New Zealand transport policy still favours roads


Five days a week I drive 6km from my home to my work near Christchurch Airport. Each time I approach the Harewood Road State Highway 1 intersection I am reminded what a road loving nation we are. And two facts about New Zealand transport are undeniable:

  • There are too many cars on the roads with only one person driving them.
  • Too much freight goes by truck.

However getting people to get out of their cars and take more appropriate transport is proving difficult. For example car pooling is something that can only be done at community level. Because of that it might only be successful at community level and organized on social networking sites like Neighbourly.

In Christchurch the geography of the city, even post earthquake supports buses, and a crude bike wheel (ring and spoke) model would be best. A central exchange like the one that currently exists should have an inner bus ring (currently lacking), and an outer ring (currently serviced by the Orbiter bus which runs at 10 minute intervals during daylight hours. Spokes spaced at regularly intervals around the compass connect the ring routes. The Christchurch model is trying to reconcile with the post earthquake changes to the bus network.

What might work in Christchurch I accept will not work everywhere. This is why Wellington has a regular commuter train service out to Porirua, Upper and Lower Hutt, as well as Waikanae, and its inner suburbs. But whilst Wellington is lucky enough to have a good railway network its bus services seem to be in need of an overhaul, if the political debate in the lead up to the 2019 local government elections are anything to go by.

Trucking is an obvious mode of transport on New Zealand roads. The rental car company I work for knows this well as we often have long haul drivers coming in to pick or drop off cars. But also there are New Zealand roads where trucks simply should not be, because those roads immediate physical environment does not and will not in the future permit their safe transit – the roads around Kaikoura are one such example. And this is where I think the merchant marine might be useful. For non-urgent freight that simply does not need to be on the road, send it by ship might be more cost efficient. This model might also enable a ferry network to operate along the South Island’s east coast – a regular ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington did indeed used to operate.

In those same nine years, there was an opportunity to tighten up the road code and safety regime for buses. It was not taken and now we are having cowboy companies driving dungers or overseas companies with no knowledge or experience of our roads and road code. Fixing these will help to give people confidence in the bus networks again.

National M.P. for Rangitata Andrew Falloon in a sponsored Facebook advert was promoting a four lane highway from Christchurch to Ashburton. When I challenged him, he pointed out that National had subsidized Kiwi Rail by $250 million per annum. What Mr Falloon did not say was that National chose to back diesel locomotives from China instead of working with Hillside workshops in Dunedin and others who might have been able to design locomotives for New Zealand conditions. I had also in the past heard of drivers on lines in the North Island being concerned that the level crossing alarms were not working properly and having to approach level crossings on sections of the track where the speed limit was much higher than what they were doing. Mr Falloon might have to have a look at the state of the railways post-National.

The Leader of the National Party, Simon Bridges is claiming that National is environmentally responsible, yet he is promising to undo environmentally responsible things other parties have done. For example on one hand, yes, the Government has not properly thought through the oil and gas announcement. But here would have been a great opportunity for National to rip the rug from underneath them by announcing a nationwide biofuel programme that would:

  1. Create jobs in a sector not really understood
  2. Justify a suitably bigger investment in research to understand whether the N.Z. vehicle fleet is ready
  3. Show some environmental credentials by reducing the carbon emissions

The resistance to biofuels probably does not come from politicians so much as from petroleum companies, upset that their business model is no longer fit for purpose and trying desperately to stave off anything that end it. If a suitable blend can be developed the waste stream in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland might be able to sustain it.

I am however waiting, like much of New Zealand for substantive policy announcements on these issues by the Minister for Transport Phil Twyford. No timetable has been set, and maybe in that time, tired of a lack of direction New Zealanders might realize we need to own the problem.

Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 3


Ship passing through lock, Brugge, Belgium. (R. GLENNIE)

This is the third part in my Lessons from Europe and Singapore series, and the last from the transport segment.

One of the great revelations in terms of transport during my trip to Europe was the canal and lock system in the Netherlands and Belgium. Centuries old, it first began to form when towns such as Ghent and Brugge were reliant on two modes of transport for goods: the horse pulled cart and the barge. Even hundreds of years later one can still see significant ships plying these canals.

