Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Should Auckland swap motorway lanes for trains?

123 comments
Two trains at the Panmure Station. Image / iStock
Two trains at the Panmure Station. Image / iStock

Yesterday, I drove my 1.6 litre Toyota Corolla to Te Awamutu for a meeting to help build the capacity of a Marae-based waterways restoration project. Leaving at 3:30pm I thought I would miss the dreaded traffic.

I was horribly wrong.

I spent no less than 1 hour and 45 minutes on a motorway packed full of angry people, cursing out loud about the predicament as I arrived well over an hour late.

I thought to myself - if only the fast lane of this stupid motorway was simply removed and replaced with a train that had wifi? I could have got useful work done, arrived far quicker and have been less stressed.

It seems that the value of these 'external' factors such as stress, health from vehicle pollution and happiness are finally starting to be considered worthwhile.

With the announcement this week that the government will fund half of outgoing Mayor Len Brown's dream to have an inner city rail link, there will be a windfall for the environment.

But will a light rail system in the CBD do anything for the clogged-up motorways that are the bane of Auckland's existence?

Auckland's most popular and successful mayor in history - Dove Myer-Robinson - advocated hard for a light rail system many moons ago - when it most certainly would have been easier to install. It may pique your interest to note that 'Robbie' as he was affectionately known, was a real environmentalist, however his plan got squashed through false promises.

Just imagine how much extra time Aucklanders would have had to get work done, spend time with family to improve relationships, get exercise to avoid obesity or grow organic gardens like Robbie did, if they never had needed to be stuck in traffic?

Most importantly, I think it is a joke that there is no train out to the airport. Almost all major cities have this in place. Making tourists - who bring billions of dollars into our economy - frustrated getting around in our biggest city is surely a bad idea, but also if we spent less money of taxis and time getting to the airport - I believe that would increase productivity in the regions.

Another similar argument exists for getting trains over to the North Shore - which is steadily growing in popularity without the possibility of growing the bridge.

But of course Auckland's ratepayers - who have just seen their net worth increase ridiculously whilst doing nothing at all in a housing bubble - will complain about the cost. They are certainly not complaining about the value of their assets and most are keeping mum about the affordability of housing for poor people.

At the end of the day, if you have just earned a huge amount of value doing nothing except being in the right place at the right time, then perhaps you deserve to pay for the infrastructure that this place needs so that your property stays desirable?

Alongside this, I do not see why we don't have an electronic tolling system such as that which has been proposed so that people pay for driving on the motorway with money going to public transport infrastructure that causes less health problems and is better for the environment?

This would mean that smart people who elect to live carless in new well-planned developments such as the Wynyard Quarter on the Waterfront and other people who pay rates but don't drive are not unfairly hit.

Do you think we should take a lane out of the motorway to build trains? How would you propose to pay for what we need?

Debate on this article is now closed.

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