COMMENT



Not much makes me furious. Deeply, seethingly furious. Mishaps I can handle, mistakes I can forgive. Ordinary incompetence, my own or others, I can understand.



It's when I fall victim to political incompetence - monumental institutional mistakes or neglect on the scale of, say, Auckland's traffic arteries - that my blood boils.



It was boiling at Auckland Airport the other day. I had scrambled out of the house just before 7am to take an 8.30 flight to Wellington. If you happen to live on the North Shore and catch a plane to the capital more often than I do, you will already have guessed where this is heading.

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Dawn was breaking and the back streets were empty as I drove away, thinking how much easier it would be to get to Whenuapai. Here's to Bob Harvey and Infratil in their bid to keep the air base for a commercial airport.



Half of greater Auckland lives closer to Whenuapai than Mangere. Every morning hundreds of them have to go to Wellington.



At the Northern Motorway the traffic was bumper to bumper but moving. It is usually slow to the harbour bridge. You settle in, listen to the radio, wind back your mind to the car's steady crawl.



It's quite pleasant when you think you have ample time. How long could it take to cross the city? Not much more than an hour, surely. Be reasonable.



Coming off the bridge it wasn't a surprise to be brought to a halt. Every day I drive into the city and pass a long line of traffic held up in the southbound lanes. Every day I see there the blinkered vision of Auckland's transport planners.



Not only theirs, the whole campaign for public transport, too.



The planners know, I suppose, that most Auckland commuters are not going into the city centre; I've been hearing them say so for as long as I've lived here. Yet as soon as they get some money they revert to projects that radiate from the inner- city.



The city's roading mayor is not much better. The eastern arterial on which John Banks has staked his reputation is another feeder to the centre.



The problem is, I suppose, that civic planners, politicians and too many pundits work in the central city and imagine everybody else does. They should sit in this southbound traffic one morning.



Then they at least might cease listening to the nimbys who have held up the widening of the Victoria Park flyover ... forgive me for starting to ramble; you are a long time in low gear here.



Can you credit that anyone would suggest putting a widened flyover underground at three times the expense? Can you believe the Auckland Regional Council would back the idea? No wonder Transit NZ has gone to attend to other parts of the network until Auckland comes to its senses.



It is still a crawl through Spaghetti Junction to Newmarket but Transit is doing roadworks there. That's something. Time's getting on for me though.



And I still had the streets to contend with. Why is it, I wondered for the millionth time, that this route to Auckland's airport takes you through suburban streets. It would be so easy to connect the motorways with a short link from Penrose to the Mangere bridge.



Corporate Cab drivers, I'm told, now make a point of warning overseas visitors they pick up at the airport that along the route they will find themselves in the mean streets of Mt Roskill. Unless they are warned visitors are liable to think they are being taken for the proverbial ride.



Daft really. And it only adds to the prospect of hold-ups. The clincher for me that morning came at the Onehunga roundabout. Heaven knows what banked up the traffic there. By the time I got through I had barely five minutes to make the flight.



I arrived breathless at the check-in at 8.30. No luck, no plane delay. The attendant sympathised with my bleat about "Auckland's bloody traffic" but there was nothing she could do. She lived on the Shore, too, and she always gave herself two hours.



Two hours to get to an airport - twice as long as the flight to Wellington. Awaiting the next flight I quietly fumed. It is simply unreasonable, ridiculous. How did this city get into this state? And what can be done about it, quickly.



The problem is not the "bloody traffic", of course. It is a deficient transport planning. Anybody could see the growth of two and three-car households once we could buy vehicles on an open market.



My mood was not helped by contemplating how easily a market could solve the roading congestion. It would, of course, build more motorways - a market doesn't argue with people's plain preferences - but first it would put a price on them.



Auckland's whole problem might be solved by something as simple as a toll on the fast lanes.



Think about it. In any traffic snarl there are a certain number of people running late or losing money - tradesmen going to a job, company reps with one chance to make a sale, people with appointments, people with a non-transferable air ticket.



Put a price on the fast lane and those people would use it. As they moved out of the slow lanes the rest of the traffic would flow more smoothly.



Governments have long been advised to put some such price on roads. But National never found the courage and Labour is listening to the Greens, who don't want roads at any price.



Still, it is setting up an Auckland Regional Transport Authority under the ARC to help to spend the income from an extra petrol tax for the region's roads and public transport.



This week the ARC announced a panel of some notable business figures to help to select authority members of "demonstrated competencies". There is hope.