When the Government announced, just before Christmas, a long-heralded transport package for Auckland, the welcome it received was informed more by relief than a close look at the contents. Now that local bodies and others have taken a second look, they are less enamoured.

The central feature of the package is the creation of a new body, an Auckland Regional Transport Authority, to take over the powers and functions of a plethora of public bodies which have had a say in the planning, financing and operation of roading and public transport in the region. The lack of a single, all-purpose transport authority is widely blamed for the glacial progress of an integrated road-rail plan to relieve Auckland's congestion. The creation of one dedicated body would supposedly cease the endless talk and get down to action. If only.

In fact, the first thing the Government's Christmas package presents to Auckland is more talk. Somebody in Wellington (the Green Party probably) has decided that Auckland's regional land transport strategy, a document not too many years old, does not conform to a national land transport strategy agreed by the Government and the Greens a year or so ago. It is not clear why.

The regional document, compiled after the usual consultation procedures with the public and particular interests, plans additional roads as well as passenger rail, bus and sea services. It is a balanced strategy, but presumably not the right balance for those who want non-economic considerations to have greater sway. The national strategy has been criticised for giving arguable social and environmental criteria equal or greater standing than economic cost-benefit calculations. It is a "balance" that enables those who are not caught in Auckland's traffic to worry more about our air pollution than our travelling frustrations.

Auckland local bodies have not objected to the order to revise their strategy in line with the national priorities but they know how much time these things take. The region's councils will meet this week to consider asking the Government to release funds for work to start on transport improvements now, rather than once a revised regional strategy has been agreed and printed.

They could probably hasten the rewrite; there seems no need for public consultation, for example, when the revision must be guided by the national scheme. The Government and its parliamentary allies are the only people who must be appeased in this exercise. But if the councils' request for cash now, plan later, is designed to get on with the roading elements of the regional strategy while they still can, more power to them.

Auckland's traffic congestion is too serious to be the ideological whipping post of people who would sooner build walkways, cycleways, railways - anything but cater to the private car. Not even ardent rail enthusiasts pretend that trains alone are a solution. A good rail service would offer an alternative, but only for that proportion of the region's daily commuters who work in a few central commercial areas.

The rail scheme Auckland local bodies want to build is predicated on a great deal of "traffic demand management". That is transport planners' jargon for measures to discourage car travel, usually by taxing it more heavily. Yet another new levy on petrol is coming and, if the Government has the nerve, tolls and other forms of road charges might not be far away.

But sadly, the immediate prospect is more talk. Even the precise role of the much-vaunted new transport authority for Auckland is not clear. Will it buy services from private operators or run its own? The prospectus, such as it is, suggests it will do much writing of implementation plans in accordance with the regional transport plan. When the councils meet this week they should resolve to tell Wellington that more paperwork is pointless. Let's get moving.

Herald Feature: Getting Auckland moving

Related information and links