Does Auckland have a Death Wish?

Commentary, Climate, Owen McShane

The Grinding Costs of Kyoto

A group of us working on a paper will attempt to assess the present costs of our Kyoto
commitments and from that work out what New Zealanders are being asked to accept as the
“cost of carbon”.

Most people talk of carbon costs of $5 – $40 dollars per tonne. But if we spend $10 billion to
reduce our carbon emissions by 100,000 tonnes, the imputed “cost of carbon” is $100,000 a
tonne. If on the other hand our emissions are reduced by only 10,000 tonnes then the “cost of
carbon” is $1,000,000 a tonne.

The total costs should also include all the “sand”, which our Kyoto commitments pour into
the gears of the economy. These “grinding costs” will be added to the deadweight costs of our
high taxes, costly RMA processing, and all the other burdens of running a business in New

One example of such “grinding costs” was Monday’s announcement that Transit NZ and the
ARC are examining proposals for a second crossing of the Waitemata Harbour. The Morning
interview with Transit NZ suggested the tunnel would provide for public transport,
(light rail and busways) with provision for cycling and walking, with general transport a third
priority. That’s right, only two lanes for cars, vans, taxis and trucks. The ARC “analysis” will
no doubt focus on how to persuade us all that this crack-pot scheme is worthwhile.

No standard cost and benefit analysis could possibly have delivered such a package. Such a
“solution” must be based on a “sustainability” analysis, in which someone has attributed a
huge value to reducing the “cost of carbon”. This imputed cost of carbon must be infinite
because there will be no reduction in carbon emissions at all – other than from the consequent
final collapse of the Auckland economy.

The Myth of “Public Transport as Carbon Saviour”.

If you ever want to get a group of environmental alarmists nodding in unison, just tell them
we must increase investment in public transport to get motorists out of their cars and reduce
our carbon footprint.

This is official government policy so you might reasonably expect it to be based on rational
analysis of costs and benefits. Unfortunately you would be dead wrong.

Government’s own Climate Change Office tells us that the 2.2 million private vehicles in
New Zealand account for only 7.6% – say 8% – of our total greenhouse gas emissions. (41%
of 18.5% – the total transport sector contribution. Go to the Ministry of the Environment’s site)

We know that the total mileage of social and recreational trips now outnumbers the total
mileage of trips to work. So the trips to work account for something less than 4% of
greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand. Which means the Auckland region’s trips to work
account for about a third of that – maybe 1.3%.

But only a fraction of those trips are focused on the CBD and hence made by potential users
of public transport. The final irony is that moving the drivers onto public transport will
actually increase emissions – even if not by much.

The inconvenient truth is the private car fleet is more efficient in total daily energy use than
our public land transport systems – taxis and shuttles excluded. We know that electrification
increases rail’s low efficiency but the increase in power demand will be at peak hour and will
be provided by the coal-burning Huntly power station.

Consequently, the cost of private transport carbon must be infinite, because we are willing to
spend billions of dollars for zero carbon benefit.

What About the Trucks?

There is little provision for trucks, vans or taxis in this new sub-harbour tunnel: most of these
social outcasts will have to keep using the existing harbour bridge. But there are strong
economic reasons for extending the life of the “Nippon Clip-on” lanes by banning trucks and
forcing them onto the centre lanes between the coat-hangers.

The Northern and Waikato regions are growing rapidly. What will be the ongoing economic
costs of a tunnel which only replaces the heavy-vehicle lanes lost from the Harbour Bridge?
The Lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina taught us that the rapid evacuation of a modern city is greatly assisted if
citizens have access to multiple elevated highways. Auckland is fortunate in that most of our
highways are “naturally” elevated well above sea level because of our hilly terrain. Tsunami
or storm-surges pose the biggest threat to Auckland, and these are precisely the disasters
where elevated highways provide most benefit. Yet Auckland’s “visionaries” have already
built the Britomart transport centre below sea-level, have decided to put the Victoria Park
viaduct extensions below sea-level, and are now about to put the second harbour crossing
below sea-level as well. They must long for death by drowning.

Remarkably, the people making these decisions also believe that rising sea levels pose a
major threat to Auckland and will make storm surges and Tsunami even more dangerous to
life and property. One can only presume that global warming is rather like astrology – even
people who believe in it, don’t believe in it.

Personally, I would prefer to be above ground, rather than under water, during an earthquake

“Leroy – why do we have to walk in the subway tunnel?”

Many of us enjoy walking. Surely, however, most of the pleasure lies in our enjoyment of the
passing landscape. Will anyone enjoy walking any distance through a long tunnel beneath the
harbour? Tunnels are generally frightening places to even drive through – shades of Princess
Diana spring too readily to mind. The prospect of walking through a tunnel would frighten
most people out of their wits. Surely the same applies to cycling. And when cyclists or
pedestrians are in a tunnel they have no easy escape route from crazed drivers who delight in
driving into them, or even from potential kidnappers or molesters. The cost of tunnels rises
rapidly as the width is increased so these cycling and walking lanes must be the most
expensive transport routes ever conceived. Has anyone calculated what toll would be needed
to make these lanes financially viable? Anyone for a $500 dollar stroll?

Of course, if any project manager put this proposed transport route out to private tender the
result would be a deafening silence – unless you could find a private investor who was stark
raving mad. Maybe some future “TunnelCorp” is waiting in the wings.

One of the many benefits of private-public partnerships is that the private analysts ensure that
such doomed projects are decently consigned to the dustbin long before they can become a
burden on current and future generations.

A More Likely Solution

I do not have the resources to examine every possible proposal for a second harbour crossing,
but if I had to chose only one, I would complete the western bypass to a high standard
(without tunnels) beefed up with HOT lanes and top-quality driver information systems, and
linked into at least one additional high-quality, high-capacity Upper-Harbour crossing.

I would fire the Growth Strategy team and let industry, commerce and households move to
gather round this motorway and its interchanges, and generally spread North, South and West.
Auckland’s activity would be more evenly spread, and at a more even density, and the end
result could well be no need for a second lower harbour crossing at all.

The consequent efficiency gains would result in far less fossil fuel being consumed over the
next century than will be wasted by this “Carbon Bigfoot” tunnel.

Sending dollar bills up in greenback smoke does not seem a sensible solution to anything.