Deborah Coddington

Deborah Coddington is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Deborah Coddington: Trams are good idea no matter whose suggestion

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Trams are clean and cheaper than rail - but will they get off the ground? Photo / Brett Phibbs
Trams are clean and cheaper than rail - but will they get off the ground? Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland Central National MP Nikki Kaye is batty. Somehow I always suspected as much - as a young girl at intermediate school, this odd little thing in a checked uniform sometimes accompanied one of my kids home on hot days to cadge a swim in our pool.

I mean batty in a good way. Kaye's nuts about trams, and trams, as anyone knows who's spent time in Melbourne, San Francisco or other great international cities, are terrific forms of transport. They're quiet and clean. They appeal to tourists and commuters alike. They can be faster than buses, and construction requires considerably less capital than rail links.

So let's be having more of Kaye's fruitcakeness. Well, chance would be a fine thing.

It's all very well Steven Joyce saying his Government is going to spend $36 billion of our money on transport over the next 10 years, that's the easy part.

And it's not too difficult working out the priorities - state highways, local roads, public transport, road safety promotion.

The reason many of us heave a big fat cynical sigh when we sit in traffic jams, listening to announcements like this, is we know our politicians will indulge in ideological mud-wrestling over pet projects.

Their pumped-up, vainglorious egos will come well ahead of any sensible notion of putting aside petty left-wing, right-wing squabbles to get on with delivering Auckland a public transport system it badly needs, so that commuters can get off the roads, if they wish, and get to their destinations on time.

Take, for instance, last week's spat over Kaye's idea for a tram loop from Ponsonby to Grey Lynn, to Karangahape Rd to Wynyard Quarter, the Viaduct and Britomart. In July last year she wrote to Mark Ford, now chair of Auckland Transport, then head of the former Auckland Transition Agency, pushing for a feasibility study. Kaye sees the project as complementary to the Link buses, and the city central underground rail link.

From my purely selfish perch on Shortland St, this would be great. The rail link won't be ready for at least seven years. I'll be in a Zimmer frame by then. Two cohorts of students will have been through Auckland University. If we get trams on the tracks in the next three years, us inner-city apartment dwellers could trot down to Britomart and hop on a tram to the western suburbs. Uni students could come across to their campus. The more of us who are out of cars - greenies and lefties take note - the less clogged the motorways, and therefore a reduced need to keep building more roads.

Or so the argument should follow, you'd think, from those on the political left.

But no.

Labour list MP Jacinda Adern, who's moved up from Morrinsville to try to win Auckland Central, spat the dummy and accused Kaye of being insincere; trying to hitch an electioneering ride back to Parliament.

A bit rich coming from Adern, who's known to exploit anything for political gain including, on Tuesday on the steps of Parliament, releasing red balloons to publicise the massacre in Norway.

Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee, who should be supporting trams, also sniped at Kaye's plan, overlooking the fact she'd been doing her homework for 12 months.

Anyway, who's counting? Would it make any difference if the idea had suddenly entered Kaye's head, so long as it was a good one?

There are serious funding issues to sort out over public transport, and Labour, as the election campaign progresses, must stop fudging the issue. No use just saying "the gummint". All New Zealand won't cough up for central Auckland, Adern, you better get used to that.

The key issue hurting Labour's catwalk revolutionary is that Kaye, a Tory MP, has shown she's capable of putting aside her ideological differences and working with a leftish Mayor - Len Brown - to try to solve commuter transport problems that cripple central Auckland.

Auckland's a lovely city. Great international cities don't squabble over petty political differences, such as whose idea it was, they knuckle down and sort them out. It's why we elect them, to get things done for us, and it's called maturity.

- Herald on Sunday

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