Petrol cars headed the way of the horse and cart – what’s next?

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous ...

LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES
The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles such as this Volkswagen driverless concept car.

The transport revolutions of the past – railways, petrol cars and air travel – have shaped our cities and driven some of the most sudden and dramatic changes in society.

So it’s probably no wonder that transport is one of the first things we consider when we think about future technology.

In a few short years, people have gone from debating about whether electric cars will take off at all, to arguing about whether and when they will be self-driving.

Meanwhile, the leading edge of transport research and development has skipped ahead a mile.

Last month, Uber began laying the groundwork for a fleet of autonomous electronic helicopters or drones that would ferry commuters between the rooftops of skyscrapers, so they could bypass congested city streets.

The company aims to have a commercial service operating in Dallas and Dubai by 2023.

One vehicle that could perhaps do the job is being trialled in – who would have guessed it – New Zealand.

United States company Kitty Hawk, funded by Google co-founder Larry Page, has been testing a self-driving “flying car” called Cora, which can take off and land vertically, in Canterbury since October.

Spokeswoman Anna Kominik said it had settled on New Zealand for the trials after a global search for a jurisdiction that was “safe, had aviation experience and was a good place to do business”.

Kitty Hawk is headed by former Google X scientist Sebastian Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car and its Google Glass augmented-reality spectacles.

Its website explains Cora “rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops”.

Kitty Hawk assumes Cora will be used for an Uber-like “ride-sharing” flying-electric-car service, rather than being a modern take on the exclusive corporate helicopter.

The Cora won’t be available for sale to individuals, it says, and is instead “about giving everyone a fast and easy way to get around that doesn’t come at the expense of the planet”.

However, Kitty Hawk is also trialling a one-person vertical take-off “personal aircraft” called the Flyer that is designed to fly up to 10 kilometres on a single electric charge.

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it's currently limited to flying over ...

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it’s currently limited to flying over water at an altitude of only 10 feet.
Coming back down to earth – but not with a bump – Telsa founder Elon Musk envisages a network of “hyperloops” that would smoothly whisk people between cities at up to 1200kmh, which is just under the speed of sound.

The incredibly high speeds touted by hyperloop researchers are conceivable because people would travel in pressurised “pods” that would glide on magnets, pushed by magnetic pulses through tubes that were kept at a near-vacuum to reduce air resistance.

One of the huge (some think insurmountable) engineering challenges is creating and maintaining something close to a vacuum in tubes that could stretch hundreds of miles.

Without the near vacuum, hyperloops just become a bit like a Maglev train in a tube.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has signed a “preliminary agreement” to build a hyperloop that would transport people 160 kilometres between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai in 25 minutes, implying a less whizzy average speed of about 350kmh.

Its tubes would be depressurised to about 100Pa (pascals), equivalent to the very thin air pressure that exists 60km above the ground.

Branson, who has come off the bench to personally chair his Virgin Hyperloop 1 venture, told the BBC he believed it could transport people in Britain “far quicker, in far greater numbers, with far greater convenience than any other train network in the UK”.

If ever built in New Zealand, a hyperloop could cut the land-travel time between Auckland and Wellington to under an hour, and the commute time between Hamilton and Auckland to less than 10 minutes.

KiwiRail general manager of planning David Gordon says KiwiRail “has not formally looked at hyperloop technology for New Zealand and has not formed any view on it”.

Compared with drone taxis and hyperloops, self-driving cars might sound positively pedestrian.

But Christchurch consultant Roger Dennis is one of a growing number of professional future-watchers who argue they are an advance we can definitely count on.

Dennis forecasts self-driving trucks and cars will first prove their safety in the confines of mines, university campuses, ports and hospitals before being gradually allowed onto public roads by regulators.

Tragedies such as the death in March of a pedestrian in Arizona, who was hit by an Uber vehicle travelling in autonomous mode, will prove only an unfortunate “blip”, he believes.

“Driverless trucks have been used in mines for a number of years and, when they remove the human driver, accidents go down and productivity goes up. Human-driven cars kill more people every year than autonomous cars ever will.”

Self-driving cars may not be given licence to roam all of New Zealand’s eclectic mix of public roads in one swoop. Regulators may instead open up the road network in phases, he says.

“A logical approach would be to say, ‘We think these roads are suitable for autonomous vehicles and there’s another set of roads where it won’t work’. Then, as artificial intelligence improves, you will see more and more roads become certified.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency is starting to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs), says one of its managers, Martin McMullan.

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 ...

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 kilometres an hour.

Trans-Tasman body Austroads, on which the agency has a board seat, produced a report last year on changes that might be required to the road network.

It stressed the benefits of making intersection designs and machine-readable signs “consistent”, so they could be reliably interpreted by software.

“Feedback suggests that many AVs will be designed to operate on our road networks as they currently are”, but existing infrastructure was “problematic” for some manufacturers, the report concluded.

