Labour's decision to back the fast-tracking of Auckland's $2.86 billion city rail link at this year's general election is the good news. Less encouraging is its apparent flip-flop on ways of funding Auckland Council's half-share of this and other future transport cost blow-outs.
Labour's Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, says Labour now backs Mayor Len Brown's bid to levy an extra charge on Auckland road users through road or congestion charges or a regional fuel tax.
He said Labour had been wary of road-user charges in the past because of the effect on working Aucklanders, but now says they are already paying a high price for congested roads and lack of public transport.
But by buying into Mr Brown's road-bloated transport plans, Labour is only preventing the short sharp shock in favour of public transport that is long overdue. Of course the city rail tunnel is a no-brainer. As was the electrification of the rail network, integrated ticketing, revision of the bus networks and the other public transport reforms which, let's not forget, pre-dated Mr Brown's emergence as chief cheerleader.
The problem is the $12 billion to $15 billion that Mr Brown wants to raise via road charging and tolling is needed only because of a huge funding shortfall in Auckland Transport's proposed 30-year "integrated transport programme".
It's a flawed, road-dominated programme which, if achieved as planned, will leave the next generation of Aucklanders stuck in worse traffic jams than we have now. The plan admits that once it is completed, "road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road networks by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels".
Despite all the mayor's promotion of his rail tunnel, the underlying emphasis of this grand plan is still on roads. This is underlined in the regional land transport programme.
"The level of state highway expenditure had been expected to decrease according to the previous RLTP but is now projected to be the largest activity in the funding plan, at $4.8 billion over 10 years."
Over the same period, 2012/13 to 2021/22, maintenance and renewal costs of local roads and state highways will total $4 billion.
Overall, public transport, including walking and cycling facilities, will get $3.9 billion, or 36.7 per cent of the 10-year funding, leaving the lion's share, as usual, to local roads and state highways.
This is a recipe that even the cooks confess will have Auckland traffic choking to a halt after 30 years.
If Labour really wanted to help, it would pledge to force Land Transport NZ to give greater consideration to Auckland's public transport needs and allocate more of the $8.8 billion budgeted for repairing and building state highways to public transport.
Aucklanders have proven that given a train service, they will use it. In 1993, after the purchase of Perth's secondhand diesel fleet boosted Auckland's puny rail service, passenger numbers rose from 1 million to 2.5 million over 10 years. In the 10 years after the opening of the Britomart station in 2003, passenger numbers quadrupled to 10 million.
The first of the 57 new electric trains will enter service in April. With the new Hop card integrated ticket finally operating and a redesigned network of bus routes in the wings, Auckland public transport is finally emerging from a half-century of neglect. With the improved train services and the Northern Busway, Aucklanders have voted with their feet. Provide a service and they will use it.
The trouble with the politicians and the bureaucrats is that after 60 years of addiction to petrol, they can't break the habit. True, they've conceded that a liveable city needs a modern public transport system. But when did you ever see a politician on a bus or train - except for a photo opportunity?
More to the point, when did you see one vote to chop the roads budget in favour of public transport? Instead they try to support both, which is why Mr Brown and the "consensus building group" of mainly road-lovers he set up to find new funding is trying to bully Aucklanders into paying another $12 billion to $15 billion for a 30-year plan that's designed to fail.
Labour had the chance to bring a revolutionary breath of common sense to this impasse. All we got was more of the same.
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