As Auckland councillors have been voting on a budget for our city, they must be commended for their continued support for the City Rail Link (CRL), a game-changing piece of infrastructure that will reduce traffic, revitalise suburban town centres and unlock Auckland's potential.
A 3km rail tunnel connecting Britomart with the rail network at Mt Eden, the CRL will link the three disparate limbs of Auckland's rail network into a coherent whole. It will serve motorists just as well as rail commuters, and benefit the suburbs just as much as the city centre.
Auckland already has a 100km rail network. While rail usage is growing at over 15 per cent year on year, as long as the network finishes in a dead end at Britomart, Aucklanders will only ever be offered services on an infrequent timetable.
The CRL will change all this: by breaking the bottleneck at Britomart, Aucklanders will have access to trains running at five-minute frequencies.
Any new rail lines such as the proposed airport and North Shore lines are not possible without the CRL. This is therefore the foundational project that Auckland needs to develop a true "metro" public transport system, like those seen in all the world's most liveable cities. It's at the core of the Congestion-Free Network, a plan laid out by Generation Zero and Transport Blog to address Auckland's lack of public transport and show how major improvements are easily affordable within the current budget.
Investment in the CRL will not mean that Auckland motorists' concerns are neglected. Quite the opposite: international transport system research shows that widening roads is not the cure for traffic congestion. By encouraging more people to drive and failing to provide transport choice, heavy investment in roads only adds to traffic problems. Investment in rail takes large numbers of people off the road and reduces carbon pollution.
What is more, the CRL will not see suburban development sacrificed in favour of city centre development. The best way to spur renewed investment and development in our suburban centres is to give people access to frequent, quality public transport and watch the private investment that follows. Britomart's transformation since the opening of the rail station is an example of this - the CRL will be the impetus for similar town centre upgrades across Auckland.
In the short term, residents of West Auckland will arguably benefit the most from the CRL. Travel times by train from the west will be halved, in effect bringing this entire side of Auckland closer to the city. This represents an unrivalled opportunity for the west to prosper, particularly if a mix of affordable housing choices is offered near existing stations.
Let's also stick to the facts when it comes to funding: the CRL is not one of the factors putting pressure on the council's budget and leading to calls for motorway tolls and rate rises. Despite the alarmism promoted by its detractors, funding of the CRL will not influence rates in the city until it's open.
As a piece of capital investment, it is funded by a combination of development contributions and debt. This is separate from the spending that our rates fund. Those who suggest that today's funding for libraries and community services is to be sacrificed for tomorrow's funding of the CRL are peddling falsehoods.
The Government has not had the foresight to plan a single piece of public transport infrastructure in the country's biggest city during its six years in office. Instead, it has a myopic obsession with roading that sees it spend Auckland's share of national transport funding exclusively on motorways. The council's response needs to be to balance the transport budget with investment in public transport.
Auckland needs its rail link. Now is the time for the council to show leadership and not delay its completion.
Sudhvir Singh is a doctor at Auckland City Hospital. He is a director of Generation Zero, an organisation of young New Zealanders promoting solutions to climate change through transport, energy and healthy liveable cities. The Congestion-Free Network: www.congestionfree.co.nz