Wellingtonians spend $1.3bn a year on owning and running cars and even the most expensive cycleways option in WCC's Long Term Plan only needs to save a tiny fraction of that to offset the very small impact it will have on rates
I hate that Wellington City Council have cherry-picked 'Building More Cycleways' as a key decision to be consulted on in isolation in their new Long Term Plan, rather than attempt a more holistic discussion about urban mobility and transport shift in the context of a climate and housing crisis. It actually feels like a cynical attempt to inflame the rates hawks and anti-cycling crowd and I'm sure it will generate the answer they're probably looking for. Maybe that's unfair but if WCC are aware of the latest research into how to talk about some of these things ('sell the cake not the ingredients') it doesn't seem to have flown through to this consultation.
However, what's done is done and one positive is that it means WCC have identified the specific impact of each of their proposed options for building more cycleways on operating cost, rates and capital cost. This is good information to have about a specific proposal and in this case it helps to highlight how stupid and self-defeating it is to be concerned about the impact it might have on rates.
For example, the operating cost impact of the Accelerated Full Programme for Cycleways in the LTP (Option 4) is $4.5m a year which translates to a 1.31% rates increase. Based on a rates bill of $4k per annum that's an extra $50 a year. That's right, $1 a week for a city-wide micro-mobility network. Um, that's actually pretty cheap for what we would be getting.
It gets better because the difference between Option 4 and WCC's recommended Option 3 is additional operating costs of $1.9m pa, which is an extra 0.55% on your rates, or $22 a year added to a $4k rates bill. That's 42 cents a week. These amounts are tiny.
Let's be fair to WCC at this point. They are generally terrified of rates rises and there are already significant rates rises in this LTP. However, what I think is not helpful is that they have made no attempt to contextualise the rates impact of building more cycleways in terms of household spending on transport.
Transport is a significant expense for most Wellington City households. 85% of all Wellington households own one or more cars and it costs around $12k per year to own and run a car in Wellington. There are over 110,000 cars in Wellington City, which means Wellington is spending a massive $1.3bn a year on owning and running cars.
$1.3bn a year is a ridiculously large number. By contrast even WCC's Accelerated Full Programme to build more cycleways is an average of $22.6m capital spend per year over 10 yrs (2% of $1.3bn) and an increase in operational costs of $4.5m per year (0.35% of $1.3bn). What this means is that a city-wide cycling network only needs to reduce Wellington's household car running costs by more than 0.35%, or around $42 per car per year on average, before it has paid for itself. Why is this even a discussion?
With average fuel economy if cycleways mean you drive one less 5km round trip per week you will save $45 in petrol every year. If cycleways mean you spend 10 hrs fewer parking in the CBD per year you will save $45. Put another way, if a city-wide cycling network delivered a modest 5% reduction in the average cost of running a car it would be worth $65m per year, approx 14 times the cost of the rates increase per year and 34 times the difference between Option 3 and Option 4.
Hey, I'm not an economist and I'm not pretending that this is a proper business case but the point is that it doesn't need to be. The difference between the cost of a full cycling network and what Wellington spends on cars every year is so vast that it's a no brainer to invest more in cycling and micro-mobility. A full cycling network only needs to contribute to very small percentage reductions in household travel costs and it will be worth it (and that's without even considering all the other ways cycling can contribute to a well-connected, integrated transport system that works for everyone).
In fact, I reckon how WCC has framed Building More Cycleways in the LTP consultation omits crucially important information, is mis-leading and will not result in informed feedback. If it isn't technically below the standard required by the Local Government Act then that says more about the Act than the quality of information WCC have presented. Don't fall for it - when you provide feedback on the LTP make it very clear to councillors that you support spending the maximum possible on Building More Cycleways (Option 4 - Accelerated Full Programme).
Footnote: WCC reckons there might also be a sector capacity issue with building Option 4 - Accelerated Full Programme. That's being disingenuous. The sector won't ramp up the capacity unless it sees a strong commitment from WCC first. WCC needs to send the sector a signal by putting the budget in place. You might not spend all the budget but if you don't commit the budget in the first place then you're guaranteed not to do it. It's recently come to light that WCC has only built 16km of cycleways in the past 10 years. That's unforgiveable and is exactly why the sector doesn't believe WCC really intend to do more in the next 10 years.