What is it with Auckland and public transport? The two seem to go together like Catholicism and contraception. No matter what logic, rationale or overwhelming support from the people for change, there always seems to be some high priest standing in the way, promising an eternity of hellfire and Sensing Murder replays should anyone challenge the status quo.
It happened again this week after the proposal to build a rather wonderful pedestrian and cycle path over the Harbour Bridge. That's right, a project offering folk the option of being able to walk or bike between Auckland City and the North Shore, rather than being forced to travel by car or bus. Pretty heady stuff, I know. Retro and futuristic at the same time. Just imagine. Wow. Walking.
Anecdotal evidence suggests Aucklanders love the idea. Mayor Len Brown has spoken about it warmly, re-iterating his support for harbour crossing options. National's Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye was in attendance when the plans were unveiled. But, as usual, some arch-bishop of orthodoxy has stepped in to play spoiler. Can't afford it, says transport committee chair Mike Lee. End of story.
Is it just me, or have we heard the same reason for not developing Auckland's public transport system for the past 50 years? Wasn't Mayor Robbie thwarted from implementing a rapid rail network? Haven't successive governments and councils continued to hurl it into the too-hard basket? Result? A city choking on its own vehicle congestion, with one of the worst transport systems going around.
Mayor Robbie's critics used to say he was ahead of his time. Maybe it was just that they were stuck in the past, unable to comprehend the impact of a rapidly changing environment? In 1968, 22 percent of Auckland trips were conducted on public transport. According to the 2006 census results, only six percent of us bother now. And that's including the Minute, now a fully paid-up member of the carless minority.
I don't know about you, but it seems Auckland's public transport still leaves a lot to be desired, despite the attention it receives. The rail option is disconnected and unreliable, the bus system fractured; the task of trying to get from the North Shore to the airport an exercise in hope. And yet Transport Minister Steven Joyce has the temerity to claim the PT option is not popular.
Excuse me? He's got to be joking, hasn't he? This one's not about popularity, it's about Aucklanders having little or no choice but to use cars. Joyce's doctrine reads like some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Spurn investment in public transport, encourage everyone to use cars and, when that inevitably becomes a problem, build more roads and promote even more cars.
That's at least one reason why the proposed harbour bridge cycleway/pathway deserves our support. Anything that encourages people to perambulate or cycle rather than sitting around in traffic jams has to be good for all concerned. Not only a fantastic extension to the city's waterfront development, but an important policy step in the right direction.
And at $23 million? Sounds like a steal. Let's just hope that if it does somehow get off the ground, city councillor Cathy Casey's plea for free access for all is embraced and implemented. Forget the idea of extracting a toll from users and, by definition, making it unaffordable for some. Far better to use a portion of the already-forecasted congestion charges that CBD-bound motorists will soon start paying.
What's that you say? You wouldn't want to hold your breath? I hear you. Trouble is, if something doesn't change soon, we'll all have to.
Images supplied by Copeland Associates Architects.