Almost all of Auckland’s buses serving the inner-city make their way into the city along either Fanshawe Street (for North Shore buses), Albert Street (for West Auckland buses) or Symonds Street (for South, East and Central Auckland buses). I would guess that Symonds Street would definitely have the greatest number of buses out of any of these streets – and is a particularly popular location for people getting on and off the bus as it runs right through the middle of the University. However, until very recently, there was no real priority for buses along this utterly critical corridor. As I spent a reasonable number of my university years catching buses home along Symonds Street, I learned what a mess this situation had created. At least half the length of the bus trip was taken up simply getting up Symonds Street in the evening peak: buses would not have enough room to all load passengers at the same time so sometimes would end up stopping in the middle of the road as they couldn’t fit in the bus stop, at other times it just seemed like the traffic lights with K Rd and Grafton Bridge (near the top of Symonds St) would take forever, creating utter gridlock further down the street.
Fortunately, Auckland City Council have finally got their act together and are doing something about this, in creating the Central Connector. While this project is supposedly designed to create a ‘busway’ linking Britomart with Newmarket, in reality all its generally doing is turning the outside lanes along its course into bus lanes. The map to the left shows its route and where the bus stops will be located.
Whilst I was originally sceptical of the project, largely because it duplicates the route of a train line from Newmarket to Britomart, I think the main effect it will have is (hopefully) improving the flow of buses up Symonds Street. I had a think about it last night, and by my estimates around half of the buses that go up Symonds Street aren’t even ones that continue to Newmarket. These buses continue up Symonds Street, eventually branching off onto Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd or New North Rd. With peak hour frequencies along each of these routes generally meaning a bus every 2-3 minutes, you can see there will be a lot of people who benefit from the project.
However, as with any project there’s always the down-side of the construction period. While there aren’t too many heavy earthworks needed along Symonds Street, it seems like there is quite a lot going on which has required a narrowing of the street. Last night I caught a bus back home from the city and got caught up in the mayhem this has created. It probably took twice as long for my bus to get from the central city up to the top of Symonds Street than it did for it to do the rest of the journey. Hopefully this situation doesn’t continue for the duration of the Symonds Street roadworks (which are meant to finish by June next year). Perhaps it was just a particularly bad day? Or perhaps whoever does traffic management on the project needs to get more stuff out of the way by peak hour.
Auckland has always had fragmented ownership of its bus companies. Howick and Eastern have been operating as an independent private company since 1939, Birkenhead Transport for not much less than that. Plus back a few years before I started catching buses there was the Whenuapai bus company. Urban Express have appeared in recent times too, although the major player has remained as (until very recently) Stagecoach. As far as I know, Stagecoach came into being when our stupid city council sold off the buses in the early 1990s. A couple of years ago Stagecoach (a Scottish company actually) sold their business to NZ Bus, a branch of Infratil (an New Zealand company, thankfully. So we’re in a situation where there are five bus companies operating across Auckland.
Now this wouldn’t necessarily have to be a problem, as overseas you also find highly fragmented ownership of bus service operators. Ideally, it would be great for the ARC to just buy out the lot of them, considering it spends a huge chunk of its money subsidising these companies anyway. However, in reality the situation has turned into a bit of a nightmare, which seems to have actually got worse in recent times (as I’ll mention soon). Each bus company has its own ticketing system, and each ticketing system is largely incompatible with everything else. There is an all-ecompassing ticket for monthly and daily unlimited travel across any of the bus companies (and also the train & ferries). However, this ticket is prohibitively expensive for most people and as a result is hardly used. This situation is particularly annoying for me, as it just so happens that Urban Express operate the route between home and work for me, however all routes from either of these two places to the city are operated by NZ Bus. This means I generally have to worry about ensuring I have change for the bus, a right pain in the ass.
Integrated ticketing, the solution for this mess, seems to have been on the radar as a goal for those trying to hammer our public transport system into shape for a long time now. I think just about every ARTA report includes some sort of reference to “exploring integrated ticketing options” or “advocating for integrated ticketing.” This seems to have been the case for about 10 years now, as before ARTA was coming up with these broad goals, other agencies were also harping on about it. For a long time I couldn’t get my head around why on earth this was so difficult. I mean how hard is it to get the bus (and train for that matter) companies to sort out something that will surely benefit them all through increasing the ease of use for the system and therefore its attractiveness to users? The lack of progress had me beating my head against a wall. Grand plans for “electronic smart-card ticketing” began to emerge, although it really seemed like an overly gold-plated solution to a problem that surely could be solved tomorrow through adopting a simple paper ticket system.