“Roadworks are a key aspect noted to be of particular concern to AV manufacturers and system suppliers. It is necessary to ensure that roadworks become well planned events.”

Colin Gavaghan, director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies at Otago University, says it’s only “human” for AV accidents to weigh heavily on our minds.

“I’d wager that one pedestrian death from a driverless car would stand out in people’s minds more than all of the 300-odd road deaths in New Zealand last year combined.”

People imagine they are safer when they are in control of a vehicle, and “no amount of actuarial data can budge that belief”, he says.

“That said, I’m not sure that we should be settling for ‘a bit better than the status quo’ if it’s reasonable to expect driverless cars to be much safer.

“I have a vision of a future where car deaths are as rare as air traffic deaths today, and we should be demanding that level of safety.”

Research firm Bloomberg argues the world is unlikely to run out of lithium before the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is complete, even if it remains an essential ingredient in batteries.

Although not super-abundant, lithium is not a “rare earth” metal, with discovered global recoverable reserves estimated at somewhere between 10 million and 40m tonnes and rising – potentially enough to power more than 10 billion electric cars, according to Bloomberg.

Neither would New Zealand be likely to run out of electricity, according to Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen.

“Electrifying all light vehicles would increase electricity demand by approximately 15 per cent, but this will likely occur over several decades,” Hansen says.

“We’re confident that the industry can cope with building generation in a timely way to meet the demand increases.”

Electricity prices might not even need to go up. “Over this time period there’s a high chance that electricity prices will decline in real terms due to the declining costs of technology such as small-scale solar generation.”

The same is true for transmission costs, he says. “It is possible the average cost of delivering electricity to consumers could decline due to higher use of existing network assets, especially during off-peak hours.

“Electric vehicles offer a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand to reduce its transport-related carbon emissions.”

Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the "horse and cart" far faster than most planners expect.

MARK TANTRUM/STUFF
Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the “horse and cart” far faster than most planners expect.

There is less agreement on when EVs and AVs may take over.

Right now, the switch to conventional self-driven electric vehicles has only just begun.

At the end of May, there were 5984 EVs registered in New Zealand, not including plug-in hybrids, according to the Transport Ministry.

That’s up from just 735 two years before and 2444 a year ago, but still a drop in the ocean among the total fleet of 3.6 million light vehicles.

Stanford University economist Tony Seba turned heads at an Apec conference in Wellington in November when he forecast no petrol vehicles would be built after 2025.

He believes that, by 2030, most journeys in the US will be taken “Uber-style” in fleets of self-driving cars that will pick people up and drop them off.

In the US “200m cars are going to be stranded – useless”, said Seba, who is known for his bold forecasts.

At the conservative end of the spectrum, the Transport Ministry forecasts EVs will still only make up 40 per cent of the fleet by 2040, even though it believes the typical lifetime cost of owning an EV will fall below that of a petrol car equivalent by about 2025.

The ministry is not making any forecasts about self-driving cars. But  McMullan says if AVs follow the pattern of other vehicle technologies they will take between 10 and 30 years to dominate vehicle sales, and then at least a further 20 years to squeeze out the existing fleet.

Dennis – noticing a Tesla electric car pass by his window as he speaks – says the “safe money” is on it being eight to 15 years before AVs become noticeable on the roads.

“The two big barriers will be that the last 20 per cent of the technology challenge will be difficult, and regulation and public policy.”

The obvious roadblock for drone transport and electrically powered flight in general comes in inventing the battery technology that could provide the necessary power-to-weight ratios.

British vacuum cleaning inventor James Dyson announced Dyson’s move into the electric-vehicle business last year and is among those betting big on new solid-state batteries that would have a solid electrolyte instead of the conventional liquid one.

Last month, carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda and battery manufacturers Panasonic and GS Yuasa received a US$14m grant from the Japanese government to team up on solid-state battery research.

These could at least double power-to-weight ratios at the same time as slashing recharge times by a factor of six, according to some researchers.

Dennis says there is “always interesting stuff in the labs”, but cautions battery technology has not been  a fast-moving field, at least up to now.

A “10-year timeframe” would be realistic for any breakthroughs, he believes.

“I think everybody finds it really difficult to think long term, and the classic example of this is the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project costing more than $40b.

“There are at least four new car parking buildings in the CBD, yet if you look at Oslo in Norway, their CBD is going to be car-free by 2020. These are multi-storey buildings whose usage will probably start to tail off in 10 to 15 years – maybe sooner.”

Auckland Council gives green light to 11.5c fuel tax to hit motorists on July 1

31 May 2018

Auckland Council’s controversial 11.5 cents a litre fuel tax has been approved by councillors at a budget meeting today.

Councillors voted 13-7 to approve the extra cost for motorists today.

Legislation allowing the tax is expected to be passed in Parliament to allow the tax to come into effect on July 1.

