A good public transport system is more than just modes or vehicles.

This past weekend we availed ourselves of the opportunity to ride on Redbus’s latest fleet additions, the trio of all-electric buses which they have introduced to the airport run. The ride experience was moderately superior to the regular buses mainly in the noise level and smooth fast acceleration. However the next day riding back on diesels on the Orbiter, the specialness of the electrics was quickly forgotten. Because, in reality, whilst the electrics may be the latest greatest thing, the superficiality of riding in something that is quieter and smoother in certain respects is soon drowned out by all the regular issues that bus passengers face, such as bumpy roads, squeaks and rattles, getting stuck in traffic and waiting at lights. If the Mayor and her lackeys are kidding themselves that electric buses will revolutionise public transport and attract more people by themselves, they are fools. Passengers will come to ride on buses when the whole experience is that much more smooth and fast, and a superficial benefit offered by electric isn’t going to be enough by itself.

The real answer in getting passengers back to public transport requires much more ratepayer dollars invested than has ever been the case in suburban Christchurch. And therein lies the rub. The three electrics that Redbus has just acquired didn’t cost ratepayers a cent; they were all funded by other council vehicles. So ratepayers have not been asked to contribute to the new fleet additions, and that is because ratepayers do not fund much in the way of public transport infrastructure, because councillors are so much in thrall to the almighty car. And because electric traction isn’t limited to buses, it will remain extremely hard for spineless politicians to wean themselves off worshipping at the throne of the private vehicle. Petrol cars will be replaced with EVs, which still need roads to run on, even if rubber tyres and petroleum-based asphalt remain unsustainable. And just about any politician will then talk almost in the same breath about the promise of autonomous vehicles. It soon becomes clear that public transport will never get any serious commitment of funding from ratepayer coffers. There are dozens of roads that need full time bus priority lanes, and dozens of intersections across the city that need bus priority lights implemented, but any move to bring these all in would be met with a ratepayer revolt.

So we all know very well that the expansive claims of the Mayor and her lackeys (one of whom posted a guest piece in “The Standard” this week claiming that the opportunity for an “integrated transport system” had been lost) to be able to improve PT as soon as they get their hands on the levers of power are just political spin and hot air. The long tradition in the City of second rate funding and facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users is not about to be overturned. But few in local government can resist the opportunity to meddle in yet another area of public services. Just last week the mayor of Wellington, Justin Lester, floated the idea of a Regional Transport Authority for the region, supposedly inspired by Auckland Transport’s operational model. However as soon as one digs a little deeper into the proposal it becomes clear that Lester proposes to neuter this organisation by excluding from its brief any ability to create policies, control rates or levy user charges. In other words it would have no more than advisory power. Such an RTA would be essentially the same as our Joint Public Transport Committee and in reality be created for the same core reason – for political objectives of Wellington City Council to have more control over public transport than is currently the case. The actual best model for Wellington would be more like Auckland Transport with ownership of assets including roads and the ability to operate independently. In the next line we read that Paul Eagle and some other councillors wouldn’t like that idea.

Here of course we see the inherent politicisation of the whole transport infrastructure at a local level, which is that politicians won’t admit they are creating most of the problems in the system. Especially those from the Labour Party, or in Christchurch, “People’s Choice”, who are the biggest empire builders and grandstanders of the lot, who actually believe they are morally superior to everyone else, because they have been around longer than everyone else, yet in local government they campaign on nothing of principle and stand for little more than getting elected. Essentially, the Labour Party local politicians in Wellington will all fall behind Lester’s RTA model, which is indeed practically the same as our JPTC, a political vehicle above all else intended to entrench their political power base, which is largely focused on enabling city council politicians to have some of the levers of power over public transport, whilst actually doing next to nothing to improve it. Because the proposed model would still leave city councillors making the final funding and policy decisions, giving them plenty of wriggle room to ignore and override the machinations of the RTA. Our RPTP leaves all of the funding decisions and hard work to be done by Ecan with zero commitment from CCC, and because of that the JPTC is a whitewash and a smokescreen. It would seem that the chief qualification to attain the office of a local body politician in the Labour party is the desire for power at all costs, the service of the people being a secondary consideration.

I’m quite pleased to see we have people of calibre standing for Ecan this year on independent political platforms and who will actually make a difference to public transport, much more than the assorted Labour party hacks and retreads who have rushed to put their names forward, which naturally leads to the suspicion their main objective is to grease the wheels for the Mayor’s campaign to usurp public transport from the regional council. Such a move will be bad for rail passenger development and that’s only the beginning of reasons to oppose it.

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