Thinking Outside Of The Box. And The Tunnel

November 17th, 2011 by Tim Grimley

As the fervour surrounding the Rugby World Cup has died away, the subsequent vacuum created in the national press has been slowly filled with a matter of secondary excitement, although almost certainly greater consequence; the forthcoming general election. So it saddened me greatly this week to find that the nation is not particularly engaged with who is best set to take care of our finances, who will bring food to the mouths of the ‘underclass’ or who can ensure our education system pumps out young minds that can take on the world. No, instead we’re all focussed on what the Prime Minister and his Epsom crony John Banks gossiped about in a café.

Thanks to judicious stirring from the press and opposing political forces, people now seem to think that because of a bit of idle banter we will somehow see John Key in an entirely new light. Well unless he admitted to popping out for a night of dwarf tossing with the Pommie rugby squad or decided to confess his long term desire to open up Otago for the Iranians to test their fledgling nuclear programme then I doubt it.

Why dig up Queen Street......

Yes it might be mildly embarrassing if it turns out our esteemed leader said some less than complimentary things about Don Brash or the coffin dodging element of society, but to be honest, so have the rest of us at one point or other and if that is the criteria on which you judge someone’s fitness to govern then frankly you need your head looking at. In reality, when it comes to placing your tick in the box, you should be concentrating on the policies on which the contestants are basing their campaigns.

And one policy is piquing my interest more than most; the proposed Auckland rail loop which is set to cost the nation a cool $2.4 billion. Having recently had my bathroom redeveloped – which is about the same size of a shoe box – I’m fully aware that $2.4 billion doesn’t go all that far these days when tradesmen get involved. Nevertheless it is still a fair old whack and what I find absolutely terrifying is the lack of apparent discussion on alternatives.

It seems that the main drive behind the project – unless you count the Green party who are happy to lump their slight weight behind anything that cocks a snook at the evil deity of motoring – is the desire of Labour to stop Len Brown’s ridiculous pre-election pledge coming back to crush his ego into powder form and throw it in the Waitemata. And it seems a silly idea to devote billions of dollars and the upheaval of the nation’s biggest city just to stop our idiot mayor getting a downer on himself before at least eying up some other options.

As I’m neither a civil engineer or transport planner it would be pointless for me to make suggestions about infrastructure alternatives such as multiple rail termini, trams and new ferry options – the logic and science behind them would be thinner than a politician’s promise – but I can do some basic maths and I think it would be entirely possible for us to have a system which could transform the Auckland transport nightmare almost overnight and at a fraction of the cost.

Firstly, we need to take a lead from other major world cities and introduce a congestion charge for the area encased between the sea and state highways 1 and 16 during the hours of 7-5, Monday to Friday. And not one of the pathetic $10 per day ones that people moan about, but still begrudgingly pay – I’m talking about a prohibitive fee that only the very rich heads of business can afford. $100 per day would be an absolute minimum. This would serve to make the rich people very happy, as wafting around the city in their flash cars would allow the rest of us to see just how rich they are – which is pretty much the only point of being rich as far as I can tell.

The rest of us would then have one of two choices; either get on the existing public transport or – and this is the genius of the plan – apply for a low cost government-leased scooter.

......when you can dig being part of the scooter revolution?

If you scour the pages of Trademe, you will find that it is possible to buy a brand new scooter for $1000, which means that if we bought one for every man, woman and child in Auckland we could have around a billion dollars left compared to the rail loop. In reality, the number of people who commute into the centre of the city is closer to 200,000, so even if all of these suddenly wanted a moped, we’d still have a spare $2.2 billion compared to letting Len play fat controller. And if we wanted to get really eco-conscious, we could splash out a bit more for the flash electric ones and then watch the value of our power companies soar prior to the big National-led sell-off as everyone plugged in at night.

And there would be no problems putting the low-powered peds on the motorway either – thanks to rush hour this morning, it took me a full hour and seven minutes to do the 23 km commute from North Shore to Mt Wellington today, which means an average speed of under 21kph. Even if that was doubled, the scooters could happily keep up.

OK, so I will admit that mopeds aren’t the most fun form of transport when it’s wet, but a decent set of waterproofs would be small beans compared to the commuting savings and it really wouldn’t be such a big deal rocking up at the office suffering from the dreaded helmet hair if you knew everyone else was going to be in the same boat. And let’s face it; these are small prices to pay for what has the potential to be an overnight revolution in the way central Auckland operates.

In fact I would encourage Len to put this one out to the Auckland public, because if they go for it then he could lay claim to instigating an idea that genuinely transformed the city. And if a bit of bad hair and damp weather does prove enough to put everyone off, then it would be all the proof needed that people’s hearts really aren’t that into change. In which case, he should just be a good boy and get on with building some decent roads as and when the coffers allow.

Because while playing trains and tunnels may seem a jolly nice idea, having Len run out of office and leave us holding a $2.4 billion dollar baby is a consequence I’m not all that interested in.

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