Auckland drivers face paying 25c a litre more in the next three years as the Government also proposes boosting fuel taxes in 3c to 4c annual hikes.

Motorists filling up with 91 unleaded this morning were able to get a best price of $2.03 a litre at the Gull Wiri self-service station in South Auckland, but more typically paid between $2.07 and $2.19 a litre, according to the Gaspy app.

A handful of service stations charged $2.20 or more a litre and the two Z stations near Auckland Airport posted the most expensive prices at $2.29 a litre.

Those wanting premium 95 unleaded had to dip a little deeper into their wallets, facing prices ranging from $2.14 to $2.41 a litre.

Mayor Phil Goff said the tax was critical to help pay for projects to improve transport after years and years of under investment.

“We cannot allow our city to gridlock and that is what we are heading toward,” he said.

Goff said the tax would raise $1.5 billion over 10 years but Government subsidies and development contributions would increase that to $4.3b.

To raise that money through rates would require a 13 per cent to 14 per cent rise.

The regional fuel tax was the fastest, cheapest and best way to raise spending to tackle traffic congestion, said the mayor.

Without the extra money, Goff said, the city would grind to a halt.

Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman, the only councillor to advocate for higher rates as the way forward, said the tax would lead to a redistribution of wealth from some of the poorest people to those who have the greatest wealth and choice.

“I don’t think that is fair,” he said.

Councillor Chris Darby said the tax would lead to significant benefits across the city, as well as social and economic benefits.

“This regional fuel tax allows us to shift gears in Auckland in a way we have not seen before: out of planning and into delivery,” he said.

National MP Jami-Lee Ross said Aucklanders would not forgive Auckland Council and the Labour Government’s decisions to impose fuel taxes.

“They certainly won’t forget it every time it costs them more to fill up their cars.”

Ross said consultation had identified that 51 per cent of Aucklanders opposed the regional fuel tax.

“This new tax is not needed. If Auckland Council simply followed through on Mayor Goff’s promise to find between 3-6 per cent of savings in the council’s budget they could easily find the money that the fuel tax would raise,” he said.

“Instead, Auckland Council has been given the ‘tax and spend’ keys by Transport Minister Phil Twyford and hard-working New Zealanders will be paying the cost.”

How councillors voted
For
Mayor Phil Goff
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore
Ross Clow
Josephine Bartley
Cathy Casey
Linda Cooper
Chris Darby
Alf Filipaina
Chris Fletcher
Richard Hills
Penny Hulse
Wayne Walker
John Watson

Against
Efeso Collins
Mike Lee
Daniel Newman
Greg Sayers
Desley Simson
Sharon Stewart
John Walker

READ MORE:
• Barry Soper: The hypocrisy of the Govt’s petrol tax position
• Aucklanders to have say on regional petrol tax before knowing how it will be spent
• Ken Shirley: Fuel tax poorly thought out solution to transport costs

Don’t lose track of rail freight limitations – David Aitken

Rail freight has its place but . . .

Rail freight has its place but . . .

OPINION: The Government has been talking about getting freight off the country’s roads and on to alternative sea freight and particularly rail freight.

Rail freight has its place and already its biggest customer is the road freight transport industry.

But it also has its limitations.

If Europe is any example, nothing much will change, despite the Government and KiwiRail’s best efforts. Trucks will always be required to deliver a large portion of the country’s freight demand.

While bulk freight can be transported by rail or sea, market demand in the freight industry will dictate how customers want their goods moved.

Since 2000 the European Union has provided policies and incentives to shift freight off the road to rail, coastal shipping and Europe’s extensive canal system.

They haven’t worked.

Road still carries about 75 percent of all Europe’s freight.

The total tonnage carried by rail and other modes has gone up but so has road freight, so the proportion each carries has remained about the same.

The market has continued to decide which form of freight to use, rather than incentives and tax breaks.

Improvements to rail infrastructure in Europe have only resulted in small increases in rail freight carried, so rail has been reluctant to make large capital expenditure, because the returns aren’t there.

The same is likely to apply to New Zealand.

Road freight will always be preferred for any perishable goods because it can carry out the task faster – apart from much more expensive air freight.

Road freight has greater service quality – quicker door to door delivery times and greater safety with less chance of damaged goods, which usually occurs when the freight is changed from one mode to another.

Even when rail or sea is used, trucks are often needed to get goods to the rail hub or sea port to start the journey and then pick them up to make the final delivery.

Highly competitive costs within the road freight sector make it more appealing to customers than the alternatives.

Road freight has flexible route choices. Rail and sea do not with only a few fixed routes.

Road freight will nearly always be used for the “last miles” as customers want door to door delivery.

Rail is only generally better when the type of goods (very large or non-urgent) can be shipped by train instead of road.

This occurs when a customer places all their business with a road freight operator who then decides the best way to ship it to meet deadlines or budget.

