How do we get around Auckland? Badly.
How should we get around Auckland? The first answer is: Well. And the argument over how to get between the airport & downtown Auckland is a fine example of how not to achieve that.
Below, Infrastructure NZ chief executive Stephen Selwood sets out his view of how to set the course for a decision:
Lingering debate over the form of rapid transit to Auckland Airport reveals a lack of clarity about the role for light & heavy rail, and this issue must be resolved when the business case is released.
The public is understandably confused about the purpose of the Dominion Rd light rail project & its role within the wider transport system. They are also confused about the potential for heavy rail connections to & from the airport.
This is a symptom of a wider strategic issue around how heavy rail is to support the future growth & development of Auckland, given the significant investment in the central rail link currently underway.
Under standard practice, we would normally first ask what issue we’re trying to address – congestion, urban regeneration or access to the airport? – and then we would decide what investments are required.
With the decision to proceed with light rail effectively made before a business case has been developed, best practice has been diluted, but not the need to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve.
Is Dominion Rd light rail designed to reduce congestion, support urban development or provide a rapid transit link to the airport? Is it all 3 or something different?
If the purpose is to improve access to the airport, then the business case should demonstrate that light rail better serves this objective than alternatives, including heavy rail.
If the purpose of the project is to reduce congestion, then business case analysis must demonstrate improved travel times for general traffic commensurate with the investment being made by road users.
Alternatively, if the purpose of Dominion Rd light rail is to unlock & enable urban development, then the business case must present a co-ordinated land use plan indicating the residential & commercial property opportunity linked to the project’s delivery. This should include the rezoning which is required and the timeframes for development.
Importantly, if the objective is urban development, and if congestion & other transport benefits are not improved, then funding should be primarily sourced from urban development, rather than the National Land Transport Fund.
Targeted rates, capital gains taxes & land acquisition via an urban development authority are all options which should be assessed.
A strong, transparent business case, clarifying why the project is being delivered, its costs, benefits & how it will be funded & delivered will address public confusion over the reason for light rail and resolve the question of light or heavy rail to the airport.
Attribution: Stephen Selwood, chief executive Infrastructure NZ.