Talking transport in Te Upoko o te Ika: Monday 16 July

After a relatively ‘slow news week’ last week, it’s a safe bet there could be some fireworks this week if the new bus routes cause any major disruptions. Watch those routes!

Here’s some transport talk in Te Upoko o te Ika that caught the roving eyes of the crew at Talk Wellington since last Monday…

Motorway “smarts”: technology projects not cheap

Good on Damian George at the DomPost for running a ruler over the costs for “smart motorway construction”between the Terrace Tunnel and Johnsonville that came into operation two winters ago in 2016.

The cost was going to be $55.8m but the final pricetag “jumped” about $25m to $81m.

NZTA’s explanation is that the extra cost went into expanding technology – primarily speed and lane control signs and the overhead structure to support them – on the section of SH1 from the Ngauranga Gorge to the Wellington CBD and extra equipment for better traffic flow northbound into Horokiwi.

George’s story ended by noting that benefit-cost ratios had not been reviewed since 2016 but while traffic has kept growing NZTA is satisfied that southbound travel time reliability has remained constant, and that northbound travel times from the CBD to Johnsonville had “improved”.

According to the article the best figure for an improvement in journey time might be only as much as 30 seconds.

It’s not really reasonable to suggest that the new computerised system that sets changeable speed limits based on predicted traffic flows has failed. To be fair this is  more a case that heavy congestion is its own disease and in every city around the world it eludes quick fixes.

On other channels, George’s article was turned into a dramatic clip on Youtube by NZ News, and generated a good round of comments on a local Reddit forum.

Students and their long commutes

Students living further out in the region and commuting to study is one of the key reasons that the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) lobbied the Greater Wellington Regional Council so hard to get a tertiary discount on public transport.

Supporting VUWSA’s rationale is the story of university students and Wairarapa commuters Anna Rossiter-Stead and Ngahuia Huirama, as featured on Stuff yesterday.

Breaking news: an Inquiry into local authority cost pressures

Who pays for what good stuff with whose money – rates, taxes, PPPs, bonds, magical future money trees – and why – is a perennial bone of contention in shaping our towns. (Oddly, the public-outrage : money-spent ratio seems in the opposite proportions to central government – like the Smart Motorway.)

There have been lots of new inquiries and reviews of How Things Are Done launched under the current government, and it was only a matter of time before it announced an inquiry into “Local Government funding and financing” (it was written into Labour’s Coalition Agreement with New Zealand First).

And sure enough, just yesterdayFinance Minister Grant Robertson charged the Productivity Commission with undertaking this Inquiry with the aim of receiving “recommendations for how councils can maintain and deliver services and infrastructure in cost-effective ways into the future”.

Although the Inquiry’s terms of reference were yet to be released, the announcement’s media release stated it will include investigating current frameworks for capital expenditure decision making, including cost-benefit analysis, incentives and oversight of decision making.

We’re happy to hear this, given that the local government funding model for all kinds of things is quite broken: vastly expensive things are left being paid for with rates, a burden that’s simply unbearable in many towns. (Coastal erosion, stormwater and wastewater (sewage) is just the tip of the expensive capital-funding iceberg – then there’s local roads.) 

Grant Robertson: “Since the Shand report into Local Government rates in 2007, Local Government cost pressures have grown significantly and by more than other costs faced by ratepayers. The pressures faced by local councils vary significantly (and) the scale of this issue means an in-depth look is needed into whether our current structures are fit for purpose”.

Among other issues this will put a spotlight on, it promises to be an opportunity to weigh up where transport sits 10 years after the Shand report and within wider central and local government thinking.

If you’re keen to start gaining a perspective on what should be an enlightening debate, you can download a copy of the Shand (Local Government Rates Inquiry) report here. The Herald’s reporting it here.

No coincidence perhaps that Local Government NZ just launched their Project Localism with the NZ Initiative, to “bring more power and funding to local level”!

Talk Wellington will be keeping a close watch on this as it unfolds.

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