Here's the good news for the Government. The vast majority of Aucklanders are on board with the rapid transit plan that is – ironically – moving forward very un-rapidly for the city.
Our latest survey of AA Members showed near universal (91 per cent) support for the idea of expanding Auckland's rapid transit network – one of the highest levels of support we've ever recorded on a transport project or issue.
The more difficult news is that people's expectations about what rapid transit will deliver are as high as they are for the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup, and there is one thing that they want above all others – less congestion.
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Survey responses showed that de-congestion is valued more highly than any other potential benefit of rapid transit, with 76 per cent considering it crucial or very important.
The vast majority of respondents believed that projects like rapid transit to the Airport and Northwest would have a meaningful decongestion impact.
The survey responses show how far the rapid transit debate has evolved in the past few years – before, people were asking whether Auckland really needed public transport on this scale; now, the only questions are what, when and how much.
But it also highlights a risk of over-promising and under-delivering.
Many Aucklanders have false hopes that rapid transit will be a congestion silver bullet and politicians have a responsibility to tell the de-congestion story honestly and responsibly.
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Most of the decongestion benefits won't be felt for a long time (until well after construction). Some other key out-takes from the survey were:
AA Members believe that rapid transit must provide appealing alternatives to car use (more than 70 per cent considered this crucial, or very important). To lure people out of their cars, therefore, rapid transit services will need to be fast and direct – matching, or bettering, car travel times.
Construction costs should be spread across all existing funding sources (fuel tax, general rates, targeted rates, general taxes), rather than fuel tax alone being relied on. New sources, including the sale of publicly owned assets, need to be seriously looked at – well over half of respondents felt that at least some of the cost should be covered by "asset recycling".
However it's funded, the programme needs to be affordable. Project design and phasing needs to line up with what Aucklanders and all Kiwis can realistically and willingly pay, and must not crowd out investment desperately needed in other areas of the transport sector.
We can't lose sight of the fact that the bulk of people will continue to get around in cars, and there needs to be enough money in the kitty to keep general traffic flowing.
The views of Auckland AA members show people want the Government to deliver a high-quality rapid transit plan. Unfortunately, the work done so far in the form of light rail to Auckland Airport has fallen well short of the mark, with confused objectives and clumsy engagement with the public and industry.
To turn things around and secure lasting public buy-in, the Government will need to come up with a programme that delivers meaningful transport benefits at the same time as affordability and value for money. Auckland and New Zealand need them to get it right.
• Barney Irvine is principal advisor on infrastructure and motoring affairs for the Automobile Association