It has been an interesting year so far for Auckland’s public transport. Probably the biggest story of the year so far was the cancellation of the Regional Petrol Tax back in March, which put most of the public transport improvements that we can expect in the next few years, into doubt.
In the months since then it seems like everything has been about “cleaning up the mess” that Steven Joyce created in March through his transport announcements. Fortunately, most of the mess has now been cleaned up: with a decision on integrated ticketing being made last week, NZTA coming to the party and funding upgrades to Onehunga and New Lynn, the Manukau rail link going ahead, and funding for the below track part of electrification being outlined in the May budget. All we are really waiting for now is NZTA to confirm that they will provide the necessary funding subsidy for integrated ticketing (to be finalised in September I think) and for the funding of Auckland’s electric trains to be announced. Goodness knows when that will happen, although rumours suggest it might be this week.
So, we’re almost back to where we were a few months ago then. The question I wish to ask is “where to next?” It seems like the government is convinced that the money they’re going to spend on finishing ProjectDART (upgrades to the rail system that have been ongoing for the last few years) and electrification, that’s it. Auckland’s transport planning documents suggest that this is the case as well, with funding for public transport infrastructure after electrification is complete almost disappearing. As a public transport advocate I think it’s important for me to state that I believe we’re only at the beginning of this process to truly create a top-class public transport system for Auckland. Electrification and ProjectDART cannot be seen as endpoints, but rather the first step of a process. We must develop a vision for how we want Auckland’s public transport system to look like in 30-40 years time, and work out how we’re going to get there. With higher fuel prices a certainty in the future, combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from our transport sector, I think that it’s critical that we back up the “talk” of quantum shifts with a real plan. And we fix our broken funding system to ensure that the money’s available to do it.
Unfortunately, I doubt the current government has the vision or desire to do anything more than the bare minimum when it comes to public transport. Maybe a future Super-City Council will be just what we need to push the need for better public transport?