Ewan McDonald: Paying for Auckland's public transport


This is a carefully researched, deeply backgrounded and extremely well considered discussion on Auckland's public transport dilemma, how we got there and where we should go. It will begin with Roger Rabbit and end with Mickey Mouse.


Of course, the first argument that many Aucklanders will advance is that no debate on our public transport could possibly involve where we want to go and how we can get there, but hey, c'mon, let's agree to put that to one side for the next several hundred or so words.


The council's Consensus Building Group (surely no irony can have been intended in that choice of name?) has released a public discussion document on Funding Auckland's Transport Future.


It concludes that business and residential ratepayers, and Auckland motorists (hang on, aren't those pretty much the same people?), should pay most of the additional $400 million required for local transport projects above present national and regional government contributions.


It agrees that central government must contribute more money than is currently committed, and public transport users should play their part through small increases in fares.


One wonders if the group's required reading included Australian academic Paul Mees' carefully researched, deeply backgrounded and extremely well considered book Transport For Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age.


He begins by pointing out that Los Angeles developed an excellent bus and tram network that was degraded and lost as the sprawling metropolis and its residents migrated to the motorway and the automobile.


The feeling grew that the failure of public transport, the rise of the road and car, was a conspiracy between the burgeoning motor, oil and construction industries. The feeling is still widespread - it was a central theme of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Oscar-winning 1988 cartoon movie - but is a myth, writes Mees. However ...


"This does not mean there have never been conspiracies to replace public transport with the automobile. In fact, across the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles there was such a conspiracy, and it was successful. This conspiracy was not the work of greedy car and oil executives, but transport planners working for public authorities - led by the Professors of Geography and Architecture at the local university."


Guess where? Mees plots the calculated and miscalculated manouevres that led Auckland from a smallish city with excellent bus, tram and rail connections to a tangled spaghetti bowl of motorways, arterial roads, rat-runs and traffic jams.


Shonky committees. Gerrymandered financial estimates. Judiciously juggled statistics. Political infighting.


Much like Auckland, the argument sprawled and turned in on itself from the post-war 50s, through the 60s and 70s. Several times, when we thought we had or were getting near an answer, Wellington stepped in and stomped on an isthmus solution.


It would be educational, for recently born or arrived Aucklanders, to repeat history here, but that would tie up this website and the company lawyers for years.


We shouldn't still be having this argument, of course. The most infamous incident in the sorry history centres around the longtime, popular and populist mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. "Robbie" advocated a rapid rail system for Auckland, but was undermined by his own staff, those Auckland University activist academics and the almost-as-longtime regional authority chairman Tom Pearce.


Finally, in 1973-74, the Labour government reneged on an election pledge to Robinson that it would pay for the scheme. There went the chance for a long-term solution to Auckland's transport needs.


Which is why, here we go again. Today's report discusses long-term funding options (their words) for Auckland beyond 2021, which underlines the ever so dreary reality that you and I - and our children, and the next generation of arrivals - will be living with the lies, misrepresentations, bullying and bullsh*t for several more decades. However, Aucklanders can have a say (see the link below).


But don't entertain the hope that we'll have too much of a voice in the final decision.


For "central government must contribute must contribute more money than is currently committed" - and there has been as little sympathy for the Auckland commuter from this generation of Wellington's politicians as there was from the Honourable W.S. Goosman, the Minister of Transport who opened the first section of motorway in our outer suburbs in 1953.


A reporter asked him about the railways. "My boy, the future of Auckland is with the motor car," replied Goosman.


It was an answer worthy of Mickey Mouse then, and it is now.


Visit the Keep Auckland Moving website to read the public discussion document and provide feedback - keepaucklandmoving.org.nz/


SEEKING CONSENSUS

The Consensus Building Group is an independent group commissioned by Auckland Council to identify options for funding transport requirements in Auckland over the next 30 years and to make a recommendation to the council.


It is made up of members of 15 organisations that represent local business, community, environmental and transport interests. The chair is Stewart Milne, a former Secretary of Transport and airline industry chief, and the project leader is Peter Winder, formerly Auckland Regional Council chief executive. Organisations represented are Automobile Association,


Auckland Business Forum, Employers and Manufacturers Association, Council for Infrastructure Development, Tournament Parking Ltd, Cycle Action Auckland, Walk Auckland, Campaign for Better Transport, Environmental Defence Society, Child Poverty Action Group, First Union (representing Council for Trade Unions).


Ewan McDonald is the founding editor of The Aucklander.

 

- The Aucklander

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