• Chris Darby is an Auckland councillor for the North Shore ward.
They say a week is a long time in politics. How long then is 93 years? This month the City Rail Link construction has begun - 93 years after the earliest genesis of the idea in 1923, when then Minister of Railways, Gordon Coates, proposed the city to Morningside rail link.
In the 1960s and 70s, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson brought renewed vigour and vision to city rail but sadly central government support lagged behind. Ninety-three years.
The welcome news of the City Rail Link's ground-breaking - a term much more befitting the occasion than the usual sod-turning - has been a long time coming. It's a time for celebration where supporters can take a bow and early visionaries are owed a salute.
It is also time to reflect on the long and laboured process to get the rail link this far, and to challenge today's leaders to look far into the future when considering the next major moves for Auckland. Let's not debate and wait for another nine decades. Our planning needs to be robust but that is no excuse to kick the can down the road to the next generation.
With commitment to the City Rail Link locked in, we now face the challenges of expanding the network in tune with Auckland's growing needs. Rail to Auckland Airport is already in the planning stage, with Auckland Transport initially favouring a light-rail solution.
Rail to the Shore formed part of the original 1950s plan for the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Sixty years later, a government is on the verge of missing the opportunity again. The current plan risks wasting billions on a road-only second harbour crossing, and neglects to seriously analyse the possibility of a rail tunnel. Now is the time to look to the North with rail in mind.
I am not alone in making this call - youth advocacy group Generation Zero issued a rallying call to the public to fund an opinion poll on Shore rail. That call resonated, with the push fully funded in a matter of days.
We await the Shore rail opinion poll results, but take a look at how people are voting with their feet and Hop cards already: Auckland Transport's June board report shows a smooth and steady slope signalling a 20 per cent increase in rail patronage over the last 12 months.
Not bad for a mode of transport that has been around since the 1860s, as I am sure our transport minister would agree. The train carriage is the original driverless car of modern transport after all.
The rapid uptake in rail has been a steady trend for the past three years, and will take the right investment to see it continue onwards and upwards.
The next harbour crossing is an enormous public infrastructure investment whichever way we cut it. The current road-only iteration's cost approaches $6 billion, more than double that of the City Rail Link. A road-only crossing risks creating more problems than it solves by severely congesting roads either side of the isthmus, necessitating intensive - and expensive - road layout changes. With or without that, the traffic flow bottleneck just shifts downstream.
A light rail solution would deliver billions in savings by comparison, and would do a lot more for mobility across the Shore and the city - one lane of motorway moves around 2400 people an hour, while a light rail lane shifts around 18,000. That kind of efficiency stands to benefit everyone, whether they be public transport users upgrading to rail, or drivers who find themselves with less company on the road ahead.
If the Government remains apathetic or sceptical about this, then I echo my call for a detailed, public side-by-side analysis of all the harbour crossing mode options. For a government that has proven to be both poll-driven and pragmatic, this should be a no-brainer.