Improving New Zealand’s rail services and infrastructure will be taxpayer funded and subsidised. Improvements in road freight transport – newer fleet with cleaner emissions, less noise – are paid for by the trucking companies and their customers.

Rail will only ever handle a small proportion of the country’s total freight as 90 percent of road freight is done within metropolitan/urban areas where rail and sea are not an option.

With the increased investment in the rail sector, KiwiRail remain a commercial operating arm of the government, this is likely to require rail price increases to cover the investment costs, closing the gap between road and rail pricing, making the later less attractive to freight customers.

National Road Carriers is the leading nationwide organisation representing companies involved in the road transport industry. It has 1700 members, who collectively operate 15,000 trucks throughout New Zealand.

David Aitken is the chief executive of the  National Road Carriers Association

 – Stuff

Hundreds more trucks off road due to faults

Six hundred more trucks have been forced off the road in the safety alert over cracked and inadequate towing connections.

No caption.

Photo: RNZ / Supplied

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has revoked the certification of 616 draw beam and draw bars on big truck-trailers.

This follows the 802 tow bars revoked last week.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said it was having “a huge impact and a shock” on the industry.

“They virtually have to take these vehicles off the road immediately,” he said.

The west coast of the South Island was hardest hit, as it had no heavy vehicle certifiers to check the vehicles.

There are only two heavy vehicle engineers for Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast. They have already faced months of backlogs.

NZTA said it could get all the trucks checked within a fortnight by bringing in more engineers, Mr Shirley said.

All the revoked towing connections were certified, and some designed, by Peter Wastney Engineering near Nelson. About 1500 were being looked at after the agency began investigating last August after a trailer broke free of a truck near Murchison.

The incident resulted in Peter Wastney’s suspension as a heavy vehicle certifier.

Mr Shirley said the industry was disappointed the NZTA’s auditing and accreditation processes did not pick up the problems with Mr Wastney’s certifications earlier.

“The sheer number of vehicles affected shows a significant lack of regulatory oversight,” he said.

“We want an assurance there are no more Wastney-type situations out there.”

An industry player told RNZ that Mr Wastney “has consistently had poor reviews undertaken by the NZTA reviewer”.

Mr Wastney did not respond to RNZ’s calls.

RNZ is seeking comment from NZTA.

In a statement, it said it would cover re-certifications – a turnaround from last week when it claimed drivers would have to cover the cost.

“The real cost to an operator is the impact on the business,” Mr Shirley said.

Dennis Cadogan operates a transport company on the West Coast was and was caught out by last month’s and the most recent revocations. His trucks remain off the road.

The whole thing was a “bloody nuisance”, he said.

Govt are repackaging National transport projects – MP

The National Party says the government has simply adopted its vision for transport in Auckland.

An Auckland Transport train passes by Mt Eden prison
An Auckland Transport train passes by Mt Eden prison Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The government launched its rejigged $28 billion Auckland Transport Alignment Project that will fund roads, rail, bus lanes and cycleways across the city over the next 10 years and is aimed at easing Auckland’s infamous congestion.

At the launch, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff made it clear the city must deal with its traffic problem.

“We have congestion, we are facing gridlock, it is costing us huge frustration and it is costing the country, not just Auckland, the country one to two billion dollars a year,” Mr Goff said.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Auckland fuel tax and public private partnerships will help fund the projects and deliver a congestion-free rapid transit network.

“All over the world cities are retrofitting car-dependent urban areas with modern rapid transit systems.

“In Australia alone, there are light rail systems currently being built in the Gold Coast, in Canberra, in Newcastle, in Sydney and in Melbourne.

“Dozens and dozens of cities around the world are doing this because they recognise that cities of any scale cannot be either liveable or economically prosperous without modern rapid transit systems.”

National’s transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross said many of the projects are awfully familiar.

“I think the best part of it is that they’ve recognised that many of the projects the National Party were putting in place were well worth doing – they’ve agreed to do what effectively Simon Bridges announced in August last year,” Mr Ross said.

“So Phil Twyford’s adopting many of the projects that we were progressing – the key difference is, we wouldn’t have taxed the country more to subsidise those trams down Dominion Road.”

Mr Ross said some motorists will be hit hard by the new funding mechanisms.

“The worst part about this is that we’re seeing from Labour they’re happy to put up more taxes on the whole country – when it comes to the Penlink area, they want Rodney people to pay a regional fuel tax, increased national fuel taxes and they want to put the toll on top for Penlink.

“So, those people are being whacked three times for that particular road … but that’s the Labour Party for you.”

Act’s David Seymour said the government could have been more ambitious.

He said there needs to be extensive public private partnerships and electronic road pricing to complete the motorway network.

“We’re talking a second Harbour Crossing, we’re talking an underground tunnel to complete the Eastern Motorway without disturbing existing suburbs.

