Read between the lines - rail is dead
AT needs to drop romantic idea of trains and trams rescuing Auckland and optimise wheels on roads.
Thanks to the national transport planners, the part of Auckland that is probably best served by public transport is the one part that has no railway. The North Shore’s busway is probably the fastest flowing artery in the region and it is about to get better. AT has posted out a plan to Shore households this month that simplified all bus routes into loops between busway stations. It looks ideal.
Transport planners can do so much more with wheels on roads that it is hard to fathom their attachment to iron rails. Trains have a romantic hold on the human imagination, mine included. Long-distance rail journeys are some of the happiest travel I have had. But the romance shouldn’t blind so many to its limitations, particularly in this country.
The narrow gauge railway system laid through New Zealand in the 19th century is a dog, not just for urban commuting but obviously for national freight too. The present Government put more than $1 billion into a “turnaround” plan for Labour’s renationalised KiwiRail in its early budgets. We have never heard where that money went.
The company got another $400 million committed in the latest Budget with no talk of a turnaround any more. Two private operators could not make the railway pay for its maintenance and now the system is back to where it was in the 1970s, sucking on taxpayers for its survival.
An underground link to give Auckland’s lines a central turning loop is said to be the key to unlocking their potential for urban commuters. It’s not. It would remove just one of several reasons the trains are too slow.
Light rail in the streets with traffic and stoplights is even slower. Yet the fascination remains. Something about iron tracks makes them hard to let go. They may be a solid line to other places and to the past, but they’ve had their day.
Even worse than the total waste of ratepayers’ money that is the CRL, and light rail for that matter, is that these schemes have put paid to what was an excellent plan by Auckland Transport to make the bus system work that could have been delivered for a tenth of the projected cost of the CRL.
All this is making me wonder why we have public transport at all in a world where people are willing and able to make their own decisions about how to get from A to B and pay for them. There are so many options available now - cars, motorbikes, mopeds, cycles - and soon we will have driverless cars. It makes me wonder if the massive subsidised cost of public transport can be justified at all.
What we should be doing in a rapidly changing world is developing the most flexible and cheapest solution (buses) until its time to phase out public transport altogether. Then we could see rates paying for the core infrastructure it's supposed to be used for, rates would reduce to sensible levels and everyone would have more money in their pockets to pay for transport solutions that fit their own circumstances. Best of all we could get rid of those costly and unnecessary transport planners.