Auckland needs Transport Funding Reform

How exhilarating - Auckland is being promised some serious rail expansion.  
And how depressing, that Auckland is still held hostage to "Pork Barrel" politics.

Original image: By Bit Boy (Flickr: The Elephant in the Room) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The election campaign took an entirely expected turn today - both the National and Labour parties made promises to increase infrastructure spending to address Auckland's congestion problems.

Of course neither party will achieve that, unless infrastructure spending first catches up with, and then outstrips, population growth and the expanding size of the city.  So neither of their dives into the pork barrel is guaranteed to solve the problem.

More importantly, neither party attempted to address the real elephant in the room: the imbalance of power between central and local government over transport infrastructure priorities.

No, this weekend they dressed that elephant in a tutu, put lipstick on it, and rode it triumphantly around the room.

Both of them clearly said that the transport budget for Auckland is controlled by central government and will be used as a strategic tool for winning votes at elections, and neither of them intends to change that.

Forget about business cases and Benefit-Cost Ratios.  Forget about the Regional Land Transport Strategy carefully developed and widely consulted-on with the people of Auckland. Forget about the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan negotiated between the government and Auckland Council.

Here is the message we heard this weekend: transport funding decisions will continue to be made in Wellington, in a highly political and politicised way, so that the establishment parties can use that massive budget to win votes at elections.

What Auckland needs is a more fundamental, structural, change than either Labour or National have promised.  We need:

  • One transport agency, not two (NZTA and Auckland Transport).
  • That agency will be responsible for Roads and Rail and Buses and Ferries, and for integrating those modes with Ports and Airports.
  • There will be one transport strategy, policy, plan (whatever you want to call it), which that one agency delivers on.
  • The Government and Auckland Council will co-fund the "big ticket" infrastructure items, in partnership, with more-or-less equal shares of budget control. To be clear: that means the Government will surrender some control over tax revenues to Auckland.
  • The partners will have a joint approach to financing - an agreed balance to funding projects from debt and current revenues.
Of course there will still be politics involved, because we live in a democracy.  But it needs to be a more transparent, orderly, approach which pays more attention to what the people of Auckland need and want - and less attention to the interests of political parties' supporters, funders and election strategists.
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