Auckland. Photo: Getty

Why OpenTheBooks is taking aim at Auckland Transport

A couple of months ago Hayden Donnell wrote a scathing, sardonic opinion piece about the newly launched lobby group OpenTheBooks. It was a ghastly and unfair misrepresentation of a noble campaign for an inquiry into Auckland Transport, ripostes Clive Matthew-Wilson.

I’ve been an active supporter of environmental causes for 45 years, from organising Greenpeace concerts to defending cyclists’ rightspedestrians’ rights and pointing out why we need more public transport rather than more cars.

So, it was disappointing to be attacked for correctly pointing out that the buffoons who run Auckland Transport can’t be trusted.

As anyone who’s read my report will know, Auckland Transport (AT) has shown itself to be arrogantwasteful, inefficient, uncaring and even corrupt. Sadly, the government and the Greens are, in my view, making it worse.

Imagine if a foreign corporation left itself open to accusations it secretly influenced prominent politicians and another corporation appeared to have influenced a law change that allowed motor vehicles to legally drive down footpaths. The Greens would scream in protest, right?

Sadly, no. These, and other serious matters, are detailed in the report from the OpenTheBooks, which calls for an inquiry into Auckland Transport and which we have published here.

It also notes how, despite a judge declaring that powered scooters are unquestionably motor vehicles, another foreign corporation managed to get e-scooters on to footpaths, thanks to intervention from a former president of the Labour Party.

I’m not against e-scooters, but I do believe in the precautionary principle: corporations need to prove that a product is safe before it is released into the environment.

Kneejerk reactions

Sadly, there’s a group of Greens that operate like some primitive immune system, rushing to attack anyone who dares question their current collective beliefs.

For example, transport planner Bevan Woodward attacked councillor Mike Lee for questioning the science behind AT’s plans to lower speed limits. Woodward described Auckland’s streets as “traffic sewers for moving cars”, adding: “I commend AT for their leadership”.

However, Woodward was very careful not to propose speed limits for bicycles.

Few people would argue that cyclists have been persecuted minority for 50 years. Therefore, cycle lanes have become a powerful symbol of the resurgence of cycling. That’s probably why cyclists tend to support Auckland Transport, even when AT’s projects are complete fuckups.

Take the Grey Lynn cycleway, for example.

The Grey Lynn cycleway initially enjoyed support from many Grey Lynn residents and businesses. However, it cost millions, caused massive disruption and nearly sent several businesses bankrupt. Few cyclists use the cycleway daily.

Journalist Simon Wilson described it as a “fiasco”.

It has been estimated that a redesign and reconstruction of the cycleway will cost up to $35 million. And the same pattern of inept design has been repeated in cycleways across Auckland.

Worse, the Greens’ enthusiasm for the grand waterfront cycleway appears to have blinded them to the gradual takeover of the waterfront by commercial interests.

However, one of the biggest impediments to commuting by bicycle in Auckland is the fact that AT’s buses won’t carry most bikes. Really.

This fact is rarely mentioned because many cycling campaigners live in the central city, where commutes between home, work and recreation tend to be short and simple.

But most Aucklanders can’t afford to live in the inner city. Despite traffic congestion, taking public transport is currently about twice as slow in Wellington compared to driving, and probably far slower in Auckland, with its laughably slow and unreliable train system.

Don Brash, Clive Matthew-Wilson and Lisa Prager at the launch of anti-AT group OpenTheBooks. Photo: RNZ / Matthew Theunissen

Safer options

Let’s be perfectly clear. Cars, pedestrians, e-scooters and bikes are a bad mix.

However, many of the fans of a lower speed limit for cars are also supporters of e-scooters and bikes on footpaths.

And, while the speed limits on cars will be real, there are no current limits on the speed of bikes and only pretend limits for e-scooters.

Unholy alliances

Auckland Transport does not operate alone: it’s part of a coterie that includes Auckland City Council, New Zealand Transport Agency and Housing New Zealand.

And, many of their projects don’t add up.

For example, the proposed Dominion Road to airport light rail project makes no economic sense whatsoever. The alternative: a simple rail connection from the airport to a nearby station has everything going for it. Why does the government persist with the light rail proposal?

The simplest answer that we can find is that the Britomart-Māngere airport light rail project is primarily a property development scheme.

And, those Greens who believe Auckland’s future lies in apartment buildings, should first read the grim history of similar projects in the UK.

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Bad behaviour

One of AT’s enthusiastic supporters recently accused me of having veered into some horrifically offensive amateur brain science on the poor. My crime was pointing out the well-established fact that high risk groups almost invariably ignore road safety messages.

But don’t take my word for it: a 2009 AA analysis highlighted that many fatal accidents were caused by: “people who don’t care about any kind of rules. These are men who speed, drink, don’t wear safety belts, have no valid licence or WoF – who are basically renegades. They usually end up wrapped around a tree, but they can also overtake across a yellow line and take out other motorists as well.”

Clive Matthew-Wilson is a road safety campaigner, editor of dogandlemon.com, author of constitution.org.nz and founder of openthebooks.co.nz


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