Lester Levy: Restoring faith in Auckland's transport system

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Commuters can be assured public transport will be sorted and the service will be one everyone enjoys using.

Far too many Aucklanders have lost faith that there is an alternative to their private car. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Far too many Aucklanders have lost faith that there is an alternative to their private car. Photo / Brett Phibbs

When it comes to transport in Auckland the stakeholders are as many and varied as are the differing and divergent views.

I guess it has always been like this and over many decades ad hoc decisions, decisions half-made, questionable decisions and decisions deferred or never made have severely limited options.

Transport solutions in Auckland are well behind where they should be, but not where we have to stay.

I have been chairman of Auckland Transport for six months. What do I see? Public transport in Auckland is just not yet good enough. The trains do not run frequently enough and frequently they do not run on time. The bus real-time information does not seem real to many, because it is not, a lot of the time.

Peak times on trains and buses are often very crowded and it just seems like there are not enough of them - that is because often there are not.

The new AT Hop card has had some issues - these have been very frustrating for passengers.

Doubt, distrust, ridicule, criticism - that has largely been the history of transport in Auckland. The possibility that transport issues in Auckland could ever be resolved seems to have been consigned to the wastebasket of history.

I believe a large part of the problem is there have been so many strategies and plans that it seems to me that figuring out what to do has become more important than actually doing something.

Perhaps because of this, far too many Aucklanders have lost faith that there is an alternative to their private car.

There is no need to declare defeat.

Change is coming fast! I believe that Auckland's transport problems can and will be resolved - but it will not be easy.

Imagine if every negative, downward-spiral critic had prevailed in history. We would have no antibiotics, no air travel, no smartphones and a whole bunch of other fantastic stuff that has enriched our lives. We need to move beyond the downward spiral critics (even many of the transport reports are loaded with pessimistic assumptions and outcomes), but just as importantly we need to take off the rose-tinted glasses, confront reality and be very honest about where we are with transport in Auckland and very clear about where we need to be.

As I said, change is coming fast. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood, transport operator by transport operator, mode by mode, route by route, street by street - we at Auckland Transport are taking this thing apart piece by piece and will return it put back together in a new form - a form where public transport will operate with precision.

High frequency, reliability, attractive and affordable pricing, higher levels of passenger comfort, accurate and accessible information and high levels of safety and security are the principles that we are now moving forward on.

What we are proposing is not a simple "chemical face-peel" where the changes are minor and temporary. For a few months the skin looks perfect and then just returns to what it was before. What Auckland Transport is about to undertake is "major reconstructive surgery" where the changes will be significant and permanent.

Auckland Transport is embarking on a full review of every single bus route, a major upgrade of the trains, new ferry services, new fare structures, new ways of paying for everything - so much needs to be turned around and we are going at public transport like it has never ever been done in Auckland before.

Auckland Transport is going to create a public transport network of buses, trains and ferries that will present as a highly desirable option for those who have never really considered it before. Critical to providing public transport in a totally different paradigm is planning and delivering the services totally from the perspective of the passenger - not of the bureaucracy or the provider. Revolutionising the passenger experience is fundamental to moving forward.

Sure, we will need to build more infrastructure (and hard choices will need to be made), but let us not miss the opportunity right in front of us to extract the huge and unseen potential from our existing investments. It is not simply about building more, it is also about getting a lot more out of what we have and then when we do build more we will get outcomes that currently seem unlikely.

Change will happen, but like all progress will take time - in three years transport in Auckland will be different and by 2020 it will be very, very different.

Dr Lester Levy is chairman of Auckland Transport.

- NZ Herald

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