Submission on Christchurch Commuter Rail

This is our first post since we decided to close down our Facebook group “Greater Christchurch Public Transport” and syndicate these posts to the groups.io group “NZ Rail Maps and Christchurch Public Transport” instead.

The Greens have announced a policy proposal to get the government to fund the development of commuter trains for Christchurch. However, this is not new, as they had a similar policy at the previous election, and nothing resulted from it.

We are putting together a generic submission template because it has become fairly apparent that there is a lack of will from central government political parties to move the commuter rail proposals forward. Labour has effectively outsourced this to the Christchurch City Council, which to date has responded with another version of its longstanding opposition to commuter rail, and proposals for the money to instead be spent on projects focused around the Christchurch CBD and excluding the outer suburbs, let alone the satellite townships in Greater Christchurch outside the Christchurch City borders.

We know from history that the same issues have been prevalent in Wellington, where the Let’s Get Wellington Moving considerations resulted in a proposal for BRT to be implemented by Wellington City Council that was quietly dropped due to lack of political will for ratepayers to fund the proposals. This will always happen in a territorial council environment where their city limits are small enough that everyone can get around on a bus and rapid transport is only useful when going into satellite outposts, which for reasons of pork barrelling, the territorial politicians always frustrate.

Wellington would never have got its commuter train service if it had been left to Wellington City, Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt and Kapiti to agree on what service was to be provided. Neither would have Auckland back in the days of multiple territorial authorities. The governments in both eras (1938 Labour government in Wellington, and 1999 Labour government in Auckland) stepped in over the top of bickering local politicians and whipped them into line. In Auckland this resulted in legislation to bring inb the Auckland Regional Transport Authority that took over all public transport in the region. The result being the doubling of most of the suburban network and the electrification and new trains that they got subsequently). A few generations earlier in Wellington, they got their electrification out to Paekakariki and Upper Hutt and the EMUs which are now in their third generation.

And that is what this inept government needs to realise as they have given us very little to date in terms of public transport development. The main issue is that in this present pandemic environment, it is very difficult to campaign for new public transport services. So when we put the document together we will have to lobby for a staged development approach, for example to get infrastructure built before trains are eventually introduced as demand returns, which could take many years.

Anyway, this submission proposal will be progressed over the next week. Watch this space.

Greens Call For Commuter Rail Development

This week the Green Party has called for rail commuter development around the country as part of a post-Covid economic stimulus package for the country. As reported in this Stuff article, they suggest $9 billion should be invested over 10 years to build high speed commuter networks centered around Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. In our region, Christchurch-Rangiora is a particular focus, with the possibility of extending to Ashburton or Timaru to be considered as well.

A quick search on the Stuff website shows there have been many commuter rail proposals articulated over the past ten or more years. These have all been sidelined by Wellington until Labour put a proposal into their manifesto at the last election. There were similar campaigns from the Greens and NZ First as well, but no progress has been made on the issue for various reasons, the key one being that Labour has favoured one of its own local body politicians in Christchurch proposing a city-only solution instead of the Greater Christchurch regional option that heavy rail is most suited to. This flies in the face of the longstanding campaigns in the city for heavy rail as well as the views of the other two parties of Government.

We will be writing a submission over the next few days that will be copied to the Greens, Labour and NZ First as the parties that are supportive of commuter rail development in Greater Christchurch. It will be including material that we have previously published on this blog in support of Greater Christchurch commuter rail development, and will be asking some hard questions about the lack of progress on the 2018 proposals, as well as pushing for more action from the parties than we have got so far.

So watch this space as we will include the submission in another post on this site when it has been written and sent.

Examples of previous reporting on commuter rail:

Christchurch At The Transport Crossroads In 2020 [2]

Well this part 2 has taken a long time to appear, but these days we want to be more considered in blogging and spending the time to think things through properly rather than rushing out a lot of lower quality posts or ones that repeat stuff already made. Unfortunately the key problem that is affecting all transport projects around the country is a lack of commitment from the government, which is rapidly giving even its most ardent supporters the impression that they are largely a populist personality cult focused around the Prime Minister and have almost no ideological backbone. In the recent announcements all they have really done is fund projects that were either lobbied for by NZ First and included in the coalition agreement, or that were developed by the previous government.

That said, the main object of this part 2 is to continue discussing what are the key reasons we are not seeing progress in developing commuter rail in Christchurch, apart from the lack of government focus, which is a pretty big part of it. Simply put, territorial local authorities have a very weak corrupt political obeisance to the rich and powerful, whilst this is also seen at central government level it tends to be a lot more open there with more checks and balances. In fact we think it is probably a good rule of thumb that the smaller and more local a unit of government is, the more likely it is to be captured by personal interests of the people living in it and the less likely it is to care about being a part of a larger territory and the overall interests of that territory. This goes a long way to explaining why local government authorities frequently fails to take into consideration a big picture of the role they have to play in a larger urban region. They seek to maintain their own small scale political interests and ignore everything else.

In the case of Christchurch City, much of the current debate about the nature of the city focusing on the idea that the central city (the Four Avenues as it is called) is more important than anywhere else within the territorial limits of the whole city and that this area should get more of the resources especially ratepayer funding than the outer suburbs. At the time of writing this there has been much opinion commentary in “The Press” newspaper by a well known radio host and National Party member on a supposed revolt around the Council table by five councillors who are campaigning for rates spending to be reduced. The problem for the said commentator is that if we dig deeper into what is being said, it leads to a default assertion that there are in fact some projects that are not libraries or art galleries or swimming pools that should actually get lots of money from the council and these are straight commercial projects within the central city area, or large pieces of infrastructure that create business opportunities for hotel owners and the like. The key issue underlying this is that there are some wealthy developers and landowners in the central city who are sitting on expensive high value property and that the rest of the city is “morally” obliged to agree to fund, through their rates payments, what is a property owners’ cartel that keeps land prices much higher there than anywhere else in the city.

What flows out from this is that the current Mayor that we have, as with most of our mayors, being based in the central city, is captured by these interests and has focused on pushing the central-is-better viewpoint in a big way. When we see that in 2014 Ecan did this rail study which showed that rail should have been developed, and then the next year the Mayor demands the right to meddle in public transport for the entire region through forming the Joint Public Transport Committee. Then the next stage is to develop a new public transport plan that focuses mainly on Christchurch and from the Mayor’s perspective, on the Christchurch central city area with a whole lot of new routes that go through the CBD. The ideas that anyone can live in other parts of the region (Selwyn / Waimakariri) and travel to an outer suburb or that these areas can offer facilities to people living there or in outer suburbs that compete with what is in the central city, are obviously a great threat to the financial and political hegemony of the small group of super wealthy elite who control the centre of Christchurch.

At the moment the JPTC is said to have rejected rail as a possible solution for Christchurch – this has been stated by other commentators such as Talking Transport but we haven’t been able to find out as yet exactly where this was explicitly stated. However the JPTC has a funding study at work with NZTA to get some proposals investigated – as far as we know, these are for ideas like bus rapid transit or light rail, not for heavy rail. We are intending to get stuck into a lot of process behind the current direction being taken by the Joint Public Transport Committee and the plans and consultations and other processes they have been working with. However this depends a great deal on what can be achieved locally working with other transport activists in Greater Christchurch. As we signalled in the first post for this year the bigger direction we hope to achieve this year is to see greater collaboration with other groups or persons to get progress. Can’t give any guarantees of how that might play out during the year so that question will be left open for the present but we hope that saying “watch this space” will prove to be fruitful.