Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: How to ease our traffic woes in a cheap, easy way

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File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

It must be nice to snuggle back in the air-conditioned comfort of the mayoral limousine and perfect a $63 billion, 30-year recipe for putting Auckland's transport woes to rights.

As for me, crammed into a bus taking 15 minutes to snail the short stretch from Nelson St down Victoria St to Victoria Park, any drifts into problem-solving tend to be centred on the immediate.

Like why doesn't Mayor Len Brown wave a wand and remove the few offending car parks that are holding up the completion of the short rush-hour bus lane past Les Mills Gym to the Victoria Park Markets.

This would instantly aid the highly successful Inner and Outer Link buses to do their job. While he's at it, he could copy the Sydney traffic law which forces motorists to give way to buses pulling out from a stop.

Neither the above proposals are as grand as a $2.86 billion rail tunnel, or a $5.3 billion harbour tunnel, but they are both cheap and easy to achieve, and would instantly improve the flow of the city bus fleet. No doubt if the mayor were to consult my fellow public transport sufferers, they'd come up with other easily implementable, bright ideas.

As a focus for consultation, it promises to be a lot more productive than the mayor's just launched "Getting Auckland Moving" consultation, which is desperately seeking advice on how he's going to raise a spare $10 billion to $15 billion to cover the cost blow-out on his transport shopping list.

Among "the projects that need to be funded" but which at present are unfunded, are the $1.5 billion Auckland to Manukau roading project, a $1.25 billion Onehunga to East Tamaki highway, the city rail loop, and the harbour tunnel.

The consultation has started badly with first the Government and now his fellow councillors rejecting several of his key options. On the council, a cross-party rebellion has rejected any thought of regional-based GST, income or payroll taxes.

Added to that, the Government has ruled out a regional fuel tax and if history is any guide, parliamentarians across the spectrum are against tolling, unless an alternative route exists.

Which leaves options such as increased rates, which no one supports, and visitor taxes and the like. Or waiting for a change of government. That or revisiting the shopping list with a sharp set of pruning shears.

The most disappointing aspect of the transport section of the proposed Auckland Plan, is how steady-as-she-goes, be careful not to frighten the horse, this so-called "transformational" document is.

Certainly it talks the talk, when it comes to warning that Auckland is rapidly running out of space for more roads, and preaching the need to embrace public transport in our new compact, intensified, liveable city.

But wade through the figures and the reports and the spreadsheets, and the revolution is hard to spot. The plan seems to be to try to keep everyone happy, by offering up more roads to mollify the pro-road clique, while teasing the public transport supporters, with the promise of, but no funds available, such vital improvements as the city rail loop, the $1 billion Avondale-Onehunga-Southdown rail extension, the $600 million Northern Bus way extension and improved ferry services.

The roads-as-usual bias is highlighted in a breakdown of the proposed $63 billion wishlist. Over the next 30 years, building new roads and repairing the old, will cost $40.6 billion or around two-thirds of the total budget. Public transport spending will total $21.2 billion, of which only $7.6 billion is new capital expenditure.

When it comes to the funding gap, the shortfall for public transport is $5.8 billion or more than a quarter of the transport "need" list. The roads shortfall is a fraction less in money terms at $5.7 billion but only half as large as a fraction of the total roads budget.

Auckland transport funding reflects the complicated mix of local and national government politicians and agencies calling the tune. The super city was set up so central government would only have one voice to cope with in situations like this.

As the Government's two-fingered salute to the city rail tunnel highlights, creating one united voice didn't mean the Government planned to take any notice of it. In this context, telling the mayor how you think the funding gap could be financed seems rather pointless. Telling him how to make the Link go faster - now that just might be useful.

- 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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