"It's the transport system, stupid." That twist on Bill Clinton's 1992 election slogan seems to be guiding the campaigns of all the main candidates in Auckland's upcoming mayoral election. And so it should be. Aucklanders have made it clear that, alongside housing, this is the issue facing the city.
But making broad promises at campaign time is the easy bit; once in office, delivering results that satisfy the public is much harder. Whoever wins will face a big deficit in public trust and confidence - Aucklanders have been let down on transport in the past and they won't cut the next leader much slack.
Since the last local body election we've regularly surveyed random samples of our nearly 500,000 Auckland AA Members on transport issues, and their feedback tells us a lot about public expectations, and what the next mayor will need to do to meet them.
Here are five keys to transport success:
1. Get runs on the board
Like all Aucklanders, AA Members are desperate to see action. The big, strategic projects will take time, so the immediate focus needs to go on smaller, technology-driven projects that can have an impact now. Increased investment in things like traffic light phasing, variable lane directions on arterials, and travel information systems is key to reducing congestion and would be quickly seen, understood, and liked by motorists.
2. Provide access to growth areas
The ability of the transport system to cope with Auckland's growth is a big worry for our Auckland members. In particular, they see the council is well behind the play when it comes to providing transport infrastructure to the new housing projects cropping up all over the city. Whoever wins the mayoralty will need to present a clear vision of how people are going to get to and from these new suburbs, whether by car, public transport, walking or cycling. Projects that will have a big impact on access, like the northwestern busway, need to be brought forward.
3. Work with Wellington
For the past year the Auckland Council and the Government have been working together on a transport strategy for Auckland through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). This turned the page on a long period of political bickering which had stalled progress and dented the confidence of our Auckland members in transport decision-makers. Collaboration must remain the name of the game, and ATAP must continue to succeed - the public won't tolerate a return to the bad old days.
4. Provide transport choices
Though 85 per cent of Auckland AA Members typically drive to work, they're keen to have public transport alternatives. But they don't just want to use public transport for the sake of it. Public transport services will need to compete directly with the car for speed and convenience before large numbers will change behaviour. That's why more park and ride investment is a no-brainer.
And public transport needs to appeal in its own right, without the squeeze being put on car use. There'll be limited public tolerance for projects that involve replacing busy car lanes with bus lanes.
5. Tread carefully on cost
By and large, Auckland AA Members are willing to consider paying more to improve the transport system. But they need to see that it'll make a real difference to congestion, and there are limits to what they'll be prepared to pay. Digging too deeply into people's pockets will turn many against the whole programme.
Our Members would prefer to use a mix of tools to bridge any funding gap. Existing options like rates and tolls on new roads should be considered, along with new tools like a regional fuel tax.
With transport decision-making, the stakes couldn't be higher. Get it right, and the political rewards are potentially huge; get it wrong, and it's a long road back. Auckland needs the next mayor to get it right.