Interestingly, in recent times I have got my head around why ARTA just wasn’t achieving anything with regards to integrated ticketing. Furthermore, the main impediment seems to have finally been solved due to Public Transport Management Bill. In effect, when public transport was deregulated in the early 90s (geez we have the early 90s to blame for a lot) the laws which governed how public transport would operate split routes into commercial one and subsidized ones. Commercial routes (generally peak hour ones) were operated by whatever bus company got in first, the operator wouldn’t be subsidised at all for operating this route and would be able to do whatever they liked with it (regarding the quality of bus etc.). ARTA (and its predecessors) would be required to subsidise the routes operators deemed non-profitable. ARTA has more say in what goes on as it’s basically paying the bus company to run the service. This system has ended up being utterly hopeless, most typified by Auckland’s enormous drop-off in per-capita use of public transport since the early 90s when the original legislation came into being. Even in recent years as bus patronage has increased again, this increase has generally been less than the rate of population growth. Most patronage increase on public transport in the last few years has been on the rail system.
Bringing this back to ticketing, what the previously legislation appeared to do was make it impossible for ARTA to force the bus companies into doing anything on the commercial routes. The bus companies were more keen on protecting “their patch” than actually growing the system through integrated ticketing, and so weren’t keen on allowing integrated ticketing on the commercial routes. My understanding is that ARTA could have forced them into accepting integrated ticketing on subsidised routes – but what’s the point of having a situation where an integrated ticket is OK on the 9.20am bus, but not OK on the 9.10am bus – even though both are operated by the same company and also along the same route. Although the effects of the Public Transport Management Bill won’t be fully felt for a while yet, as contracts will need to expire and be renewed before ARTA really has more power, but my general understanding is that ARTA now has as much power over commercial routes as it does over subsidised routes. And, in general, it has more power over both types of routes than it did before. To simplify, without the Public Transport Management Bill ARTA could have never had the power to make integrated ticketing happen, but with the new laws it can.
It seems that these extra powers are coming just in the nick of time too. Until fairly recently, although NZ Bus had bought out Stagecoach they had continued to use their brand and logos on all their buses. I think there was some agreement in the sale that this could happen for a few years. However, instead of just renaming all the buses “Bus Auckland” or something logical like that, NZ Bus has decided to split things into four, and create GoWest for West Auckland buses, NorthStar for buses on the North Shore, MetroLink for buses that operate within the isthmus area, and the soon to be launched Waka Pacific buses for South Auckland. Now some of these buses look pretty cool, but geez we’ve gone from having five bus companies to what seems like eight. Without proper integrated ticketing, a traveller needs to know that NorthStar tickets are OK on Metrolink services but not OK on Urban Express, GoWest tickets are OK on Waka Pacific but not OK on Ritches… the whole thing is insane! I can’t quite comprehend myself why NZ Bus has done this. The official reason is that they wanted the bus companies to connect to their local communities a bit better. Maybe they saw that Birkenhead Transport and Howick and Eastern buses have been fairly successful by sticking to their patch over the years. Maybe they wanted to create confusion, so that people use cash fares (more expensive than pre-paid fares) more often so they make more money? It just seems illogical really.
I suppose that once integrated ticketing actually happens then this won’t matter anymore. If any pre-paid ticket can be used on any bus service then it won’t matter how many different coloured buses are out there. But for now, I think it’s just stupid.
I hadn’t travellled on the Eastern Line for about four years, so I thought I’d better check it out. The new Sylvia Park station, located right next to the giant shopping mall, meant a pretty good excuse for checking out the railway line existed too. A nice chance to hang in Borders for a few hours too, which is a rather favourite occupation for Leila and me. However, actually travelling on Auckland’s train system at the weekend is a bit of a mission (even if you’re really keen to do so), and probably the length of time it took for us to catch a bus into town (necessary because no Western Line trains were running today because of track work) plus the cost (the down-side of not having integrated ticketing and having to go via the city) means that 99% of people would probably still choose to drive to the mall unfortunately.
