Aucklanders caught between a tarseal-addicted government and a weak mayor



Len Brown’s proposal for motorway tolls to reduce congestion and provide funding for better public transport is a weak response to a critical issue.

The $12 billion dollar shortfall on transport funding he talks about is mainly for projected new road projects with less than a third of that amount for improving public transport. And yet city planners freely admit that even if Auckland builds all these new roads the government wants congestion will continue to get worse.

In fact no city anywhere in the world has tarsealed its way out of congestion – it simply doesn’t work.

The bigger a city gets the more cars that use the roads and building new roads just mean you get to the traffic jam quicker.

The answer to Auckland’s traffic problems is to increase public subsidies for roads and trains from 50% to 100%. In other words make public transport free of charge. This would cost less than half the projected spending on new roads which would not be needed as commuters get out of their cars in droves to use modern, free and frequent buses, trains and ferries.

It provides a win-win outcome for Aucklanders with benefits to the environment and giving all of us up to an hour a day extra at home instead of crawling along a motorway.

Even the most right-wing reprobate who would never sully a seat on a bus or train would benefit by being able to drive on congestion-free motorways.

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The worst thing about Brown’s proposal is that those paying the most for tolls will be families living the farthest from their jobs. This is typically low-income families from South and West Auckland who are car-dependant because public transport option are so poor. One mum I met last year worked four hours a day cleaning the central library after driving in from Mangere (cheaper than taking the bus). She and other low-income workers would pay the lion’s share of the tolls needed to fund Len Brown’s transport deficit.

In private Len Brown is happy to talk about free public transport and sees its immediate benefits but he’s not a strong leader and his lack of courage means he prefers to front a right-wing, user-pays solution than a bold public transport policy.

So is the government (which is on Aucklanders’ side against the proposal) really concerned for the impact tolls will have on low-income families as Transport Minister Simon Bridges says?

Not a chance. Bridges and former Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee both speak against tolling existing motorways because they are worried at the reaction from Aucklanders. If public opinion moves further against tolls they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the argument.

So what’s John Key’s solution? Reduce the amount of the transport deficit by scrapping or delaying public transport initiatives and keep pouring money into new roads. Yes it’s brainless and self-defeating but it will keep business happy in the short term.

Bridges put it this way yesterday –

“…the National-led Government is spending more than ever before to help build the city’s transport network; around a billion dollars a year. These include very large projects like the Waterview Connection, the widening of the North Western Motorway, the electrification of commuter rail, and the acceleration of motorway projects on the Northern and Southern Corridors.”

National’s priority for roads, roads and roads when the answer is to abandon new roading projects and use the money to decongest Auckland overnight.


  1. I was recently in Italy, and was impressed by the way they’ve made public transport the obvious choice for commuters. In Rome you pay 1.5 Euros (less than $2.50) for a ticket that gives you 90 minutes on any combination of buses, metros or trams. Compare that with, say, the $6 fare on the ferry from the CBD to Devonport.
    It’s pretty obvious that if you make public transport free or very cheap, only a masochist will want to struggle through traffic then hunt for a parking spot at the other end. Why is this concept so hard for our city “planners” to grasp?

    • Why is this concept so hard for our city “planners” to grasp?

      Going to full public transport would kill the oil companies in NZ. Also consider the loss of jobs that would occur. Gas stations, mechanics, panel beaters, and other cars service businesses. Insurance companies would also take a dive as hundreds of millions of dollars would be wiped from their yearly balance sheets.

      Governments are absolutely terrified of such change and not because of the loss of jobs but because the shareholders would lose millions/billions of paper wealth. It’s one of the reasons why they push individualism – it costs more per person and so pushes profits up and thus we get rich people and the governments rule for the rich.

      • And how often would those of us out in the sticks/Styx actually SEE ‘public transport’? Or will we be catching the school bus along with the kids?

        Also: unless something amazing happens with ‘public transport’ we won’t be struggling prams, wheelchairs, zimmer frames, pets to the vet, produce to and from the farmers’ markets on the prim and proper present incarnation of ‘public transport’.

        There’s a long way yet to travel on this transformation from private vehicles to practical and public.

  2. Good points raised.

    Its well recognised by anyone with an interest in transport that this governments out of date obsession with 1950’s solutions to traffic congestion is never going to work. Anyone who has lived in Auckland for years can tell you the more motorway lanes they build the more they need to build more shortly thereafter. And it is so expensive to build and maintain and so becomes the ultimate perpetual loser policy. But sadly Aucklanders just voted for more of the same.

    However as I have read elsewhere car use is declining so the “congestion” part is misleading and the purpose for tolls equally duplicitous. I think a large part of the problem lies in the whole being of the Auckland Council, a giant money consuming organisation with expensive sub organisations. So here is a cash cow that is only limited by the ability of its residents to afford ever growing tolls on roads they have long since paid for. This council is not capable of managing or being trusted with such a scheme, end of story. And Auckland Council is tremendously political and therefore ideological and the spend up on roads mirrors the desires of John Key and his government.

