The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport hosted a mayoral debate on transport this afternoon, between primary contenders Bob Parker and Jim Anderton at the Auditorium of the Christchurch Art Gallery. While the topic was open, both took the opportunity to talk about their visions for the future of public transport in Christchurch. In addition, one of the other candidates, Brad Maxwell, was able to express his views on transport issues. Unfortunately, there was only time for two questions from the floor, on trucking, and on parking, but luckily they covered gaps not mentioned by the candidates.
Below are my notes from the debate. The debate was ~75 minutes long, and the post below reflects that!
Jim Anderton won the coin toss, and opened. He believes that the basics of Christchurch’s public transport system are fine, but warned that future additions had to be realistic and that currently they were not. Anderton spoke of his support for the Roads of National Significance (RONS), and said that they were overdue for Christchurch, because it was important to shift the heavy traffic coming into the city off the local roads for the benefit of all road users.
He said that Christhcurch has good, but not not great, public transport. He praised ECan’s work over the past decade, noting that the government commisioners respected the achievements of ECan in public transport, and also the CCC’s bus exchange and the (belated) work building bus lanes. However, he accused the CCC of being willing to spend lots of money building fancy buildings, but not on fixing congestion in the city.
He said that light rail is an option for future, but now. The current government will not fund light rail, and that the CCC’s spending is too high to fund it itself. Anderton said that light rail needs heavy subsidies, which will require additional funding from somewhere. Anderton explained that light rail is the third stage of public transport development, and that because Christchurch has only started the first stage, which must be fixed first, it is wrong to jump ahead to the third stage. He said that the solution is developing speed and reliability for the bus network. He said that a lack of bus priority harms reliability and patronage and that the CCC is 3 years behind schedule – it needs to make bus priority a priority. Anderton proposed morning-only peak lane on all major routes, between 7-9am, to give inbound commuters reliability and speed, while also saving business’s viability as the lanes can become parking space after 9am. He said this can be done cheaply within two years.
On the matter of the next bus exchange, Anderton reiterated his claims that the proposed Underground Exchange will be too expensive, and that the underground option doesn’t get governmental subsidies, costing the city an extra $40 million. By dropping the underground plan, and keeping a ground-level Exchange would free up $12m for suburban exchanges at key suburban locations. He said that Christchurch needs excellent exchanges at every major shopping mall, while being consistent with Urban Development Strategy, and that in reality the inner city is not primary destination. He finished on buses calling the Underground Exchange “oversized and overpriced”.
Anderton then moved to active transport – saying that the cycleway network was incomplete, unsafe, and that there was no excuse for the failure of the CCC to complete the project. He said that the CCC had cut its cycling program, and had also missed out on government cycle funding. He noted the success of the Northern Cycleway as a core route that was off-road. He proposed offroad cyclways where possible as the backbone of the cycle network, and the completion of the on-road lanes to cover the gaps and provide good access for cycling commuters. He said he wanted to (re-)create a cycling culture in the city with events like the Bikewise Mayoral challenge and family events like Park to Pier.
He also mentioned that pedestrians need excellent walkingways, wide and safe, for all users, and that the approach to pedestrians should be similar to that of cyclists, providing off-road access and alleyways between key areas where possible, not just footpaths on roads.
He also stressed the need to work with retailers for bus proposals, particularly bus lanes, in order to build support not opposition.
Bob Parker started showing slides of current and projected traffic density in and around Christchurch (see right, sorry about low quality).
He noted his closeness with Anderton on cycling and walking as transport options. He said that he grew up with cycles, buses and trains in Christchurch. He noted that we have to take into account the big issues facing the city; Christchurch’s aging population over next 30 years, which would mean a lot of fixed incomes and higher public transport demands; and the future of oil as a fuel, in particular, inevitable price rises. He stated that electricity and alternative fuels are the future, and that Christchurch needs to focus on that future now. He also talked about the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, as one of the biggest consultation project conducted by CCC, and that it showed that the public wanted a “different evolution” of the Christchurch. He noted that the big shift in the UDS to move from sprawling into greenspace/rural areas into defined urban/rural boundaries space, and that 60% of growth over next 30 years is within that urban boundary.
Parker said that the future of Christchurch can’t be roads or motorways. He noted that key roads, such as Papanui Rd would reach capacity and that its buslanes will reach capacity quickly too. He noted that the cost of widening core roads like Papanui or Riccarton road would cost billions of dollars. In that light, there is a strong economic argument for rail. Parker said that he was not advocating building it next year, but that we cannot rely on a road-based system in the future.
Parker went on to say that the public transport model is flawed, that the split between CCC and ECan is a very inefficient model, and he suggested single transport agency. He also stated that the
funding model is fatally flawed, and is going to fail Christchurch unless fuel price-related demand keeps patronage high. He said that the current gross funding model doesn’t take into account count patronage, that a company can run empty low-quality buses along a route and still get paid, and that the funding system doesn’t encourage the companies to provide good service. Parker proposed a patronage-based funding with an element of competition to encourage bus companies to provide better quality services. He hailed the success in bus development, but said that Christchurch must plan for rail network, because of the advantage that comes from having unused rail lines already. Parker gave Belfast as an example of his rationale – a major current and future growth area, set around a rail line, and the Southwest area which had rail corridor protected in its development plan was also good area where rail would provide better options than bus-based links. Another example was Heathcote Valley School which ran trains for its jubilee (as the method many of its students had used in the past), and was completely overwhelmed by the public response for the trains, that many people had come simply for the opportunity to ride the trains. Parker said that we need to be more innovative for Christchurch, and that the city needs to learn from the lesson of Auckland, not copy the same mistakes.
