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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

OPINIONSocietyJune 14, 2023

Auckland Transport’s selective hearing problem

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Across the city, proposed improvements are being delayed and debated to death. But one decision out west shows it doesn’t have to be this way.

Auckland Transport loves a consultation. And based on form, it’s easy to believe that these public consultations largely end up delaying, watering down, or outright cancelling proposals that cause any inconvenience to car drivers.

So when I received the email titled “Te Atatū Peninsula Bus Priority/T2 Lanes feedback report”, I warmed up my eye-rolling muscles, preparing to vent about the cancellation of necessary improvements to the single road in and out of our MDRS-crammed peninsular suburb.

If the local Facebook community page is any measure, I was prepared for the feedback to be near universally negative. Earlier this year, one lane was closed for a couple of days due to footpath remediation work, causing delays of 20 to 30 minutes in the morning rush. So now the community (or at least the community page) is convinced the T2 lane will cause the same thing to happen – even though it dedicates a full lane for buses and for cars with two or more people during rush hour.

“The already crazy peak hour [traffic] getting into and out of the Peninsula is going to get worse!”; “They never listen to anyone. Waste of time.”; and “Muppets” were among the least sweary comments on the Te Atatū Peninsula Facebook page.

Sure enough, around 65% of 331 responses (the suburb had a population of 13,000 at the last census, probably more like 15,000 now) to the official feedback process said they either “oppose” or “strongly oppose” the proposed transit lanes on Te Atatū Road:

Most respondents oppose the proposed changes.

Imagine my incredible surprise then to read the email that accompanied the feedback report. Firstly, Auckland Transport points out that the majority of opposition came from people who never ride the bus:

“While there was opposition to bus priority/T2 lanes on Te Atatū Road, the feedback showed that 59% of people who strongly opposed the proposal never use public transport and 17% used it monthly or less.”

It then notes that mode-shift is the most logical way to ease the congestion respondents are complaining about:

“The bus priority/T2 lanes, along with the additional bus priority lanes along SH16, will improve bus journey times making public transport a more attractive option than driving. As bus patronage increases, as we expect it will, fewer cars on the road will make it easier for people who need to drive around the peninsula.”

And completing the slam dunk, a final paragraph that I can only translate as “A majority of people who bothered to submit were strongly opposed to the T2 lane but looking at the actual evidence and forecasts, we’re going to do it anyway.”

“We anticipate that this project would begin construction in the second half of 2023.”

Who knew that Auckland Transport had this kind of determination and resolve? Like a buff former-nerd at a high school reunion, it just stood up to its bullies, ran with the evidence, and did the right thing.

Why now, though? It could easily have pulled out its standard back-down when faced with the smallest amount of consultation pushback. Something along the lines of: “OK, we’ll reconsider and come back with a new plan.”

Us Westies are used to being ignored by Auckland Transport. We’re bearing the brunt of intensification, are dealing with a barely functioning public transport system, and to top it all off, this is the same suburb that has campaigned for over 10 years to have lower speed zones applied, so kids can walk and bike safely to school and residents can get around in low-carbon, low-key ways. Yet we see those 30km/h zones rolled out across Mt Eden and Pt Chevalier, while the speed limit is still 50km/h down every dead-end street in our peninsula.

Looking at the map of “safer speed zones”, you have to wonder if we did something to annoy Auckland Transport:

Dean Kimpton, give me a call sometime?

So what makes this particular T2 lane important enough for AT to roll out over community grumbles, when more significant improvements across the city are being debated and delayed despite deep community support? For example, AT has largely ignored a decade of strong public support for the inner west cycle network (at last count, over 50 community groups are begging for that work to get under way), the minute one voice is raised against them.

Could it be that the buff former-nerds at Auckland Transport are comfortable doing the right thing, in terms of basic physics and road safety, in communities that they know won’t overreact with sledgehammers and protest banners, while still cowering to the minority voices that have somehow cornered the uninformed consultation market elsewhere?

A healthy city doesn’t consult on every inch of sewer pipe or power line. It just plans and delivers. We’re stoked to have this little bit of transport improvement in our suburb, and I hope Auckland Transport (and the overseers in Auckland Council) retain the bravery to continue pushing past uninformed reckons to confidently deliver the change we all need.

Keep going!