Politics

Patronise us all you like, Mr Bridges, but that won’t magic up a serious plan for Auckland transport

The Minister of Transport chided Generation Zero yesterday for urging a place for rail on a new harbour crossing. Here, two Gen-Zeroers hit back, saying his remarks lay bare an absence of strategic thinking.

The story of Auckland is too often one of missed opportunities. And there is little cause to hope that the current Minister of Transport might buck that trend if his latest comments are a guide.

On the question of a new Waitemata Harbour crossing, Simon Bridges yesterday told the NZ Herald that Auckland should be less focused on a rail line. We should instead be looking at other transport options that were around the corner, such as autonomous buses, he suggested.

The minister noted in particular his disappointment that Generation Zero was pushing for “rail technologies used since the 1860s … You’d hope that Gen Zero would be advocating for other options to be considered.”

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 1:  Minister Sanjeev Balyan, Indian Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer Welfare and New Zealand Transport Minister, Simon Bridges during the the signing of the New Zealand-India Air Services Agreement at The Langham Hotel Auckland on May 1, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. Mukharjee is on a three-day visit to New Zealand. (Photo by Doug Sherring - Pool/Getty Images)

Simon Bridges prepares to sign a thing at a thing. Photo: Doug Sherring / Getty Images

His statements, however, miss the bigger picture. Auckland has started to move again since we began investing in an efficient public transport network. It needs to continue to do so.

Transport Blog on Monday published documents indicating that the NZTA may designate nothing more than a road-only option for the new additional harbour crossing. It highlights the fact that the minister appears not to have a comprehensive plan for our city’s transport future.

Fortunately, we do, and it’s called the Congestion Free Network.

The Congestion Free Network is a costed plan for the staged investment in public transport corridors all over Auckland, with high frequency turn up and go all-day services. These corridors would include electrified rail to Mt Roskill and Pukekohe, busways to Silverdale, Kumeu and Botany, rail to the airport, light rail along Dominion Rd, an extensive ferry network and, yes, rail to the North Shore.

The proof that this will work is right before our eyes. When Auckland invests in high-quality public transport, demand is outstripping services. The Northern Busway is jam-packed bringing more people into the city than ever before. The bus network is reaching its breaking point with March Madness turning into May-mayhem, and patronage on the newly electrified rail network is going through the roof.

Aucklanders want to see smart solutions to our transport woes by investing in the options that for years have been consistently underfunded by previous Governments: rail, buses, ferries, cycling and walking. The minister needs to get on board with this plan. That would look like his outright support for rail to the North Shore as part of the new Harbour Crossing.

When we first built a harbour crossing, building a road-only bridge has been seen in retrospect as one of the most glaring mistakes made in developing our city’s transport network. Decades later, with the addition of the Northern Busway and the soon to be built Skypath, we are still struggling to rectify this shortsightedness. We cannot afford to make that same mistake again.

No new technology matches the speed, capacity and high frequency possible with a modern driverless rail solution. Cities like Vancouver, Copenhagen and Dubai, have learnt this lesson, and have recently rolled out new driverless metro rail lines, with many more in the planning. New technology will increasingly be an option for people, but it will cater for the last mile rather than the full journey. This is the experience of companies like Uber, who have found customers using their service for short trips to stations to catch a train

The issue at hand though is whether the NZTA will progress a road-only harbour crossing. The agency told the Herald that they have not ruled it out, but the documents do leave the impression that this is the plan, leaving Auckland Transport to try to sort out a public transport crossing at a later date. This would be ill-considered and unnecessarily rushed, with the multibillion-dollar Western Ring route not opening until next year. This was progressed as it offered north to south traffic the opportunity to bypass the bridge, thus reducing pressure on the bridge and roads around it.

NZTA and Auckland Transport should be working together to progress a rail crossing. Advancing a road-only designation for a new harbour crossing will result in a wasteful duplication of effort if rail is to be advanced at a later date. It also risks rail being crowded out of the designs, making it much more expensive if is added.

NZTA haven’t even shown how the surrounding gridlocked motorways and city centre streets would handle the extra traffic created by a road only crossing. Auckland needs to be solving the congestion issues, not just adding to the problems.

The missing link is a rail connection to the North Shore. It should be at the top of the Minister of Transport’s priority list. Unfortunately, his recent comments indicate he’s more interested in diverting the conversation over the Harbour crossing than getting on board with solving Auckland’s congestion problems. The train is leaving the station minister; it’s time to get on board.

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