In 2006 the ruling centre-left coalition in Stockholm, led by the Social Democratic Party, introduced congestion charges in the central city. They hadn't campaigned on it, but their partners the Greens insisted. Only a third of the population was in favour.
Mayor Annika Billstrom fronted the proposal. We need this, she told the city. We're sorry we didn't get a mandate to do it but we're going to trial it now and after that trial, at the time of the next election, we'll have a referendum. If you don't like it, you can vote no to the charges and you can vote us out of office too.
The trial lasted seven months. The centre-right mounted a hostile political and legal response. Even the head of the Congestion Charging Office was opposed: privately he called the plan "the most expensive way ever devised to commit political suicide".
He was right and wrong. The SocDems lost the election, in the city and nationally. But the congestion charging referendum was passed with 53 per cent support.
The trial had reduced traffic counts by 22 per cent, leading to a 35 per cent reduction in travel times. It turned out that people would embrace change once they discovered it was good for them. It's reasonable to assume the electorate had other reasons for rejecting the centre left that year.
The Moderate Party that won the election had opposed the scheme but pledged to support the outcome of the referendum. So it did. The charges became permanent; all parties eventually supported them and so, within a few years, did more than 70 per cent of the population.
It wasn't just the traffic that improved. Carbon emissions were reduced by 30 per cent and deaths related to carbon pollution fell too. Surveys showed people liked the safer, calmer, cleaner environment of the central city. And – my goodness, could it be true? – retail did not suffer.
Brave leadership. And smart leadership. When it comes to Auckland transport and city building, we've got glimmers of that happening here right now. But we need a lot more.
Bravery from those in power to do the right thing. The smarts from those who want power not to oppose the right thing, just for cheap political gain.
Maybe we should ask Billstrom if she'd like to become our mayor.
Auckland's transport crisis runs extremely deep and is many-sided. It includes congestion, carbon emissions, health and public safety. It exposes a deeply fractured community, the entrenchment of vested interests and a sometimes paralysing avoidance of risk.
Reports get written, always with a strong expression of good intentions and sometimes with good proposals. Mostly, though, even when the good happens, it isn't good enough.
Transport and political courage too often seem like a bridge too far to cross (and I'm not even going to mention the harbour bridge).
The carbon reduction plan
The Ministry of Transport released a green paper on May 14 called Hīkina e Kohupara: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050. A green paper is a document for debate: it's not Government policy, but sets out options for how policy might be achieved. Well, that's the theory.
Hīkina te Kohupara is an important step forward: it signals a government intent on progress.
The paper contains four "pathways" for getting to the Government's stated goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and the much more urgent goal of a 50 per cent cut in transport emissions by 2035.
But of the four, only one hits that 2035 target.
Three of the four options the ministry has given the Government will not meet the stated goals of its own policy. More to come in a future piece on this, too.
The move to electric buses
The Government has declared that all new buses will be electric from 2025, and made funding available for that. It says the target is "complete decarbonisation of the public transport bus fleet by 2035". Auckland Transport is already buying e-buses and, it says, they will soon account for half of all the bus trips on Queen St.
That's progress. But AT has 1350 buses in its fleet and it's buying only 30 new ones a year. At that rate, it will be 45 years before the changeover is complete.
The climate action plan
Auckland Council has a climate change policy, called Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri, that aims for a citywide reduction in carbon emissions of 64 per cent by 2030. That's excellent.
But when those new e-buses were launched in April, a senior manager at Auckland Transport told me there was no need to worry about slow progress, because change will "naturally occur".
She was referring to the rise of electric vehicles, especially cars and buses.
It's hard to see why. In that green paper, the MoT's most ambitious option expects only 27 per cent of the private vehicle fleet to be electric by 2035.
The bus changeover is slow. And there's no commitment at all to help people buy the electric vehicle that genuinely could make a big difference to emissions, and to congestion, safety and health: e-bikes.
The road transport plan
As reported today, Auckland Transport has decided to delay completion of the enormously important Eastern Busway, a new rapid transit service that will connect Panmure to Botany. Spending on other public transport and community projects is also delayed.
Councillors were dismayed, especially as some of them only received the news in a Planning Committee meeting, where they were being asked to sign off on the new Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). The delays make a mockery of most of their good intentions.
But they voted for the RLTP anyway. They did not say: wait, stop. If these are the only outcomes we can have, we're doing it all wrong.
Cr Pippa Coom told AT that strategies to reduce emissions had to focus on reducing car dependency. But there's very little about that in the RLTP.
The plan goes to the Auckland Transport board on Monday, for final sign off. Stand by for a full report.
The new minister
There are some genuinely hope-inducing glimmerings of courage. Transport Minister Michael Wood has revised Auckland's big roading spending downwards, given a push to moving more freight to rail and has a process under way, finally, to start work on light rail for Auckland. All very good.
Under Wood, plans that allowed for rising transport emissions have been amended and will now, for the first time in the city's history, show a decline.
But it's only by 1 per cent.
Channelling Billstrom, however, there did seem to be tentative cross-party support for congestion charging at a parliamentary select committee meeting in Auckland this week.
The Ministry of Transport and others have come up with a plan that will address equity issues, catch rat-running drivers who want to avoid paying and reduce Auckland traffic to school holiday levels. A good version of the idea, in other words.
The MPs know there will be howls of outrage. But they just might be up for it. Let's call it Stockholm syndrome, the transport edition.