Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Standing room only as Aucklanders embrace a transport revolution

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Auckland Transport is trumpeting the news that almost five million extra journeys were made on public transport during the last calendar year. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Auckland Transport is trumpeting the news that almost five million extra journeys were made on public transport during the last calendar year. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland Transport is trumpeting the news that almost five million extra journeys were made on public transport during the last calendar year. This will hardly come as a surprise to people using my bus route. Most newcomers seem to have ended up trying to board our bus.

Of course it's great news that all the expenditure on public transport is finally paying off. But it has forced the old regulars to get used to sharing their space with the converts. It seems only yesterday that you could be guaranteed a two-seater bench to oneself. In fact, you usually had a choice of seats, back, front, sunnyside or not. Not any longer.

The other morning, with newcomers packing the aisles, the driver slammed on the anchors unexpectedly, tossing a couple of the unwary like skittles down the bus. The driver, obviously not a graduate of the customer relations nightclass, muttered triumphantly, "If you don't hang on, it's like standing up in a car trailer".

Hardly the words to encourage newbies to stick around.

Still, it's going to take more than the odd heavy foot on the brakes to reverse the growing tide of Auckland commuters coming back to public transport.

Over the past 15 years, annual boardings on Auckland's trains, ferries and buses have almost doubled. In the year to the end of February, total passenger numbers reached 64.07 million, an increase of 8.3 per cent on the previous year and bringing usage back "to the highs of the 1950s".

Given that the region's population of 1.3 million is four times the 319,000 of the 1950s, this is not exactly news to get the bubbly corks popping, but it is an encouraging sign Aucklanders are embracing the idea that a city with pretensions to being world class needs a modern public transport network.

The way Aucklanders are leaping back on board buses and trains also gives further support to Mayor Len Brown's continuing championing of the inner-city underground rail loop, a campaign he continues to push despite the lack of support from the Government. What's particularly encouraging is the spectacular growth in areas where modern and/or upgraded services are laid on.

Passenger numbers on the dedicated Northern Express bus service on the North Shore were 20.7 per cent up in a year, providing 1.97 million passenger trips for the year. Despite all the niggles related to the rebuilding of the rail network, train journeys increased 17.9 per cent, providing 9.2 million rides.

In a rehearsal for the Rugby World Cup, just under 40 per cent of fans to the February 19 Super 15 Blues-versus-Crusaders contest took the special event public transport services to and from Eden Park. All good signs that despite our reputation as car-loving highway hoggers, Aucklanders are remarkably open to the appeal of public transport, as long as it provides a level of service that appeals.

Rising petrol prices are another impetus. The February public transport increase was said to have been helped by a litre of 91-octane petrol breaking the $2 barrier in mid-January. It's now $2.19 a litre, with no signs the trend will reverse.

With the support for a public transport revolution in Auckland so widespread, the wonder is that Wellington politicians have not leaped on board the bus, preferring instead to throw $10 billion in scarce resources at uneconomic - and largely unwanted - Roads of National Significance such as the Puhoi holiday highway.

Finally, I had to have a chuckle about former Victoria state premier Jeff Kennett's recipe for making Auckland a world-class city.

He'd been brought out this week by Hawkins Construction and other property developers to talk up the glories of their industry and extemporise on his expansionist policies in Melbourne during the 1990s, but the trip backfired rather. Mr Kennett confessed he'd got his priorities wrong.

"If I could turn the clock back I would put emphasis on public wellbeing and quality of life, not necessarily making a dollar."

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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