By BRIAN RUDMAN
The road lobby is quick to scoff at the thought that real Aucklanders would actually choose public transport over their cars. But the figures suggest the sneering is misplaced.
Auckland public transport patronage figures are showing the sort of growth rates that most industries can only dream of.
In the six months to December 31, 2001, patronage increased 7 per cent over the same period a year before. This was equivalent to 1.4 million extra rides.
That was on top of a 7.6 per cent rise for the year 2000 and a 7 per cent rise in 1999.
Auckland Regional Council officials say the upward trend is continuing, and that is certainly my observation.
Until this year, the wait for my post-rush-hour bus to work was often a solitary experience. Over the past few weeks this has all changed.
Not only are we having to relearn the art of queuing, but on board, there's no longer always a double seat to oneself. And I've got it easy.
Regular train traveller Suzanne Sinclair now often finds herself standing between Avondale and Newmarket. Not that she's complaining. It's been part of her job in recent years, as head of the city council-funded Britomart information centre in the old chief post office, to promote public transport. It seems she and her colleagues have been doing something right.
A former city councillor and Titirangi MP, Sinclair opened up shop in the long-deserted post office nearly five years ago to promote the waterfront developments then taking place. First came the Viaduct Harbour developments, then the various Britomart incarnations.
But early on, public demand added another job too her list - acting as a public transport information aunt to all and sundry.
The entrance signage doesn't advertise any such service. But word of mouth, and the attraction of an open door to a lost or misplaced wanderer, did the trick.
Sinclair says 728,769 visitors have made their way up the stairs into the decaying old building since it opened for business. That, she says, is around 300 a day.
Around 80 per cent were looking for directions. Some were foreign language students with a street name written on a scrap of paper. Others were tourists wanting to go from places as far-flung as Tauranga to where The Piano was filmed.
There was also, of course, a stream of people seeking directions to the toilet. But most were people just after a bus to Mt Roskill or Takapuna or wherever. Whatever the destination, the team at the old post office tried to help.
What is worrying is what will happen to this invaluable information service once the post office doors close at the end of this month, ready for its transformation into a new railway station.
ARC transport publicist Jo Mackay assures me that a temporary facility that is "really easy to find" will be in place to take over the information service when Sinclair's team decamps. Knowing the speed at which public bodies move, I can't help worrying they could be cutting things a bit fine.
One thing's for sure, a professionally staffed information centre is essential for that part of town. It seems a major oversight that nothing was set up to replace the information centre that bus operator Stagecoach ran until the old Britomart bus station was demolished last winter.
That inquiry centre handled about 3000 queries a week.
From all accounts, the ARC's surviving telephone and internet Rideline information services are both popular and good. But neither is very accessible to the punter standing in the street - sometimes with limited English - looking for a bus.
* Finally, my brief summary of the history of the Sir Dove-Myer Robinson statue last Friday was slightly askew. I said that the statue had been the idea of political scientist Dr Graham Bush.
In fact it was local politician Mike Lee who was the originator. This was in 1998. He approached Dr Bush and Robbie's niece, Dame Barbara Goodman, and the three worked together off and on for nearly a year (including meeting the then Mayor Christine Fletcher in May 1999), advancing the project.
It was Dr Bush who made the first formal submissions to the council on behalf of the group in November 1999.