Push for rapid transport growth

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland leaders remain keen on achieving rapid public transport growth despite Government concern that it will put Aucklanders under too much financial strain.

Transport Minister Annette King has disclosed in a letter to Papakura Mayor John Robertson, who chairs an Auckland political forum seeking a common transport vision with the Government, that the Cabinet is leaning towards a steady growth path.

"On top of [rail] electrification and a regional fuel tax, ministers see the 'rapid growth' option as putting too much financial pressure on Aucklanders for now," she wrote.

The Government believes rapid growth needed to boost public transport patronage over 10 years to an annual average of 70 boardings a year by each Aucklander - compared with 41 now - would cost about $1 billion more to achieve than a steadier increase, to 60 boardings. But local transport officials are optimistic a regional fuel tax of up to 10c a litre, signalled by Finance Minister Michael Cullen in the Budget, will raise enough to pay for rapid growth at the same time as bankrolling the electrification of Auckland's passenger rail network by 2013.

The Auckland Regional Council agreed on Tuesday that officers should model what levels of service could be gained by steady growth, and at what cost, but intends advising Ms King of its continuing support for a more ambitious transport future.

That position was reinforced yesterday by Auckland City's transport committee, which endorsed a need for "push" factors to get people out of their cars and on to buses, trains or ferries.

It decided these should include more constraints on parking, a greater reallocation of road space from cars to buses, the development of travel plans at workplaces and schools, and various road-pricing mechanisms.

The committee did not define road-pricing but rejected by 7-3 a bid by City Vision member Glenda Fryer to rule out tolls.

"Including tolling would railroad us into a certain position," she said.

Councillor Cathy Casey, a non-committee member entitled to speak although not vote, said the council had never consulted the public about tolls but the concept received a "big thumbs down" when raised by Transit NZ.

Auckland Citizens and Ratepayers Now member Doug Armstrong warned the council against moving too far ahead of the public in "a religious zeal about getting people out of their cars", although he ended up voting against excluding tolls.

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