Simon Wilson: The transport plan that Auckland deserves


Just four weeks ago, Transport Minister Michael Wood and Auckland mayor Phil Goff announced new funding plans for transport in Auckland over the next 10 years. As reported, carbon emissions will rise by 6 per cent.

Yes, council policies and international commitments do require emissions to fall by around 70 per cent. Yes, the Government is legally required to produce an Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of the year.

The transport plan has an odd name: the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, or ATAP. Its content is even odder. Spending on trains, buses and ferries will fall by $360 million compared to the previous ATAP, in 2018. Spending on roads will rise by $367m.

Yes, the Government’s own Policy Statement on Land Transport does commit it to encouraging “mode shift” away from private motor vehicles.

We deserve better than this hypocrisy. Why haven’t the minister and the mayor insisted their officials produce a transport plan fit for purpose in the 2020s?

What would be in it? Here are seven suggestions, just for starters.

No Mill Rd

Mill Rd runs parallel to the Southern Motorway, connecting Manukau with the fast-growing residential and commercial expanses around Drury, near the Bombay Hills.

They’re going to spend $1.35 billion – that’s $65m per kilometre – upgrading it to a four-lane highway, demolishing 600 houses in the process. But they’re also adding more lanes to the motorway nearby and building two new railway stations.

“Committed spending” on new roads is the reason the new transport plan will not reduce climate change, and of those Mill Rd is the biggest. Yet the route isn’t finalised, not all the land has been purchased and construction contracts are not signed. It’s not too late to pull the plug.

A coalition group called All Aboard Aotearoa has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the project.

A Government serious about climate change would recognise that putting a big new highway through the district simply cannot be the plan for a climate-conscious future. All it will do is induce traffic: encourage more people to drive everywhere.

Some parts of the new suburbs are being designed for low car dependency, with good internal planning for bikes, walking and slow traffic. But it will count for little unless public transport becomes the best option for most Drury commuters heading north. A new highway has no part in that.

The lesson is plain at Hobsonville Point, which was designed as a slow traffic township but has very poor public transport. The place is chock full of cars.

Spend the money on cycling

The Mill Rd money would build a lot of cycleways around schools: safe cycling for kids is the key to behaviour change for many families.

It would allow much more safe cycling in and around shopping centres and busy roads, too. Including the inner city.

And it would put a cycleway on the harbour bridge. That’s the key to creating a citywide network for both commuting and recreation.

Bike Auckland has asked the Government for a three-month summer cycle lane trial on the bridge. They’re staging a rally to push the claim, Sunday May 30. The slogan: Liberate a Lane! Bring your bike.

Disincentivise driving

“Mode shift” takes time. It takes big infrastructure spending, too, because if we’re not going to drive everywhere we need good alternatives.

But it also takes a lot of little measures and a big campaign to educate and help people. It’s about having a plan, held up in public, to win hearts and minds to a new reality: not driving is better.

AT could work with businesses to eliminate as many company car parks as possible. Maybe they could subsidise AT HOP cards instead of car parks?

Low-traffic neighbourhoods, as proposed by the Helen Clark Foundation and as being trialled by the transport agency Waka Kotahi in Onehunga now, make streets safer and more amenable to every activity except driving. They flip the priorities. Let’s have a lot more.

In a similar way, many schools could forbid cars from getting too close.

Higher petrol prices seem politically unachievable – but if that’s true, then parking charges and congestion charging become more important. Driving is the main way in which Auckland produces greenhouse gas emissions. It shouldn’t be cheap.

Incentivise public transport

Frequent, affordable, safe, comfortable, handy and reasonably fast. And cool. Public transport has to be all those things and some of them are not expensive to provide.

Prioritise the green and red Link buses, so they become obviously the best way to get around town. Why isn’t this happening?

Meanwhile, Remuera has very good bus services, while Clendon, deep in South Auckland, not so much. That makes no sense.

Auckland Transport (AT) has increased bus patronage by improving service on the arterial routes, which is good. But why can’t people everywhere catch a bus or minibus or similar, within walking distance of their home, and take it to the local town centre or a train or rapid bus station?

What about fares? ATAP has cut fares for Community Service Card holders, which is great. But should they be abolished completely? We need to have that debate.

A more rapid transit network

Auckland’s rapid transit is on the move. The CRL is busy digging, rail electrification is being extended to Pukekohe and the new five-year Hamilton-Auckland commuter service Te Huia has begun.

Light rail will go through a six-month planning pressure cooker, with a Cabinet decision this year and “shovels in the ground” before the next election. Rapid busway infrastructure is pushing east, west and northwards.

A fit-for-purpose transport plan would supercharge all this. Especially with more services fast-tracked into the west, on the Shore, and throughout the east.

Electrify the fleets

Buses will be turning electric at a rate of 20-30 a year, which will not come close to replacing the fleet. That’s going to need a much bigger commitment.

Bring it on. Buses are vital but diesel buses are a polluting curse, especially in central Auckland.

As for the ferries, Fullers has a plan to build a full fleet of electric ferries, with local construction lined up. All it needs is $20m in seed funding for those construction companies. Honestly, what is the problem?

And where’s the end-date announcement for importing vehicles powered by fossil fuels? A fear of setting a realistic date now condemns us to a sudden cutoff later. Who wants that?

Banish business as usual

There’s a bigger issue beneath all this. Reducing emissions means travelling less: working more from home, shopping more locally, not driving the kids to school. Rethinking our lives and communities in ways that are much less car dependent.

For many people, electric vehicles will make it easier to do this. But they won’t solve the challenges of congestion, safety or health, and they could well widen the gap between the comfortably well-off and those who struggle.

Rethinking transport is hard. It’s not about giving up the little things we don’t need, but reorganising our lives so we can get through the day, try to prosper, hope to be happy, within planetary boundaries.

More importantly, it’s about expecting governments (and corporates and institutions) to provide the infrastructure and services that make the changes viable. You can’t put your kids on a bike if it’s not safe.

That’s why strategic spending plans are so critical. They mark the moments when we have the chance to reset.

Business as usual is the guiding principle of the new transport plan. They’ll deal with the reset another day. But BAU has to stop. Now.

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