“Those are the kinds of radical developments that are required, so good on the government for what they’ve done but it’s simply not proportional to the crisis, it’s like setting a capuchin monkey on a gorilla,” Mr Seymour told RNZ.

The Soap Box: Govt are hypocritical over petrol tax

By Barry Soper

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods are running the risk of coming across as hyopocrites. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Energy Minister Megan Woods are running the risk of coming across as hyopocrites. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Cabinet’s energiser battery Megan Woods seems to dart from one crisis to the next.

Whether it’s sorting out and sacking those associated with issues still to be cleared up in her home town of Christchurch to bringing the big oil companies to heel over petrol pricing, this diminutive do-gooder always appears to be in distress.

At least on the surface, it seems she’s well suited for the energy portfolio and regenerating her home turf.

But putting the British Petroleum oil company boss on her Beehive mat would appear to be something over an over-reaction and runs the risk of this Government again sending the wrong signals to business.

Her frenzy was triggered by a media story of a BP pricing manager sending an email increasing the price of petrol at three southern North Island sites because a fourth in the same region was suffering from falling sales. It was a tactic, the manager explained, that had worked before.

It worked because competitor Z saw the prices it could get away with and increased theirs too. So everyone was making more money which is generally why a company’s in business for.

Waving the big stick at the oil companies may appease the long suffering motorists who pay wildly varying prices for exactly the same product, depending on which part of the country they live in. That’s where the explanation’s needed.

But while they’re at it, the Government itself could indulge in a bit of navel gazing and explain to motorists why they’re paying almost half the cost of petrol at the pump into their coffers, an excise tax that’s set to grow under Labour by between nine and 12 cents a litre over the next three years.

It would seem somewhat hypocritical for the Beehive then to bash the oil companies when they’re in the business of reaping the benefit of petrol sales themselves. Goodness know what they’d do if we all went electric!

At least the excise on petrol now goes into the National Land Transport Fund for investment back into the system. That wasn’t always the case.

Petrol landing in this country costs about 60 cents a litre with the oil company margins around 50 cents. And of course we’ll be importing more of it with future oil exploration recently banned by the Beehive.

The motorists’ champion the Automobile Association have argued for yonks that the 15 percent GST take shouldn’t apply to petrol with the solid argument that, when it’s applied to the 70 cents a litre excise portion of what we pay at the pump, it’s nothing more than a tax on a tax. It’s plain and simple double dipping.

So Megan Woods’ fist pumping would seem to be more about putting on the style for the motorist rather than substance.

Fuel tax poorly thought out solution to transport costs – Ken Shirley

By Ken Shirley

It is such a blunt and impractical tool that it is an indefensible piece of policymaking no matter which way you cut it.News that Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye is seeking an exemption for Waiheke and Great Barrier Island residents from Auckland Council’s regional fuel tax further highlights how bad the policy is.

In many ways it would be grossly unfair to motorists on Waiheke and Great Barrier if they had to pay the tax considering their cars rarely leave the islands. However, the Waiheke and Great Barrier situation is just one of many complex workarounds that must be written into the legislation if the tax is to be anywhere near fair when implemented in under three months’ time.

The Road Transport Forum, which represents the New Zealand road transport industry, has consistently opposed the concept of a regional fuel tax, not because it doesn’t suit trucking operators, but because fundamentally it is just bad policy.

The fuel tax is a poorly thought-out solution to the issue of how Auckland funds some of the costs of its much-needed transport infrastructure. It is such a blunt and impractical tool that it is an indefensible piece of policymaking no matter which way you cut it.

Not only will the regional fuel tax be notoriously inefficient and economically regressive, but it will take up a lot of resources to administer and by necessity be full of loopholes and exemptions that will inevitably affect its integrity and compliance.

Will motorists who fill up in Auckland but then use that fuel to travel outside Auckland be able to access an exemption to the tax? Alternatively, what about those who purchase outside Auckland but use the fuel inside Auckland?

The whole policy is an administrative minefield that I cannot see being implemented fairly or consistently.

The most likely and practical outcome is that the fuel companies will look to spread the cost of the tax around the country to even-out the impact it has on the retail fuel market. Apart from carrying out costly and time-consuming investigations there is little the Government could do to prevent this.

The reality for the trucking industry is that the regional fuel tax and corresponding increase in road-user charges cannot be absorbed by transport operators already operating on wafer-thin margins.

This means there will be no alternative but for transporters to pass the tax on, which will increase the overall cost of transporting freight around the country and ultimately hit consumers in the back pocket.

The perverse outcome of all of this is that the private motorist, who doesn’t have the ability to pass on the tax, will end up being stung twice — firstly on the fuel they use and secondly on the products they buy at the supermarket.

Surely, a far smarter solution to funding the city’s new transport infrastructure could come from a combination of asset realignment, such as a partial sell-down of the Ports of Auckland in the short-term and the institution of a modern variable congestion charging scheme in the medium- to long-term.

