Labour's Christchurch public transport funding promise in-depth and how the rail industry needs to steal the initiative [1]

As part of its 2017 election campaign manifesto, NZ Labour Party promised to invest up to $100 million into public transport for Greater Christchurch. Although the policy is often represented as $100 million for passenger trains to Rolleston, it potentially covers a range of different PT areas.
The specific detail includes:
After nine years in office, National has failed to make the investments needed to keep up with these changes and a growing population. This is causing increasing congestion in the city. Congestion now adds 29 minutes a day to the average commute. Only three per cent of commuters in Greater Christchurch take public transport to work, compared to seven percent in Auckland and 12 per cent in Wellington. It’s time for additional public transport infrastructure to reduce congestion on our roads and better link major centres of population with central Christchurch.
Labour will:
Commit an additional $100m from the National Land Transport Fund in capital investment to Greater Christchurch multi-modal public transport, including commuter rail from Rolleston to the CBD as a first step. We’ll work with local authorities and other partners on a 21st century strategic multi-modal transport plan for Greater Christchurch.
Along with commuter rail, the $100m investment will be available to support infrastructure for buses and bus feeder services as determined through consultation with local councils. These investments will ease congestion and open up areas like Rolleston, Rangiora, Kaiapoi for residential and commercial development. In combination with KiwiBuild, these investments will spark revitalisation of suburban town centres.

So what are the key implications of this policy?

  • The biggest concern in this is that Christchurch City Council wants to take over and own this policy. The Mayor who is a well known former Labour MP, and her lackeys, are campaigning to take over the public transport network of the city from the regional council. To this end she forced the establishment of the Joint Public Transport Committee as a campaign platform. Most of the work that it does is overwhelmingly biased towards Christchurch.
  • Work on the public transport policy development for Christchurch (as the Labour Party claims to be doing) is mostly being led by CCC with some Ecan input and appears to be happening behind closed doors at this stage, with little opportunity for public input. There is room for doubt over the speed with which the work is taking place.
  • CCC has never been interested in supporting rail passenger services in the city. Due to the smaller size of Christchurch, rail passenger services only make sense (and historically only ever have) going further out to Rolleston and Rangiora, both areas outside the city limits. There has been no long-term strategic planning by CCC in support of rail. Furthermore as CCC owns most of the shares in the Port of Lyttelton they are likely opposed to the role rail plays in shifting freight out of the city to competing ports.
  • With the relentless push by the Council for control of the public transport in the City (which has been a goal pursued unsuccessfully since the 19th century) this policy could end up being rewritten to be more favourable to the City with the majority of money going into the existing bus based network and possible BRT development and as little as possible going into rail passenger services which are after all more use outside the city limits.
  • The Joint Public Transport Committee’s Regional Land Transport Plan envisaged a much greater number of bus routes together with two rapid transit corridors but left open the question of where funding would come from. Apart from the campaign promise, there has been no new funding for this RLTP to be implemented and in fact the only route changes made so far have been done under the existing PTOM regime and 50% FBT target implemented by the last National government which Labour has so far failed to reverse.
  • The RPTP produced by the JPTC fails to explicitly mention rail with merely vague references to the rapid transit corridors. However, these corridors do not have the reach of the rail corridors as they stop at Belfast and Hornby, or the city limits.
  • There is therefore considerable cause for concern that CCC politicians will try to rewrite the regional public transport agenda set down by the Government in favour of something that overwhelmingly favours the City and non-rail transport networks.

So at this point I believe it will be necessary to engage with the professional rail community in Christchurch in order to start campaigning for more transparency around the process of developing rail passenger services to Rolleston and ensure a public voice is heard in favour of rail.

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