Last time I blogged about Auckland Transport being lauded by Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury as a model to follow for an integrated public transport network in Christchurch. The two organisations had made an approach to the Government to fast track the transfer of public transport responsibilities to the City Council, which has been fighting for control of the city PT network for more than 100 years.
It now appears the inept and weak Transport Minister Phil Twyford has caved into well placed lobbying from Labour politicians in local councils around the country that they should be the ones running bus services in their cities. It’s a documented fact that Lianne Dalziel, mayor of Christchurch and a former Labour cabinet minister, has made such an approach, and there has also been similar views expressed in Dunedin lately. One would guess that similar nonsense will have been promulgated in Wellington by various political interests seeking to roll back the problem plagued new bus network introduced there and the scrapping of the trolleybuses. It is quite possible Twyford’s next move will be to cave in to powerful political lobbying for Auckland Transport to have an elected rather than appointed board.
The problem is that there is simply no consistent track record of local councils being able to look past their own narrow sectarian local political interests and creating a more effective public transport network. In Christchurch, local politicians continually challenge measures intended to improve the PT network. Some recent examples include:
- Bus priority measures proposed for the Greers Road-Memorial Ave intersection were voted down by the Fendalton-Waimairi community board.
- Residents in a retirement village in Shirley have been left without bus services because the most practical means of altering the route of the 44 Shirley service which passes nearby was voted down by the Papanui-Innes board.
- The Fendalton-Waimairi board has been recently considering the placement of bus stops on the Orbiter route in the Ilam / Upper Riccarton area following a change in the route which no longer passes through University of Canterbury property in Ilam Road. The consultation has been limited to local residents despite the use of the bus route by people across the city.
- Bus lane implementation across the city is many years behind schedule due to local opposition to the creation of these important bus priority measures.
- Proposed suburban bus interchanges which have been under consideration for decades have been effectively shelved as they are not considered important despite the clear evidence measures such as these are needed to improve patronage by making bus transfers safe and comfortable for passengers who need to change between different routes during their journey.
All these issues have arisen in part because of a concerted prioritisation across the city over many decades in favour of cars as the most important form of public transport. The Mayor of Christchurch claims her council alone has the ability to improve the public transport system. This is specious nonsense as the Mayor does not have the ability to guarantee political support around the table for any particular transport measure. The most likely outcome is there will not be any improvement because the Council has shown time and time again that public transport is not a priority for the City. The process by which local community boards make decisions about routes and stops is glaringly weak in favouring local residential concerns over the city wide interests of bus passengers.
The simple truth is that Auckland Transport has been effective at doing its job of improving public transport across Auckland because it is at arm’s length from the elected Auckland Council as a CCO. If AT was put in control of an elected board of councillors then that whole dynamic would shift in an instant and be skewed back in favour of the car lobby. At that point just about every pedestrian, cyclist, bus or train passenger improvement would be subverted to the all conquering motor vehicle lobby that most councillors kowtow to in order to be elected. This after all is what happens in most territorial councils around the country. In Canterbury. Ecan being at arms length from selfish local concerns about making roads accessible for cars is what has helped to create the present improvements in the bus network over the last 30 years.
At the moment AT’s relative independence is under fierce attack and as I have predicted it could well fall onto the Government to cave in to the lobbying for an elected Board. If that happens the many improvements to transport wrought across Auckland by treating transport it as a regional issue rather than a local one will be severely curtailed. Then there will not be anything for anyone else to look to.