Parker talked about the urban regeneration value of tram/trains, noting that overseas examples showed that property prices rose significantly for proximity to tramtrain links, but proximity to similar capacity bus routes depressed property prices. He said that trains not only reduce congestion, whereas buses contribute, but they also regenerate cities. Parker stressed the need to make Christchurch a desirable place for young people and migrants in order to be successful, and that regeneration was vital.
Parker claimed the loss of subsidy for the proposed Underground Exchange is $21 million, not Anderton’s $40 million claim. He said that the CCC had been given 18 options, and that they had picked the best one. Peak time means that buses at the current Exchange are arriving or leaving every 10secs or less, which is dangerous and difficult for pedestrians and traffic. He said that the current bus exchange was an expensive mistake as it was inadequate for what Christchurch actually needed. He said that the new Underground Exchange would create an urban park for people, giving excellent central city access without the noise or fumes, as the buses would exit far away into the traffic flow. He gave the example of the Art Gallery – all that was required was a shed to store paintings, but the CCC had set its sights higher, and had created an icon for the city. Parker said that public transport shouldn’t be done on the cheap either, and that the plans would not bankrupt the city as it had an AA+ credit rating for the next ten years.
Parker rounded off saying that we must create fabulous city, with a great quality of life, if Christchurch is to survive. Christchurch must grow up from being a provincial town, must act like the capital of the South Island and act with vision as New Zealand’s second city. Parker said the same length of current tram tracks including the extensions would link exchange with the University of Canterbury. He said this could be done in 5 to 10 years, with a couple of areas already with the right densities. He also suggested that the trams can be built here, to create jobs and save money.
Anderton: Parker sounds great but same as what he says, rail in 30 years is the same vision as his. However, he said that Christchurch needs a bigger population, and asked where the inner city residents are to provide a population base. Jobs, not ambience, keep people in the city, and that the mayor had to focus on present realities, not future visions. Anderton said that the outer shopping malls are causing severe problems for the inner city, and that they need action to make things better now. Anderton said that Parker’s overseas examples are funded heavily by federal and state governments, and that the current government was very clear that it wouldn’t fund rail. He said that the reality was that Christchurch is a small city, and it shouldn’t be grandiose beyond our realities. Any vision must be realistic or the city will go broke.
Brad Maxwell said he was frustrated by what he hears, but believes both have good ideas but ultimately New Zealanders have passion and love for cars (the one comment over the whole hour that had a disapproving murmur from the crowd). He talked about the vital flexibility that cars offer, that lots of people make many stops. He cannot see people traveling in to the central city, and said that only 4% of central city commuters use buses. He said that having 60 seater buses running around empty during most of the day or parked at the depots was a terrible waste of capital. He advocated using smaller buses, to provide a near door-to-door service for elderly. He said that the current buses don’t provide a useful service, and that the real need was to build better roads, four-lane core roads, such as Cranford street and Papanui road.
Asked the audience to compare the 3 candidates; improve better system; rail vision; love of motorcars. Nz’s transport options have been poorly planned and greatly limited our flexibility.
On Trucks, and providing for the trucking industry;
Parker: The current governmental priority for roading, and especially the RONS, are about freight. Freight to Lyttleton Port and Airport needs motorways, but not more than currently on the books.
Anderton: National rail system should carry more heavy/bulk freight, but agree that motorway network when completed is enough. It was important to focus on getting people living in the city, and leaving the outer roads for freight.
On Parking, and the under/over abundance of it;
Parker: Public opinion is either that there’s too much or too little parking. Retailers want more free parking, however parking needs to be user pays, but needs to be more convenient rather than just bulk. Needs to be more sustainable in the longer term. Energy efficient cars get 2 hours free parking in council parking buildings already. While people love their cars, people can love public transport if it provides a good service, and this will reduce the need for parking. He also said that parking will be simplified, and hinted at smart cards to pay for parking in the future.
Anderton: Being an inner city user means getting a car park Friday and Saturday night is very difficult. Proposes opening up council parking buildings at nights. Malls have a better system, with cost of parking included in shop charges, parking charges in central city are off-putting to shoppers. Private transport is here to stay and that there was not enough peak-time inner city car parks.
While Jim Anderton’s vision is a good one, it lacks a grounding into the urban development of Christchurch, and it also lacks a clear long-term vision. Anderton did mention light rail as a future option for the city, but only very briefly, and it’s clear that his opposition to the Underground Exchange (which will be designed to be tram-accessible) means that there is a big gap in the future prospects of rail. Perhaps it is Parker’s experience with the Gehl report and his overseas trips, but he did make a strong case for rail as a regenerative tool, whereas Anderton framed transport as a public convenience but not much more. Funding remains a major issue, and while the government is more than happy to throw billions of dollars at motorway projects, it has no interest in funding rail. However, the money does exist, and Parker said that central government would be more willing to look at public transport projects once the motorways had been built. Maxwell was simply unrealistic about roading projects within the city, especially as it had already been mentioned that those projects would cost billions of dollars, but he did have a point about looking into smaller buses running off-peak.
My personal view is that Parker ‘won’ the debate – he had a very wide-reaching vision at all levels, and was able to link together the different aspects of public and active transport into a compelling whole. In the short-term, the differences between Parker and Anderton may not be that much, the only major difference is over the design of the new Exchange, but extend out more than 5 years, and Anderton’s plan vanishes.