Unfortunately, the political will does not exist for these more practical solutions and despite the obvious policy problems, it seems inevitable Auckland’s regional fuel tax will be in place come July 1.

– Ken Shirley, chief executive, Road Transport Forum NZ

$28 billion funding package for Auckland roading and public transport projects unveiled

A $28 billion transport programme has been unveiled for Auckland in what’s been described by the Government and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff as the country’s largest ever civil construction programme.

Its backers say the work will help create a 21st century transport network for the city.

“Together, we will invest $28 billion over the next decade to unlock Auckland’s potential. We will be building vital projects including light rail, Penlink and Mill Rd, heavy rail and bus upgrades, safety improvements, and more dedicated cycle lanes,” said Transport Minister Phil Twyford.

The investments are made possible by a $4.4b funding boost resulting from the Auckland regional fuel tax (RFT), increased revenue from the National Land Transport Fund, and a new funding mechanism, Crown Infrastructure Partners, Twyford and Goff said at Newmarket railway station.

Earlier today, the Herald reported the Government will fund two major new roading projects in Auckland.

One is Penlink, in the north, providing a new connection between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Northern Motorway. Motorists will pay a toll to use the road – a measure National has criticised as a “triple whammy” for motorists.

The other project is Mill Rd in the south, improving the connection from Manukau through Takanini to Drury.

Both roads have been favoured projects of the former National-led Government. But until today they did not feature among the key elements of the Labour-led Government’s transport strategy for the city.

Projects in the joint Government-Auckland transport programme, known as Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), include:

• Committed projects like the City Rail Link and Northern Motorway improvements.
• Light rail, or modern trams.
• Eastern busway (Panmure-Botany).
• Airport-Puhinui State Highway upgrade, including a high quality public transport link to an upgraded Puhinui railway station.
• Bus priority programme, to more rapidly grow Auckland’s bus lane network and support faster, more reliable and more efficient bus services.
• Albany-Silverdale bus improvements.
• Lower cost East West Link to address key freight issues in the area.
• Papakura-Drury motorway widening.
• First phase of the Mill Rd corridor.
• Penlink road (motorists will pay a toll to help fund this).
• Walking and cycling programme to expand the network and complete key connections, such as Sky Path.
• Significant programme of safety improvements.
• New transport infrastructure to enable greenfield growth
• Network optimisation and technology programme to make the best use of our existing network.
• Rail network improvements including electrification to Pukekohe, additional trains and other track upgrades.

“This plan is funded to deliver the projects we are committed to,” Twyford said.

“The previous ATAP report, released by former Transport Minister Simon Bridges in August 2017, had a $5.9 billion funding gap. National had no plan to fix that fiscal hole, which would have meant the projects they promised couldn’t have been delivered.

“This $28 billion plan will help ease the awful congestion that has been caused by a decade of under-investment. We will create a congestion-free rapid transit network and boost other alternatives to driving to help free up the roads, enable growth, and improve safety for drivers and others.”

Goff said: “ATAP balances the need to deal with Auckland’s immediate and pressing transport needs, as well as being transformational for the future.

“ATAP reflects the need for efficient roading for green and brownfield housing development, new transport corridors and major arterial routes. But as Auckland grows we need to move from a focus on roading to a more balanced approach that promotes public transport and active transport networks.

“Auckland has to contribute its share and the regional fuel tax allows us to do that. The more than $4 billion expenditure it unlocks is critically important to progressing a better transport system for Auckland.

“To raise the same sum from rates would result in a total rate increase of over 13 per cent this year. Alternatively, to do nothing would see Auckland become increasingly gridlocked.

“New forms of revenue such as an RFT to invest in our transport network and light rail to supplement buses, ferries and heavy rail are critical for an efficient and effective Auckland transport system. Auckland’s growth means additional investment in these areas is vital for us to tackle congestion problems,” Goff said.

“ATAP represents a significant increase in investment in our transport network, but we still need to find innovative ways to fund further development such as PPPs [public-private partnerships], special purpose vehicles or infrastructure bonds.”

ATAP includes $1.8b in funding for light rail. A work programme is under way to leverage sources of investment capital outside of ATAP for light rail, and an announcement will be made soon.

Under ATAP, Auckland is expected to receive 38 per cent of the National Land Transport Fund over the next decade, proportionate with the region’s growing share of New Zealand’s population.

However, Goff says that this “still falls short of Auckland’s projected 55 per cent share of the country’s population growth over the next decade”.

Read more, including the Auckland Transport Alignment Project documment and the video announcement from Phil Goff and Phil Twyford here.

Twyford says there is a “great deal of interest” in investing in New Zealand’s transport infrastructure

Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has sent a clear message to would-be investors in New Zealand’s transport infrastructure – “the Government is open for business.”

He is sending Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones on a fact-finding mission to Australia tomorrow to investigate the best ways investors can work with the Government on public-private partnerships (PPP).

