Aucklanders Caught Between Tarseal-Addicted Government & Weak Mayor
- John Minto
Mayor 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 July 2013 Auckland Transport planners conceded that even with the extra $12 billion: "…the forecast performance of key parts of the transport system will be worse from 2031 than it is today". New Zealand Herald columnist Brian Rudman made the point that an earlier draft of this report was even more candid, admitting that: "Even with the fully-funded programme, road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100% on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels" (31/10/14, “Take The Revolutionary Road, Len”, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11350807).
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 means you get to the traffic jam quicker. The answer to Auckland’s traffic problems is to increase public subsidies for roads 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 Rightwing 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-dependent because public transport options are so poor. One mum I met in 2013 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.
Rightwing, User Pays Solution
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 Rightwing, user-pays solution rather than a bold public transport policy. So is the Government (which is on the side of Aucklanders against the proposal) really concerned for the impact that 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: “…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” (NZ Herald, 29/10/14, “Auckland Toll Plan Released”, Bernard Orsman, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11349967). National’s priority is for roads, roads and roads when the answer is to abandon new roading projects and use the money to decongest Auckland overnight.