Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Aucklanders caught between a tarseal-addicted government and a weak mayor

 Auckland mayor Len Brown

By John Minto, Daily Blog, October 30, 2014

Len Brown’s proposal for motorway tolls to reduce congestion and provide funding for better public transport is a weak response to a critical issue.

The $12 billion dollar shortfall on transport funding he talks about is mainly for projected new road projects with less than a third of that amount for improving public transport. And yet city planners freely admit that even if Auckland builds all these new roads the government wants congestion will continue to get worse.

In fact no city anywhere in the world has tarsealed its way out of congestion – it simply doesn’t work.

The bigger a city gets the more cars that use the roads and building new roads just mean you get to the traffic jam quicker.

The answer to Auckland’s traffic problems is to increase public subsidies for [buses] and trains from 50% to 100%. In other words make public transport free of charge. This would cost less than half the projected spending on new roads which would not be needed as commuters get out of their cars in droves to use modern, free and frequent buses, trains and ferries.

It provides a win-win outcome for Aucklanders with benefits to the environment and giving all of us up to an hour a day extra at home instead of crawling along a motorway.

Even the most right-wing reprobate who would never sully a seat on a bus or train would benefit by being able to drive on congestion-free motorways.

The worst thing about Brown’s proposal is that those paying the most for tolls will be families living the farthest from their jobs. This is typically low-income families from South and West Auckland who are car-dependant because public transport option are so poor. One mum I met last year worked four hours a day cleaning the central library after driving in from Mangere (cheaper than taking the bus). She and other low-income workers would pay the lion’s share of the tolls needed to fund Len Brown’s transport deficit.

In private Len Brown is happy to talk about free public transport and sees its immediate benefits but he’s not a strong leader and his lack of courage means he prefers to front a right-wing, user-pays solution than a bold public transport policy.

So is the government (which is on Aucklanders’ side against the proposal) really concerned for the impact tolls will have on low-income families as Transport Minister Simon Bridges says?

Not a chance. Bridges and former Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee both speak against tolling existing motorways because they are worried at the reaction from Aucklanders. If public opinion moves further against tolls they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the argument.

So what’s John Key’s solution? Reduce the amount of the transport deficit by scrapping or delaying public transport initiatives and keep pouring money into new roads. Yes it’s brainless and self-defeating but it will keep business happy in the short term.

Bridges put it this way yesterday –

    “…the National-led Government is spending more than ever before to help build the city’s transport network; around a billion dollars a year. These include very large projects like the Waterview Connection, the widening of the North Western Motorway, the electrification of commuter rail, and the acceleration of motorway projects on the Northern and Southern Corridors.”

National’s priority for roads, roads and roads when the answer is to abandon new roading projects and use the money to decongest Auckland overnight.

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