Why does every proposal to change the rules for car parking create such panic?
And why does the media feel the need to foster than panic? Last week RNZ's Corin Dann interviewed Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck about plans to prioritise buses on the roads, which will involve the removal of some car parks. When he put the case for better bus services to her, he said he was only "playing devil's advocate".
He's far from alone. The tenor of many reports on TV and radio and in print, including in this newspaper, has been that removing car parks is an outrage. One story even generated the headline: "Auckland street parking faces axe".
To my mind, that verges on the hysterical.
What's going on? Over the next 10 years, Auckland Transport (AT) wants to remove on-street parks on about three per cent of the city's roads. This will allow them to create more bus lanes and removing choke points on existing bus routes, including near shops, where a handful of parks force buses back into general traffic. There will also be more bike lanes.
Auckland Council's planning committee voted last week 13-10 to support the proposal going to public consultation. That is happening now.
This is a significant move. Council and AT want greater travel efficiency for the greatest possible number of people, lower carbon emissions and improved road safety and public health.
None of these goals is ridiculous. It isn't necessary to play "devil's advocate" to put the case for any of them.
Nor is it useful, as some have done, to say the people insisting on parking "rights" are "the public", while bus passengers are not. Isn't it obviously wrong to hold up a bus full of people because someone parks in the way?
Bus services have been improving year on year in this city, but until now two big issues have remained unresolved.
One is cost. Last month the Government addressed this on a temporary basis, in response to high petrol prices. For three months, all public transport fares are cut by 50 per cent.
But a short trial during a pandemic will tell us little. Only if the change is made permanent will it offer big savings to passengers and make a real difference to the appeal of buses and trains.
Mayoral candidates Efeso Collins and Leo Molloy both argue the Government should go further, by making fares free.
The second big problem is the time bus trips take. If it's much longer than the car, it's too hard. This is why the new plan is so valuable: if it's done properly, most buses will have a smooth clear run.
But somehow, this has been sabotaged by a panic about parking.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has some relevant insights to this. Its regular consumer surveys show about 70 per cent of New Zealanders want to take part in effective action to deal with climate change.
But fewer than 40 per cent of us think this means we should use less petrol.
No wonder there's confusion about AT's plans for bus lanes. The reality is, 40 per cent of Auckland's emissions come from transport: it is by far our biggest climate issue. For city folk, cars are our cows. The goal, by 2030, is to reduce Auckland transport emissions by 64 per cent.
This doesn't mean everyone has to catch the bus. But we do need much bigger numbers than now. In pre-Covid times, according to the 2018 Census, only 10.7 per cent of commuters use public transport of any kind and only 7.1 per cent were on a bus. The trend was upwards, but slowly.
We should be asking: What would it take to triple that? Or more? What if we said, over the next 10 years, let's transform the city so commuters will routinely prefer to use mass transit?
We'd have to make it safe and appealing for kids not to get routinely driven to school. We'd do much more walking and cycling. We'd choose the quickest and most cost-effective ways to build more transit lines (more on that soon). And we'd really boost our use of cheap, efficient buses.
But what about [insert your favourite problem here]? Okay, let's take the whatabouts.
To the butcher who told this paper last week his customers would disappear if they can't park outside the shop: No they won't.
His customers are locals. If they're on a bus, they'll get off, buy their meat and walk home. If they're at home during the day, they'll take a break and walk to the shops. Even if they do drive, they'll park somewhere nearby that isn't a busy arterial road.
We're changing the way we live and suburban shops are likely to become more important. But not because we drive a couple of blocks to get to them.
To the inner-city retailers also worried about losing car parks: "One car is one shopper. A bus full of people is a business." Deputy mayor Bill Cashmore said that last week, at the council meeting debating the issue.
To the disabled people who need to park close to where they're going: Provision can be made. This exact problem has been resolved for concert patrons at the town hall and it can be resolved elsewhere too.
To the people who live on a main road and have nowhere else to park: This is a 10-year plan for a reason. It gives residents and retailers time to make their own plans: off-road parking, perhaps, or, with better public transport on tap, some household may decide they don't need as many cars.
To the Park and Ride users who may have to pay a parking fee: It's a small price to pay, especially if bus and train fares are cheaper.
It sounds counter-intuitive: If we want to encourage people to use public transport, why add to their costs?
But public transport that results in more driving in the suburbs is not the goal. "First mile/last mile" travel between home and station should include more options like minibuses, safe cycling and scooter riding.
The Park and Ride fee won't kick in for a few years, which allows time for those options to be developed. AT must make that happen.
The principle should be: Pay more to use your car, pay less to ride on public transport.
To the people who think the consultation is a sham: It really isn't.
AT executive Andrew McGill says, "We do have a predetermined agenda. Our predetermined agenda is to create easy journeys for Aucklanders."
This has been interpreted to mean they don't care what people think. Leo Molloy has hit social media to say he's outraged. But read it again: that "agenda" isn't even controversial.
The fact is, the future of the plan will absolutely depend on what the public says. It's council election year and councillors will insist on it.
To the people who think their rates are being wasted: This is not one of those multi-billion-dollar projects. Turning road space into bus lanes and bike lanes is cheap and easy to do, and cheap and easy to undo if it doesn't work.
You do things, you improve them, you rinse and repeat. In a 10-year plan, it's an excellent way to make progress. Perfect is the enemy of good.
To the candidates for public office who oppose the plans but say they're in favour of climate action: No, you're not.
Better public transport is essential, and it won't be better if it isn't prioritised.
To the media who keep hitting the panic button: Peat bogs are on fire in Southland today and more wild weather is on its way for the rest of us. And yet, as that EECA data reveals, as a society we're really bad at linking what we do to its climate implications.
At some point we're going to have to get good at it. We could start now.