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.