In New Zealand obviously, we do not have the appropriate geography for canals that can take ships. Few, if any, rivers are likely to be deep enough to take ships and those that are often have hazardous features such as hidden shoals that would make navigation tricky.

Another mode of transport that I think we should take greater note of is railways. The large cities in Europe all have modern railway stations that at any given time whilst I was there might have had 500 people or more in my immediate or near vicinity, all either coming to or going from a train at the station. The trains were a mix of faster ones that were normally express trains to places like Schipol Airport or cross border ones that ran into neighbouring countries like Germany/Belgium or France. In Sweden for example, there is an express train running between Stockholm Centralen and Stockholm Arlanda (Airport), which reaches speeds of up to 180km/h. Processing tickets was easy – they were purchased at the counter or an automatic teller where one entered the destination, indicated how many tickets they were purchasing and whom they were for (children/adults/seniors, etc).

All I can say is that all of the trains were on time, clean inside and a pleasure to ride. The only problem was the announcements were sometimes not always in English, but a digital display on board saying where ones train was next stopping made things easier. Railway stations are sited in generally central areas with good car, bicycle and foot access. Light railway stops would often be just outside, so that if one needed to transit to something going within a city’s limits they could do that easily.

The railway station at Amsterdam, Netherlands. (R. GLENNIE)

Investing like this would be very expensive and not necessarily worth the cost. A more realistic investment might be to electrify the main trunk line in the South Island and upgrade the rolling stock. I do see a time in the near future with the hikes in petroleum prices when trains might be required to move petroleum in bulk instead of putting it into a fleet of tankers. As for passenger trains, restoring The Southerner in the South Island is perhaps the best bet – there are too few people in the southern half of New Zealand’s land mass to make large scale passenger services economic – Christchurch for example would need by my guess another 100-150,000 people to even get close to considering light rail.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say whilst numerous lessons can be taken from what I saw and experienced in Europe, not all are applicable. We can learn from their integration of different modules and invest more in non vehicular alternatives, but others such as the canals will not be workable.

Revitalizing South Island railways


After nine years of National in office, with its huge emphasis on building highways that were not always necessarily needed or wanted, it is refreshing to see the Government taking a different tack. Railways have long been a significant part of the transport scene in New Zealand and a lack of long term planning and investment has meant that it is underfunded. There are a few railway projects that are worthy of further consideration.

  1. Reviving the Southerner passenger train
  2. Having a once daily passenger train service to Hokitika and Westport to connect with the Tranz Alpine train
  3. Should a waste to energy plant be developed on the West Coast, Christchurch could be an assembly point for waste fuel to be transported to the plant
  4. A railway link to the oil terminal at Lyttelton could provide for an alternative to having a large number of fuel tankers on the road

One such proposal was made public on Saturday in the newspaper, in an article about a new passenger train service on the West Coast of the South Island. It will connect with the existing Tranz Alpine which has been recognized in the past as one of the great train trips in the world.

A few weeks ago there was a suggestion that the Southerner train which used to run from Christchurch to Invercargill would be revived. It was stopped in the relatively early days of the Helen Clark Government due to declining numbers. Since then there has been increased concern about the large number of road users, and also that it would be a loss to the tourism industry if a revival is not attempted.

In September 2016 there was mention of a waste to energy plant being built on the West Coast. One way of paying for the Otira tunnel would be to put the waste fuel for any future plant on the train in Christchurch. An unloading yard next to the facility would remove the need for any trucks, and create a few jobs at the same time.

Lyttelton is undergoing a significant overhaul and is trying to figure out what sort of port it wants to be post-earthquake. Would it consider having a railway head in the oil terminal to service trains that then travel to where they are needed, carrying what would be the equivalent of several fuel tankers worth of product to its point of consumption?

