Sins of the fathers…

Labour wants it, sort of. Aucklanders deserve it.  New Zealand First at this stage at least, has blocked it.  As a result, Auckland’s roads are quite simply,  constipated. It could be the increase in  car commuting  but also rapid population growth.

In  2000, the population of the city was 1,193,000.  18  years later it was 1,606, 564, a a 31% increase, according to  Statistics New Zealand.That explains a lot about the need for  rapid rail, but the figures don’t get much attention when our pollies quibble and delay rapid rail.

Somehow the  figures on car ownership, its increase  and what it means to Auckland seem to have stopped in 2015.  And oddly enough,  Stats – which counts just about everything, doesn’t know what the number is, because – well because it just doesn’t.   One transport organisation receptionist  wasn’t programmed for the irony of telling a caller:  ‘Your call cannot proceed at this time because of congestion’.

However Massey University’s  Environmental Health Indicator  did point   out that  between the years 2000 to 2015, the number of motor vehicles in the country  increased by 44% from 2.7 million, to 3.9 million in  2015. It’s probably much more now.

Which takes us  back to  rapid rail. Former  Auckland City Councillor Mike Lee wrote in his blog that the history of Auckland’s planned underground rail link goes back almost 90 years.

‘Such a scheme was first proposed by Minister of Railways (later Prime Minister) Gordon Coates as early as 1923.  In the late 1940s the Ministry of Works refined the scheme which was accepted by all parties for nearly 10 years before being killed off by the National Government of  Syd Holland in 1954 – unfortunately  with the active compliance of the then Auckland City Council.

‘Again in the late 1960s the Auckland Regional Authority and NZ Railways worked up another plan, again with an underground loop known as ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’.  This in turn was killed off in 1975 by the newly elected National government of Robert Muldoon’.  (Sins of the Fathers – the fall and rise of rail transit in Auckland). In 2005 John Key’s National government  blocked it again…’  And last month  it ran off the rails  of Government  when NZ First blocked  and made a mockery  of its name. Sigh.

Sometimes informal  encounters  with the powerful  can linger long after the official, usually dull speeches are given. In these moments they display their  humanity in  various forms –  humility (rare), contrition (when they must) and anger – at least in private.

One of those moments came when the Herald sent me to cover a reception thrown by Robbie’s Town Hall for the new PM Robert Muldoon.   Robbie, the  man who frequently  walked up Queen Street bare-chested, took me to a corner of the reception room and and spluttered: “Paul, that little Bastard over there” he said, nodding his head towards  Muldoon, “he’s just killed off my rapid rail”.

Any Aucklander could understand his vehemence – and that was long before the traffic jams of today. By then we had lost all things sensible: trams (last running in Auckland in 1956) and electric buses. The disappearance of trams on  Auckland’s  roads were marked by crowds mourning their collective loss and  decrying the lack  of  foresight and imagination by local and national leaders.

So now  Aucklanders are paying the  price, not only in  motorway gridlock but  within the city. Drive through most inner streets and you see something which never existed in say, ten years.   Most cars are parked bumper to bumper in stationary gridlock.  If you’re lucky, you might  find one space in a crowded city street.

By now we’re  tired of plans aborted by  Wellington politicians, most of them blue. At the very least they can open the purse strings, not just because of  dense traffic but also because of  the health problems  of  increased air pollution.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.