This one really shows how staggeringly out of touch Simon Bridges is. Yes, Simon, we want you to charge us to use the roads that were paid for by our taxes for public use, to encourage us to carpool, while neglecting to maintain and make use of the rail that our taxes built for public use. Please encourage us, Simon. We can’t do it without you.
Carpooling. Are you f***ing serious? The solution to bring this city into the twenty-first century is carpooling?
Aucklanders drive to work because they don’t have a choice. Yes, the passenger rail network is being upgraded and improved, with recently improved frequency, but it’s too little too late. It should have happened decades ago, and is still nowhere near being able to accommodate the needs of the city. The fact that on rush hour trains there’s standing room only, even with only a minority of commuters using them, shows that there is a will, just not a way. Train fares aren’t cheap and there are insufficient link-ups with buses if you happen to live too far from the train station (most people). They need to be more frequent, cheaper, with more park-and-ride facilities and/or a dedicated bus service, eventually replaced by extended rail networks.
But for this to happen there needs to be an almost revolutionary shift in the way our elected officials think. We are so used to Rogernomics, we’re convinced it’s ‘just the way things are’. The idea of privatising the profit and socialising the cost is so ingrained that, although everyone grumbles about such policies, we put up with them. The user-pays model permeates every part of our lives. GST punishes the poor to alleviate taxes on the rich. The working poor pay the highest percentage of their income on tax because of these insidious extra taxes on food, petrol, electricity, cigarettes, nappies. Speeding fines, which we all know do nothing to change the road toll, mostly exist to punish and criminalise generally law-abiding citizens for going a few kilometres over the speed limit, often when it’s perfectly safe to do so. Then there are ruinously high petrol prices, vehicle registration costs and escalating late payment penalties.
The proposed new tolling of Auckland motorways is designed to encourage ride-sharing to reduce congestion, not to collect revenue. Yeah right. Just like speeding tickets are designed to reduce road deaths.
This policy would punish the poorest workers who tend to live furthest from their jobs. What if you can’t afford to pay the toll? You go to work anyway, because otherwise you’ll lose your job. So they add up, you’ll pay them next payday, but your pay cheque doesn’t quite stretch that far because the government that just started charging you to use your own road won’t raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
In a recent blog on the issue of congestion in Christchurch, John Minto suggests “free and frequent public transport”, in both cities – something that has been tried successfully in other countries. The lost ticket revenue of one year of free public transport in Christchurch “is less than the cost of a single kilometre of proposed new roading.”
The local and central government chirp on about it being too expensive to build and maintain rail, all the while spending billions on roads with the promise that if we tarseal the entire surface of the country, we might solve gridlock. How many millions of dollars a day in ‘man hours’ are lost due to sitting in traffic jams? How much pollution is generated? Why is this not factored into government costings? The mindset of these bureaucrats is petty, short-sighted and punitive, and their excuses pure spin.
The future of Auckland is pretty bleak if we put all our hopes into carpooling, electric cars, self-driving cars, cars, cars, cars. Building more lanes and roads just perpetuates the cycle of car-abuse, while maybe easing congestion a bit for a couple of years. Investing in rail infrastructure will have far-reaching benefits for decades, even centuries.
This isn’t just an Auckland problem. There are hundreds of kilometres of largely unused rail lines from Auckland north to the Bay of Islands, for example, deliberately neglected so it can be argued that it’s more economical for freight companies to use the roads, thus risking lives and costing a fortune in road maintenance and upgrades. There are no cons, only pros, to moving the majority of passenger and freight transportation onto rail, but will we ever get a government with the balls to give the trucking lobby and the Aussie roading companies the finger?