of gaining consent at the end of the process. The rates of return do not, and cannot, stack up.
More importantly, decisions that decline consents at the last minute of the last hour destroy hundreds of millions of dollars of company wealth because the property values are reduced to near zero.
These decisions destroy national savings, which are in much shorter supply than the “rural character” that justifies the decisions.
The Auckland Council must demand a move towards the planning regimes that provide some certainty of outcome.
Both the Swiss and German constitutions honour property rights by acknowledging that landowners must not be left in doubt as to what they may or may not build on their land. Our landowners depend on local planning authorities and their consultants to define their rights – and who charge handsomely for doing so.
The Auckland Council will be a dead weight cost on the economy if it destroys wealth by foolish investments in rail, which cannot even cover the cost of capital, and continues to destroy the wealth of entrepreneurial investors in land and property, and the life savings of individuals who finance their efforts.
at 7:50 AM