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RAM's visionary public transport strategy

RAM's visionary public transport strategy

by Grant Morgan RAM spokesperson

What¹s the thing you see everywhere in greater Auckland? Cars, of course. They¹re clogging the region¹s arteries and driving us all mad.

Everyone recognises the problem. But most local politicians are pushing for more motorways when every urban transport study around the world has shown that motorways grow cars. So their ³solution² would only make the problem worse.

And with the threat to life posed by global warming, it¹s criminal lunacy to pump more exhaust gases into the atmosphere.

Clearly, the only sustainable solution to car chaos is building a world-class public transport system that citizens want to ride on. But the political will to do this is sadly lacking.

The Auckland Regional Council¹s most important legal responsibility is transport. And the Labour government is giving greater transport powers to the ARC, along with more cash.

The ARC is to gain control of Infrastructure Auckland¹s assets of $1 billion. As well, the ARC will govern a new body called Auckland Regional Transport Authority. ARTA will centralise Auckland¹s fractured transport governance and enjoy access to an extra $1.62 billion in government funds over the next decade.

The local government minister, Chris Carter, says: ³ARTA¹s role will be to make operational decisions that give effect to Auckland¹s Regional Land Transport Strategy.²

At long last, it sounds like something positive is to be done about Auckland¹s car chaos. Beneath the surface, however, lurk some grave dangers.

For starters, ARTA is locked into the Regional Land Transport Strategy which, despite its name, isn¹t a coherent and sustainable strategy at all. It¹s a hodge-podge that¹s dominated by roads, not public transport.

The latest version of the Regional Land Transport Strategy, dated 2003, forecasts the cost of major transport projects in the decade ahead. Roading projects are to soak up $5.23 billion, while just $1.39 billion goes to public transport. According to these numbers, only 26% of funding will go to public transport.

And it gets worse as you dig deeper. The Eastern Motorway was costed at $700 million, whereas latest figures reach upwards of $3.9 billion. Including this cost blowout in our calculations, the ratio of funds going to public transport slides to a miserly 16%.

Of the $1.39 billion earmarked for public transport, the Regional Land Transport Strategy gives most to rail infrastructure and rolling stock. Yet rail projects are much costlier than buses and take far longer to become operational.

Only a pitiful $309 million is set aside for bus projects. That amounts to a stunningly tiny 3% of the total budget (including the Eastern Motorway blowout). Yet buying thousands of new buses, and running them in a grid pattern across the region, would be the quickest and cheapest way to end gridlock.

Being a hodge-podge, the Regional Land Transport Strategy does include some worthwhile and necessary projects. Overall, however, it keeps transport strategy hooked on cars instead of pointing the way out of Auckland¹s car chaos.

The Regional Land Transport Strategy takes us backwards, not forwards. Yet this is the strategy ARTA is supposed to follow.

The ARC is responsible for compiling the Regional Land Transport Strategy. So final blame for this backward-looking hodge-podge lies with ARC chair Gwen Bull and her ruling faction.

In line with a cabinet directive, the ARC¹s draft plan for 2004-05 says the council will ³revise the Regional Land Transport Strategy².

But can the very politicians who delivered such a backward-looking hodge-podge be trusted to ³revise² it? Just asking the question gives the answer.

We need a forward-looking strategy which shifts a large slice of funds from motorways to public transport. At its heart would be, say, a 10-fold rise in bus funding, from 3% to 30%, along with a doubling of rail spending to 20%. That would give half of the funding pie to public transport.

An entirely different transport strategy would emerge from this funding shift.

What would happen if we stopped the Eastern Motorway and put just a third of its estimated cost of $3.9 billion into buses? The ARC could buy, say, 5,000 buses and run them cheap or for free everywhere in built-up areas. By comparison, the near-monopoly private operator Stagecoach has less than 750 buses on Auckland streets.

5,000 ARC buses would bring frequent services within easy walking distance of every citizen in built-up areas. They would be modern, they would be cheap or free, they would take you anywhere ­ and they would be popular with most households who no longer had to finance a second or third car just to grow old in traffic jams.

Such a visionary transport strategy is needed to break Auckland¹s gridlock. And the only political group promoting such a strategy is RAM ­ Residents Action Movement.

The big business road lobby and their crony councillors will be fanatical opponents of RAM¹s strategy. Attacks will come from the likes of Business NZ and the Employers & Manufacturers Association ­ the same corporate lobbyists who praise the ARC¹s unjust rating policy.

RAM can withstand corporate attacks because our loyalty is to the grassroots majority, who will benefit financially from cheap or free buses. And our quality of life will improve as we fix gridlock and roll back the social isolation that cars impose on communities.

So it¹s vital that, come the October council elections, RAM candidates are voted in everywhere to replace the ARC¹s ruling faction. They¹ve inflicted unfair rate rises on most homeowners and, at the same time, have failed to shape a transport strategy to end car chaos.

They¹ve got to go so that Auckland can get moving. We¹ve got to RAM the ARC!

NOTE: Also available as a Word document - just email back. Free for publication so long as author acknowledged.

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