Saturday, October 30, 2010

Owen McShane: Can the Auckland Council Survive

Len Brown, of the ‘Centre Left’, will soon be the first Mayor of the Auckland Council. Mega-amalgamations inevitably generate tension between the conflicting interests of the central urban area and the outer municipalities. Mayoral candidates from the business-focused central area will be seen to be more “right” than politicians from the surrounding communities. Consequently, the outer electorates favour their candidates over those from the central area. This geographic preference leads to the election of Mayors from the Centre Left rather than the Centre Right. London’s "Red Ken" was a famous example.

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.


Anonymous said...
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Irrespective of the political leanings of the mayor and councilors, to burden ratepayers with costs on speculative enterprises is criminal.
We had light rail and scrapped that for buses, obviously the new mayor has not read all the Auckland history. Installing transport infrastructure in the hope people will see sense and use it is pie in the sky.
As far as the new 'super city' goes, sure there were some regional issues but things weren't broken to the extent that a major fix was required.
I for one hope that the Auckland region follows Montreal's example before we are too far down the track.

Michael Palmer said...
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The supercity is another step in NZ’s march towards fascism. Right up there with the seabed and foreshore, anti smacking, ETS, finance company bailouts, increased GST, media censorship, planning restrictions and tax collecting traffic cops.

Part of the ecofascist love of trains is nostalgia. Not for some golden age of our pioneer past but rather a return to that wonderful time when they bundled the populace into boxcars and railed them to death camps.

Anonymous said...
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The comments above are as extreme as the claim to have a mandate to provide an airport rail line (I wonder how many of those 'polled' have ever experienced a traffic jamb that made them miss a plane!). Neither help - and Owen, just as there will always be cars, and your points on increased efficiency of roading systems seems to elude the popular press, so too will there always be public transport.
The answer lies in a realistic optimisation of both - not one or the other.
And so too the Super City - there are trends towards efficient amalgamation (I recall an Economist article recently on this) - so why not try and make it work.
I suspect Len Brown and his outer suburban sycophantic support will be a 'blip' and probably a sacrificial cow. We should be looking to the next term and esnuring the roles attract the kind of thinking Owen demonstrates (with a little less extremism).

K M Findlay said...
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Tram rail costs about $1,000 per metre. Trams need two. That's $2,000 per metre or $2,000,000 per kilometre and I believe that is just the cost of the steel. Then there are the sleepers, the laying of the track and buying and installing the overhead wires. The energy costs of all that steel would keep the green communists awake at night if they were not all suffering from congenital stupidity.

A modern tram can be encouraged to follow a line painted on the road. Paint is much cheaper to produce than the same length of steel rail and can be altered easily. If such a tram was held up by an incident then the robot driver could get out and paint a line around the problem and carry on but in practice it would be able to leave the line temporarily and run on batteries till it could rejoin the line further on. Trolley buses used to do that.

The electrical current can be picked up from the road surface from studs or a more modern experimental system that I can't talk about because of a confidentiality agreement that was obliged to sign.

People wanting to put steel rails back on the roads are dreadfully ignorant or demented or both.

The mayor of Auckland has the same historical fixation on the Central Business District the all of his predecessors had and can't see that an Auckland public transport map should look like a net and not a spider's web

Anonymous said...
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Mr McShane and your 'flat-earth' subscribers above are acrhtypical of why NZ goes nowhere. Doing nothing about Akld's traffic is what has lead us to where we are at present. The Harbour bridge suffered the same fate the time it was (under) built because of nay-sayers like you guys. An alternate rail system for Akld, top to toe will gain huge public support. Spend a little time analysing the Britomart figures (huge increase in public usuage). It's not one system against the other - Akld needs alternate viable systems as a complete tool kit solution. Your automated car system is away with the fairies - who pays????? Keep names out of it and discuss the issues.

Michael Palmer said...
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In reply to the accusation of extremism from anonymous:

The super city is a fascist construct because like the seabed and foreshore, anti smacking, ETS, finance company bailouts, increased GST, media censorship, planning restrictions and tax collecting traffic cops it has been foisted on the helpless populace without any mandate. In fact this government was elected with the expectation that it would actually role back the intrusion of the state. What should have happened was the introduction of referendums, repeal of the Local Government Act 2002 with its powers of general competence (an oxymoron) repealing and/or reforming the building act, the RMA, the ability of local authorities to charge onerous development levees and any thing else that is choking the ability of developers to get on with job of creating jobs and ending this recession.

Ecofasism is an accurate descriptive term. They believe that there are too many people. Thanks to the Internet I can source a host of quotes from famous environmentalists that confirm their genocidal sentiments. To understand more of the fascism that afflicts us I refer to my article called Fanau Fascism which was recently posted in the Soapbox section of this website.

Now as to the alleged unhelpfulness of my alleged extremism: from a political point of view there is some truth to this. Most people aren’t terrible interested in extreme politics as long as they can get on with their lives and raise their families. But when these lives are threatened by entrenched fascism self-preservation forces them to take notice.

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