Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Trip down dead-end tram track just a distraction

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

It must be election year. In Parliament this week, National's Auckland Central MP, Nikki Kaye, was sucking up to Transport Minister Steven Joyce, tossing him patsy questions so he could enthuse about the glories of the western ring motorway project at the fringes of her electorate.

Back in Auckland though, she was painting herself as the queen of public transport, unveiling her vision of ye olde tramcars tootling around the "villages" of her beloved electorate. She's so smitten with the idea she's demanding that Mayor Len Brown and the Transport Agency "properly" investigate "the feasibility of trams in central Auckland".

Of course like any good Tory, she expects someone else - in this case, the poor old Auckland ratepayer - to pay for this evaluation of her brainwave. And nothing on the cheap, please. She's reported telling the mayor the study "needs to include an analysis of the costs, funding options, routes and types of trams - because different trams can accommodate different numbers of people".

Of course it's not really her vision at all. It's a steal from local councillor and former regional council chairman Mike Lee, who, spurred on by the Campaign for Better Transport last year, persuaded his ARC colleagues to fund a small heritage waterfront tramway project.

With two borrowed 1920s Melbourne trams, and 1.5km of new track and overhead wiring, this $8 million project will soon start rumbling around a couple of blocks of the Wynyard Quarter development. The hope is to extend it to Britomart Station and if Mr Lee has his way, out into the suburbs, retracing the tram routes of the first half of last century.

The title "heritage" seems to sum it up. A touch of nostalgia aimed primarily at tourists.

Seizing on the sexiness of "heritage" to her villa-dwelling constituents, Ms Kaye is dangling the hope of a network of trams across her electorate. In the latest Ponsonby News she writes of how the "villages" of Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, K Rd and Wynyard Quarter all "have a uniquely special character that are cherished by their communities" and that while the Link Bus does a good job, she wants something "faster and easier".

She is reported elsewhere as saying "today trams are at the cutting edge of a number of cities' urban transport".

Odd then, that just a month ago in her Herald blog item called "Is Auckland's public transport busted?" there's not one mention of trams - except a passing reference to Auckland having abandoned them in the 1950s. Instead she claims to have supported the CBD rail tunnel since 2009.

She also said "most people I talk to say they would catch public transport more frequently in Auckland if it were more reliable, frequent and safe", adding: "The redesign of the bus network needs to be a priority for the Auckland Council."

If that's her belief, then why is she confusing the issue with a nostalgia trip down some dead-end tram track. A conspiracy theorist might think she's been put up to it by her colleague Mr Joyce to try to split the united front Aucklanders have formed against the Government's delaying tactics over the CBD tunnel.

She's right about the urgent need to redesign the bus network, including the services in her electorate. Perhaps she hasn't noticed them out her car window. They don't need a competing tram service, they need improvement.

As she says, the redesign of the bus network needs to be a priority, but she's wrong to point the finger at the Auckland Council.

The old Auckland Regional Transport Authority fought hard to do just that, but was stymied by Ms Kaye's National colleagues in the last Parliament. They blocked the crucial law change needed to let the authority sweep away all the old bus routes and draw up a new 21st century integrated and complementary bus, rail and ferry public transport network. If Ms Kaye is serious about redesigning the network, she should start harassing her party leaders to reform this law.

This week Auckland councillors also received a report revealing central Government plans to take $14 million a year of public transport funding away from Auckland.

If Ms Kaye wants to get fast and efficient public transport to her villages, these are the issues she should focus on, rather than distracting and delaying matters with visions of pretty red tramcars.

- NZ Herald

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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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