Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Tunnel-visioned civic leaders looking wrong way

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File photo / Chris Skelton
File photo / Chris Skelton

If the vexed ratepayers of Auckland really do want to have the World's Best Mayor, they should invite Black Caviar over asap. Spelling aside, that's their best chance and they should grasp it with both hooves.

Having a horse at the helm would be ideal for a council apparently hell-bent on heading, not back to the future but forward to the past. And there's credible precedent for such a move. That infamous Roman tough Gaius, Caligula, tried to appoint his favourite steed, Incitatus, as a consul and, though unsuccessful with that, he did make the gee-gee a priest.

"We want fillies, not follies," must be the ratepayers' cry, as they confront further evidence that a blinkered, antediluvian mindset holds sway among those governing their great metropolis.

And evidence they have, with the announcement that the Super City's supervisors will, indeed, take a retrograde leap by persisting with their $2.9 billion inner-city rail link. No matter that's it's like insisting every builder in Auckland must use stone tools.

Or banning all traffic except horse-drawn carts.

Irrespective of that, and despite being $1.45 billion short in the cash department ("Can't push the ratepayers too far, Your Horseship") they'll spend $231 million buying 210 properties "to secure the route". Except it isn't secured because the council's only budgeted enough to put two tracks half way or one track the whole way. The gummint will spring for the rest, apparently.

This is Athens on the Waitemata, folks, a splendidly Greek solution, predicated on the assumption that racking up enough debt makes you bulletproof. You know how it works. Borrow $1000 and, if you can't repay, the bankers will pull out your fingernails and sell them on Trade Me to recoup the debt. Borrow $1,000,000,000 and they'll prop you up till the trains come home'cos, if they don't, they'll go down in a screaming heap, too.

Auckland's political trainees clearly presume the lovely Angela Merkel (in our case, Gerry Brownlee) will bail them out, when push comes to chuff. It's trainmail, really, the theory being that if you start spending now then, eventually, the bill will be so big that the gummint's got to get on board. Or, better yet, by the time the costs have blown out, there'll be a new lot in charge who'll cough up their share.

They shouldn't. Any parliamentarian pretending to be concerned about rising rates should be saying, here and now, loud and clear, "You're on your own, Linksters. This is between you and your ratepayers, assuming they haven't pawned themselves already."

Since no party in Parliament is apparently willing to contribute a single cent to help one city with the restoration of buildings (which the Crown's own Historic Places Trust has identified as being of the highest possible national significance) it would be rank hypocrisy for any of them to cough up cash for another city's grandiose transport plans.

Auckland's Inner City Rail Link represents an abject failure of vision. You can't go forward looking backwards. But that's what the council's doing. There's a revolution coming, councillors - not on the rails, on the roads. Last month, Nevada issued America's first autonomous vehicle license. Google cars that drive themselves now legally navigate the state's roads. Ford says such vehicles will be generally available in 2017, cutting commuting times by 40 per cent - four years before the the rail link's finished.

Tesla cars have already driven 10,000,000 electric miles in the US. There are 16 hydrogen filling stations in Los Angeles. Hydrogen-powered buses are running in London now and will be joined by 15 hydrogen taxis when the Olympic games begin. Several companies build cars which are 85 per cent recyclable and 95 per cent reusable (because some plastics can be converted to fuel).

Much is made today of our need to embrace smart green technology. Well, that's what cars are, if those who hate them could but see it.

Cars replaced trains as the preferred means of personal mobility for the same reason tablets are replacing newspapers. Both new technologies empowered people, giving them more choice than they'd previously enjoyed. Cars were the iPads of their age; pre-digital devices that let their owners "download" the journey they desired at the time of their choosing.

The car is the 20th century's most liberating invention. It's changing much faster than any politician's mind. It made Auckland what it is. And will determine what it's going to be, too, using new fuels and new technologies. The tragedy is Auckland's tunnel-visioned leaders are looking the wrong way.

Footnote: Whatever the result of any trial, this still holds; the heart is the last, true home of guilt. Jurors may weigh the balance of facts, while lawyers dance in the gaps between them and weave a fog of unsubstantiated possibilities. But, while facts are considered, acts are committed and those who commit them will forever know their character and be captive to their consequence.

- NZ Herald

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