“The message from our Government is we’re open for business,” Twyford said after addressing a business and local Government summit on the “changing direction in transport for New Zealand.”

Twyford says it is likely projects, such as Auckland’s light rail and rapid transit, will be funded in collaboration with the private sector through PPPs.

He says it’s too early to put a figure on how much the Government is expecting private capital providers to stump up with but says it’s likely to be on “multiple billion-dollar projects.”

Twyford says there has been a “great deal of interest” from parties looking at getting involved in a PPP with the Government.

“We’re very happy to work with private capital to make these big investments.”

The Government has previously indicated it would be looking at PPPs as a way to meet some of its investment expectations but, at the moment, the process for investors is too complex.

This is the reason Jones is heading off to Australia tomorrow.

“We need to configure ourselves better within the state so there is less static when either foreign or domestic investors approach the state to play a role in our infrastructure turbocharging,” Jones says.

 

But PPPs would require more debt from the Government.

Twyford says there are options when it comes to new revenue streams to help pay for this – for example, through land value capture and infrastructure bonds.

But the projects would be long-term and, according to Twyford, it would be “nuts to try and pay for it out of next year’s road user charges or a petrol tax.”

“We should be spreading that debt over multiple generations who are going to benefit from the infrastructure.”

But taking on more debt would be problematic.

As it stands, some of New Zealand’s council’s – including Auckland’s – are close to their debt limits and the Government has committed to reducing net core Crown debt levels to 20% of GDP by 2021/22.

But Twyford says there is a way the Government could take on more debt to fund the PPPs without abandoning its debt target and pushing councils over its limit.

“We intend to build on some of the work that was done by the previous Government in establishing Crown infrastructure partners as a special purpose vehicle.

“It’s a balance sheet that’s not council or Governments – it’s a public purpose hybrid if you like.”

He says through this, a lot of capital could be borrowed to pay for the infrastructure needs the country is facing.

Jacinda Ardern sets out Government’s transport plan, including nationwide fuel tax

KEY POINTS:

  • The Government has released its draft 10-year policy statement on land transport
  • A fuel tax increase of between 9 and 12 cents a litre has been proposed
  • Aucklanders face fuel tax hikes of about 20 cents a litre if the Government’s increases and a regional fuel tax are brought in
  • Funding on public transport will increase by 46 per cent
  • Funding allocated for state highways will be cut by 11 per cent
  • $4 billion will be allocated over 10 years to establish Rapid Transit, such as light rail, initially focusing on Auckland

Aucklanders face a double whammy of fuel tax hikes of about 20 cents a litre if central government fuel levy increases and a regional fuel tax are brought in, but Transport Minister Phil Twyford says he believes Aucklanders understand the need for it.

Auckland Council is expected to introduce about 10 cents a litre in regional fuel taxes to pay for its share of major transport projects and the Government’s new 10-year policy plan for transport proposes a further nationwide increase of 9-12 cents litre over three to four years.

That is to fund projects such as light rail in Auckland and other measures.

Twyford said he believed Aucklanders realised the gridlock that was happening now could not continue and it was not fair to ask those who lived in places like Levin and Whanganui to pay for all of Auckland’s transport woes.

Twyford said other cities would also benefit from rail and rapid transit options, as well as Auckland.

The Government’s new transport plan will cut the funding allocated for state highways by 11 per cent while an initial investment of $4 billion over 10 years will be ploughed into Labour’s plans for light rail in Auckland.

The overall plan

The Government has released its draft 10-year policy statement on land transport – the guide which sets how the Land Transport fund should allocate about $4 billion in funding each year.

It will see funding on public transport increase by 46 per cent to expand the routes available and subsidies for public transport.

On top of that, it sets a new class of Rapid Transit under which $4 billion will be allocated over 10 years to establish rapid transit investment, such as light rail, initially focusing on Auckland. That would ramp up over time.

About four times as much will be spent on expanding cycling and pedestrian pathways than under National.

The money for regional roads will double from about $90 million a year to $180 million a year in 2019/20 and up to $210 million for four years after that.

That comes at a cost for future large-scale motorway upgrades such as National’s policy of $10 billion for 10 further Roads of National Significance.

Instead, Twyford said there will be “targeted” improvements to state highways.

Twyford said it was an important step to making roads safer to reduce the road toll.

“We’re going to invest in what makes the most difference – regional and local roads and targeted improvements to the State Highway network.”

Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford answer questions about the proposal. Photo / NZH
Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford answer questions about the proposal. Photo / NZH

“The previous Government did not spend enough on road safety and instead wasted funds on a few low-value motorway projects. This has created an imbalance in what is funded with a few roads benefiting at the expense of other areas.”

One of Labour’s key election policies was to build light rail from the CBD to the airport and extend that to include routes to the central suburbs and West Auckland over the next decade and then to the North Shore.

