Monday, July 26, 2010

Auckland Bridging Finance Flows whilst Canterbury Transport Vision Stalls Badly

I don't like blogging too often (it feels like ear bashing people even if they do control the OFF button!) but I am driven to post again,  the very next day, almost immediately on top of my last posting about rail in Victoria BC. 

I have had a busy weekend but two events - both linked - stand out in my mind and indeed grieve the heart terribly. On Saturday afternoon I went to the EcoExpo at the Christchurch Convention Centre. Originally, when I first heard of it I thought " oh - oh cheesy greenwash. lots of marginally green enterprises jumping on the environmental  band wagon". But later with a chance to look at the line up of speakers, which included some very dedicated activists spanning years of unpaid, thankless (and sometimes abused) commitment, and after perusing the list of short movies, and  noting that the Christchurch City Council was a key sponsor and noting [not least!] the very reasonable entry fee (accessabilityto maximum range of people given priority!) I was swung over.

In the event (or is "at the event?") there was maybe 50-70 stalls, a real range of businesses mainly involved with insulation, water use and conservation, energy production methods and recycling systems; and stalls for eco related community organisations, organic growing groups. and green orientated political groups. There was a small stage with more or less continual speakers and power point presentations. In another area acting as a theatrette  movies screened about environmental issues.

My main interest as always is transport - along with energy production or conservation - probably the key issue of the next decade or two if we are to find any salvation in the huge and catastrophic breakdown so clearly enveloping the world. Oh woe! One bicycle importer (or whatever) stall and the local public transit authority Metro (Environment Canterbury  transport arm) represented by a couple of essentially meaningless Orwellian "let's be happy families" big posters in an any empty unattended boxed cubicle stall.  As a centrepiece,  albeit to one side -a solitary rotating stand of bus timetables. I must be fair here - I went about 2.30pm Saturday - perhaps the presenter had been taken ill, packed up his or her folding table and left early!
I hope he or she is feeling better.  I am not. How sickening that the public transport system has become so devoid of vision, so lacking in long term strategy or determination to create a viable alternative to the private car, or so underfunded that it can no longer project energy, forward drive, have plans and surveys to share.

The second event - so to speak - and so complementing the ECan display in a rather morbid way - was the opening this afternoon by Prime Minister John Keys of the new $230 million Mangere Bridge in Auckland. This has been built beside and matching the existing Mangere Bridge, and each bridge will operate in one direction only, with five lanes on each bridge.

Second, parallel, Mangere Bridge being built in Auckland. Source Wikipedia Commons

Two of these lanes, a shoulder lane on each bridge,will be bus lanes. Apart from 52 general bus laning projects, which may have received government funding or part funding, during the last decade, this bridge represents the third major segregated bus lane project in Auckland in the last five years. The first was the 8.5 km Northern Busway - Government provided $200 towards this; the second was the central connector - a permanent bus laned accessway in and out the CBD up to Newmarket (including operating the Grafton Bridge as bus only) which cost $46 million (government gave $20 million).
And now at last the Mangere Bridge finished (amazingly, ahead of time). By my calculation if you have 10 lanes and two of them are for buses, and the project costs $230 million [we will leave aside the sunk cost of the existing bridge] that means 20% of lanes are bus only - to wit 20% of the $230 million is a $46 million commitment to public transport. FANTASTIC! A government that puts its money where its mouth is. a real commitment to giving public transport the more even playing field it needs! Ahem, 'scuse me, yeah, ok, ok - we all know this is really the legacy of the Labour Government, not the present National Party government.

But then my thoughts swung back to that forlorn empty looking, unattended, colourless, planless, no projects to share or promote Environment Canterbury stall at the Ecoexpo.  

I think of the $266 million, minimum,  now spent on Auckland's busways [with 13% of the NZ population in Canterbury, in crude terms our local taxpayers fronting with a gift of  $34 million]... not even counting the $1.2 plus billion on Auckland rail... and I think of the absolutely pathetic dalliance of local body politicians with commuter rail and light rail, without ever researching to see if these were actually appropriate to a city of our circumstances. A dalliance that has cost us a decade of lost opportunity, a decade where the smugness and insularity of Christchurch completely misses major trends in overseas in the key new rapid transit corridor technology; a decade where funding opportunity existed, was ignored and the opportunity then lost; a decade which approaches tomorrow with nothing but dreams of light rail and complete blindness to the needs to preserve bus and rail corridors along appropriate alignments, many being compromised or lost by the day.

With Auckland receiving over $1.5 billion and Wellington half a billion towards transit did not Canterbury warrant a few score million, perhaps some more just portion?

That unattended empty, unimaginative, underfunded, directionless display stall  says it all.

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