I have previously wondered about the economics of having another branch run up to Murchison or even go to Nelson. Whilst this would be a significant undertaking, it could be partially paid for by enabling freight trains to run between Nelson and Westport. Nelson currently has no railway access. Logging of plantations is a significant business in Nelson and the northern West Coast region, and some of the roads are not really designed for logging trucks, so a railway would provide an alternative transport option.

Just a few thoughts. Let me know what you think of them.

 

 

Labour Government releases transport spending priorities


Yesterday marked a significant step forward for New Zealand’s economy and transport. After years being campaigned for by the Greens, Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter announced that the Government was ready to release a draft Government Policy Statement on transport.

The key highlights of this major announcement are:

  • $11.7 billion for public transport
  • $1.1 billion for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
  • $6.1 billion for regional and local roads

This is a great start to addressing the waylaid priorities of New Zealand’s transport needs. I look forward to the opportunity in the next few weeks to lay down more formal thoughts in a submission to the draft Government Policy Statement that has been released by Ms Genter, and her New Zealand and Labour colleagues Shane Jones and Phil Twyford.

For years I have been pushing for a much bigger investment in railways, the merchant marine and to a bit lesser extent, public transport. Many of the points on which I campaigned look like they will be addressed in this.

There is however one significant question. For all the great announcements that come out of this draft Government Policy Statement release, I have one niggling question:

What sort of investment is going to happen around merchant marine? We are a maritime nation. It is saying something that one of the major modes of transport is not being given the due investment that is needed to reduece congestion on our roads and help take some of the pressure off the easter South Island where quake damage is still being fixed.

No one should be surprised that there is a fuel tax coming. Especially seeing as the Government did not make specific tax announcements at the election, where people were expecting something to happen. Not surprisingly, the right are out in force talking about how no one can afford the proposed petrol tax. This is the same right that spent $12 billion of N.Z. taxpayer money funding “Roads of National Significance”, which were in several cases completely meaningless  and more about appeasing the trucking and private users lobby.

 

National’s $10.5 billion transport bungle


Yesterday, Prime MInister Bill English announced a major new road funding programme that would cost N.Z.$10.5 billion. It involves a series of projects throughout the North Island and upper South Island that would improve road capacity and ease congestion.

But when we look objectively at them, are they all needed and are there not other transport projects more deserving of the funding? Are there not planning issues that arise with an obsession with the car?

My point is simple. Like the roads built in the $12 billion plan unveiled in 2011, National once again has its priorities wrong. They were called Roads of National Significance (R.o.N.S.), and were intended to enable freer flowing traffic in the areas of highest traffic growth, such as between Auckland and Whangarei, Hamilton and Auckland and in the South Island around Christchurch.

More motorways simply because there is more demand is not the whole answer or the only answer. More motorways simply for those reasons have flow environmental and planning issues, in that suburban sprawl tends to follow suit, which poses its own – entirely different and not relevant to this article – set of challenges.

In Christchurch road transport seems to have taken priority during the rebuild with State Highway 1 being upgraded to a dual carriage way from Main South Road to Belfast. A dual carriageway diversion that bypasses Belfast completely is also underway and will pick up traffic from the north end of Johns Road.

New Zealand is about 15 years behind European countries and also large American cities where city planners have put greater emphasis on railways and buses, land use planning that encourages these modes of transport and so forth. This is why my view of transport is that we need to get trucks off roads that the largest of them were simply not meant to be on in the first place. Their cargo can be just as well distributed by rail, the merchant marine or by aircraft. This is why we need to stop looking at these modes of transport in a piece meal fashion, that does not seek to integrate them.

Yes we have a problem in the South Island with quake damaged road and railway lines. However, they are being fixed and will soon be able to have slow freight trains running the length of the Main Trunk Line from Christchurch to Picton. If transport planners really put some thought into it, how about resuming the overnight ferry from Christchurch to Wellington?

This is a bungle. We simply do not need some of these roading projects and others should be scaled back as if rail were given the same opportunities as roading, it could take much of the heat out of our congestion. National are throwing money around funding public transport projects as a desperate attempt to draw some of the votes from Labour. But their lack of cohesion, focus on roads and outright ignorance of some transport modes shows where their real priorities lie.