It also wanted a bus rapid transit line from the eastern suburb of Howick.

The new statement sets safety as the top priority, followed by access, the environment and value for money.

That contrasts with National’s policy statement which had economic growth and productivity as the top priority, followed by safety and value for money.

Those with an interest in the plan such as local government, transport bodies and community groups have until May 2 to submit on it.

Petrol levy increases

Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead.

He said the previous government had not disclosed that transport officials had advised it that petrol levies needed to increase to fund its plans for expressways.

“We’ve chosen to limit increases in petrol levies to the lowest end of [former Transport Minister] Simon Bridges’ range.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Labour was seeking feedback on proposed fuel tax increases of between 9 and 12 cents a litre to fund its transport proposals.

Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority. Photo / NZH
Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority. Photo / NZH

She said National leader Bridges had been told that to meet National’s ambitions, they would need a fuel levy increase of 10-20 cents a litre.

Ardern said the Government was prioritising safety and investing in roads neglected by the former government.

“What you won’t see is investment in a small number of dual carriage highways while local roads and other transport options suffer.”

Twyford said over Easter eight people had died, the worst road toll in several years.

He said early work by officials suggested $800 million worth of safety improvements that could make a significant difference.

“This shifts policy priorities away from costly white elephants.”

He said transport spending in many regions had decreased under the previous government.

“Half of vehicle journeys are on local roads, yet less than 5 per cent of the funding has been spent on improving them.”

He said the rapid transit network would help free up roads.

“This is the first time spending on rapid transport will take place under the Land Transport Fund.”

It also proposed spending money on rail under the fund for the first time, saying Labour believed all forms of transport should be funded under it.

Phil Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead. Photo / NZH
Phil Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead. Photo / NZH

Walking and cycling a priority

Associate Transport Minister Green MP Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority and it would provide safe cycleways that were separate from vehicle traffic.

The areas around schools would be a focus.

She said every day in Auckland a pedestrian or cyclist was hit by a car and injured or killed.

Regional Development Minister and NZ First MP Shane Jones said he was expecting some backlash from the regions because many had been “fed a line” that motorway upgrades would resolve their problems.

He said KiwiRail was a key part of NZ First’s plans on better freight and tourism offerings so he welcomed its inclusion under the plan.

The Government is also considering allowing coastal shipping to be funded under the fund.

Roads of national significance

Twyford said about seven of National’s Roads of National Significance which were already underway would continue – but the nine further RONS projects it had put up as an election policy were not funded and would not go ahead.

While some work would take place on those roads it would not be to the same extent.

Asked about the proposal to get four lanes through to Whangarei, Jones said he would prefer to see unsafe local roads fixed “rather than this pipe dream that by 2032 we were going to get four lanes through to Whangarei”.

He said the short-term focus was tidying dangerous areas and increasing rail.

Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

Transport groups reply to Government’s new policy

Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland said the new plans so far look “very impressive”.

“It is a big step forward from what we have had in the past and giving focus on areas that have been lacking for quite some time – particularly around safety and public transport,” he said.

“The safety one is a big one. We have just had the worst Easter road fatalities for a number of years, and the death toll on our roads is increasing.

“That is a really concerning trend as it had been trending down for a long time before that, so we do need to improve our safety.”

Lowrie said the announcements looked to improve on former government policy.

“A lot of that funding for the last decade was pulled away and put into some really large motorway projects. While they are safe, they are very expensive and sucked a lot of funding away from the necessary projects that can actually help improve safety for a lot of people.

“What I think we are going to see now is a focus on a lot more areas which have actually shown to be working well, particularly safety, where we can safe peoples’ lives and reduce the number of people dying on our roads.”

Lowrie said it was also good to see a strong acknowledgement of public transport funding.

“Some of that is coming through in the form of rapid transit funding – which is light rail and busways – it is the high quality options that are key to driving up public transport use, which is going to make it easier to get around as well.”

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website Dog and Lemon, also described the policy as a welcome change of direction.

“The fact is we don’t need new motorways, we need to fix up the roads we already have. It is rural roads where people are dying and it is rural roads where the money needs to be spent so this is plain common sense,” he said.

“Also, the roads with the lowest road toll tend to be the ones with the best public transport systems so it is not just freeing up gridlock, it is actually likely to save lives.”

Although Matthew-Wilson did not agree with fuel taxes, calling them “misguided”.

This view was mirrored by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union who said the government’s proposal to increase fuel levies breaks Jacinda Ardern’s promise of “no new taxes”.

“Fuel tax is particularly harmful because of its regressive nature – the people it hurts most are poorer families living in fringe suburbs. This will ultimately mean less food on the table,” executive director Jordan Williams said.

“And as if fuel tax hikes didn’t sting enough, the Government is going to be using the revenue to fund cycleways and trams, at the same time they’re slashing funding for highways. In other words, drivers are paying more to receive less.”