    I don’t agree with free fares however. It sounds good in theory but the human factor means it doesn’t work. It is currently a defacto system on Auckland’s trains as they are using an honesty ticketing system, the one where Auckland Transport hope you will do the right thing and buy a ticket or swipe on with an electronic ticket. Many don’t, upwards of 70% on some trains and even when the rare occasions that “Ticket Inspectors” come aboard they are told to piss off by the more obnoxious fare evaders, and they do. I can say first hand the increase in vandalism and crime on the trains and at the stations escalated sharply when the kind of people who had no money and an anti social bent suddenly realised that they could ride for free and with equal contempt turn the railway network into an extension of their dirt boxes. It has driven honest passengers away from the trains and that is not good.

    A nominal cheap fare (as opposed to today’s fares) is something no one would begrudge and it means you’ve paid something and therefore have a stake in the service you are using.

    • I tend to agree with the nominal fare rather than free but mostly because we need the statistics payment provides to plan even better services.

  3. I would go as far as to say the illogic behind Nationals spend ups on motorways and highways means there must be more at play. The MP’s and ministers of the National Party may be a lot of things but thick most are not and they all appreciate making money. I wonder therefore what connections these road and civil engineering companies have with National.

    Today’s National Party is more of a secretive business than anything else so if one hand washes the other and there are mutual happy endings for the individuals involved on both sides of these roading projects, projects that cost the taxpayers so dearly, well then this makes much more logical sense to me.

  4. The narrow framing of this debate by Brown and Co serves the government’s interests which is to make workers pay for the rising costs of business.
    It ignores the transfer of funds from Auckland car users (mainly workers going to work and the transport of goods which workers also pay for) into the consolidated fund for decades.
    That money needs to come back to pay for decent public transport including the rail links and a new harbour crossing.
    The NACTs won’t do it, and the Super Shitty won’t even ask.
    Nothing for workers will come from the NACTs or the SS and will have to be won by rebuilding the unions and making the bosses pay.
    The whole point of the NACTS union busting is to make workers pay for risingn business costs including transport costs.
    The NACTs keep talking about creating jobs but these are cheap, casualised, cheap labour jobs.
    We need to recruit workers into unions to fight union busting and make the bosses pay a living wage which factors in workers travel costs.
    Failing that workers who create the wealth have to take over production under workers’ management and control.
    This has to happen sooner or later so the sooner we prepare for it the better.

  5. Agree with you John.

    Despite his rhetoric, Len Brown seems unable to stand firm on issues such as transport and higher density housing, and have a very public confrontation with our national government.

    The SHA “compromise” is a prime example, along with a decided lack of criticism for the National RoNS programme, which – chews up billions of transport money with demonstrable negative return for some projects.

  6. Megalomaniacal Mayor Len Brown’s dream of a 2.5 million city is madness, and will make everything only worse. I know he and others think that more people will mean more ratepayers, more money and thus the funds to finance major new infrastructure projects, such as the city rail loop, better bus services, new routes for these, and much more.

    Also the problem is a bit of a catch 22 scenario, as you can hardly expect residents and commuters, including ratepayers, to pay extra, when they have no alternative to drive their cars. That means ideally better public transport services should be made available, while or even before motor-vehicle drivers get charged extra. Park and ride should be available near major bus and train stations, and public transport should be affordable, or free, and “inviting”.

    We have none of this, and a very uncompromising, petrol headed, tar-seal minded central government, preferring even urban sprawl to more intensification in parts of Auckland.

    So it is a disaster, really, especially since enough voters voted Key and his lot in again.

    It is my impression that Len stuffed up himself, by being too kind and considerate to Key and Nat led governments, also agreeing to special housing areas, and so forth, but getting little in return. It may be better to simply start an Auckland based revolt, to block any cooperation with the central government, and to also force new migrants to move to Wellington and elsewhere, as there will be no accommodation, no housing and infrastructure in Auckland to accommodate more growth.

    Force central government into the corner, I would say, so they must act and deliver the investment needed for Auckland’s future.

    And to be honest, do we want and need a million more people? Once that is done, the next excuse will be, we need even more, and Auckland will be like any other mega city with it’s problems around the world, hardly “sustainable”, as the Auckland Plan and Auckland Unitary Plan want to make us believe it is possible.

    Cities in other places on the globe have better public transport while being smaller and having less population than Auckland. It can be done, and driving and owning cars must be dis-incentivised. But whatever is proposed, it will “hurt” some, so the moaning will continue, and little if anything will be achieved.

  7. All good thinking there, but no-one connected the dots?

    Auckland has a traffic air pollution problem right?

    Any number of NIWA scientist Gavin Fisher reports to Government will prove this fact, so building more highways will as John said, just encourage more vehicles to pollute further the poisonous air often invading Auckland’s air quality index.

    I lived in Toronto were they had a subsidised mass transit system that allowed transfer from rail to tram to bus connections, and I did not use my car much.

    Get real Len visit Toronto and see how you can better your city, while saving Aucklander’s health.

  8. This has very little to do with central Govt. This is about a mayor who is simply out of his depth, who has presided over a massive debt escalation, and whose vision of a high density city is a disaster. Meanwhile council spends money stopping us lighting fireworks in public, having a wine at the beach and putting a nice log on an open fire. It’s like living in soviet Russia!

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