Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


Auckand's Light Rail

02/04/2021

AUCKLAND'S LIGHT RAIL

The story on Thursday's front page of the Herald (our Nervous Chihuahua) about a revival of the project to build light rail from central Auckland to the airport encapsulates much that is wrong with this government. Yesterday, the two MPs for Mt Roskill, one former (Phil Goff) and one current (Michael Wood), were involved with the announcement that a special purpose unit would be established to come up with a business plan for light rail through to Mt Roskill and on to the Airport. It would identify a route and suggest whether it should be above or below ground. "We hope to go into the next election with a plan in place and shovels in the ground" said Wood, without so much as a blush.

Labour promised to build light rail four years ago. They told us that by now it would be almost constructed. Now we discover that Labour had no business case for it when they made that promise, and that the consultation Wood now wants undertaken had never been done. No one yet knows where light rail would start from, nor who will build it, or anything approximating its cost. Five million dollars, we are told, have already been spent on the project but there seems to be nothing to show for it. Wood's unit will consult the public, seemingly for the first time, to get some ideas about what people might want.

There are many problems with light rail. First, such is the shape of Auckland that people live and work all around the city with fewer and fewer jobs these days in the centre of the city. Light rail has no flexibility. A bigger problem seems not to have occurred to the Minister or to the Mayor. The project tries to serve two incompatible purposes: first as a commuter train down Dominion Rd, stopping where buses will no longer be able to travel, and secondly as an express delivery vehicle for those wanting the airport. Timing involved with stopping and starting for local commuters and for those intent on reaching the airport won't mix. And what about airline travel bags getting in the way of commuters? Why had none of this occurred to Labour before the promise was first made four years ago? During the hapless Phil Twyford's reign in transport, reality set in, but it is now starting up all over again with Wood. On top of the $5 million already spent, presumably at least a similar amount will be needed to convince him against it.

No other new government in the last half century has been as ham-fisted as this one. Fancy initially announcing a policy that had been the subject of no research! Then spending to start that research, and then establishing a new unit to consult the public, look at options and produce costings. On the last of these, we will need to double whatever officials come up with. Remember how Len Brown's City Rail Link was given the go-ahead with an estimate of $2.8 billion? The official figure is now $4.4 billion, and many experienced people think there'll be little change out of $5.5 billion.

If the government and the council have all this money to spend, surely they could get cracking on a really urgent need like another harbour crossing? Something Auckland HAS to have; not just a "nice-to-have" for boys who like toys.

Light rail comes on top of Kiwibuild, ending child poverty, and housing the homeless. This government is nothing more than a collection of willful children blundering about clutching the taxpayers' and ratepayers' credit cards, shifting from one cow pat to another.