However, even though it was more expensive and less convenient than driving, armed with a makeshift version of a timetable (scribbled down on a piece of paper), an umbrella which got blown to bits crossing New North Road in Kingsland, and after an excellent breakfast feed at the Roasted Addiqtion cafe, we embarked upon our mission. First step was catching a bus into town. I had considered the merits of trying to coincide with a rail replacement bus so we would have been able to buy rail day passes, but the saving was only about 80c compared to paying cash fares for the whole trip, so it wasn’t really worth the hassle of waiting 20 minutes for that particular bus. Furthermore, the rail bus would have had to undertake a pretty random route via Newmarket, a stupid way to make your way into town from Kingsland on anything except a proper train. After waiting at the bus stop for a fairly decent length of time, as after all it is a Sunday and buses have horrific frequencies on Sundays in Auckland, our bus finally arrived and slowly made its way into the city. With 10 minutes to get to the Britomart train station, we didn’t bother running, but figured it’d make more sense to catch the next train, which was “only” another 30 minutes away. Half hour frequencies for trains in Auckland on Sundays I guess isn’t TOO bad, especially considering no trains ran on Sundays until a few years ago.
But anyway, we finally did reach Britomart, and even though we couldn’t buy tickets at the station (because the one person selling them was on their lunch break) we made our way down to the trains a few minutes before our train, the only services that were actually running today, arrived. Quite differently from the train we’d caught out to New Lynn on Thursday evening, this was one of Auckland’s particularly crappy old DMUs – bought off Perth in the early 90s when Perth electrified its rail system. The irony is that Perth decided to electrify its rail system because their rolling stock were getting so old they needed to upgrade anyway and figured it made more sense to shift to electric than to buy new diesel trains. Gosh how they must laugh that their crappy old trains are still running 17 years later in Auckland.
However, interestingly as soon as we were actually on the train and moving, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the ride. Compared to the Western Line service that we’d caught a few days ago, the train seemed much quieter, the ride smoother and also significantly faster. I suppose on the Western Line there are a lot of bends, a pretty significant hill and quite frequent stations, but the whole trip out to New Lynn felt incredibly frustrating as though we were idling along in 2nd gear the whole time. I’m sure with decent trains and a few kinks removed from the line that half hour trip could be cut down to 20 minutes maximum! But anyway, the trip on the Eastern Line seemed so damn quick by comparison. Most of the stations we travelled through on our way to Sylvia Park looked like they’d been upgraded recently, the gaps between the stations were large enough for our train to actually pick up a decent amount of speed, and as we cut across Hobson Bay and Orakei Basin, as well as passing through quite a few nice forested gullies, the trip was also surprisingly scenic.
Apart from Glen Innes and Panmure though, it really did feel like all the stations were in pretty random locations, and only had seemingly very limited appeal to users. On the city side of Glen Innes in particular, there were grassy fields with horses grazing in them – quite nice from a scenic perspective but seemingly a bit of a waste of land that could be used for intensification built in close proximity to train services. At Meadowbank station it seemed like one would be surprised to actually realise there was a station, as it’s tucked down the back end of a pretty random corner of Auckland. The same with Orakei, although apparently the park n ride there is quite popular (and there’s also some pretty amazing plans to intensify directly around the station). The best way to encourage use of the train system is to increase the number of people living in close proximity to train stations. I guess it means there is plenty of opportunity to enhance the attractiveness of rail in these areas through transit-oriented developments in the future.
The trip back was pretty normal, and we timed our bus back to Kingsland fairly well. So all in all a pretty interesting experience with a different part of Auckland’s transport system for me. My overall impression was surprisingly good actually, particularly in comparison with the painfully slow Western Line rail services that I’m used to.
A few nights ago I had an interesting dream that somehow included trips to both Sydney and London. Since I got back from Europe a few months ago it has been fairly common for me to have dreams about some new overseas trip that I find myself on. Nothing particularly new or exciting there. However, it seems that with increasing regularity I’m finding that the dreams seem to particularly involve the ways in which I’m getting around those cities.
It’s always interesting to see the similarities and differences between real places and how they appear in my dreams. I know that throughout the course of many hundreds of different dreams over the years I’ve managed to almost create an ‘alternative Auckland’ in my mind. In particular, the central motorway junction area is highly modified in my mind, and yet at the same time it’s reasonably consistent throughout different dreams, often ones that I’ve had years apart. For example, where Morningside Drive crosses the railway line (a railway crossing I went across a lot as a kid because it was near my primary school) my dreams have that as the start of a motorway that pretty quickly turns into a fairly giant interchange – which although complex seems reasonably surprising consistent and easy to remember. However, in recent times times those motorway dreams have seemed to end up being replaced by new railway dreams. I guess a sign of how my subconscious has changed with relation to transportation.
However, these dreams are almost always linked to overseas trips (probably because the only decent transit systems I’ve come across overseas). The other night I managed to experience both the Sydney rail system (although it was a rather strange version of it) and then also the London Underground. I don’t remember much from the Sydney part of the dream (or in fact even how I got there, or got from there to London), but once I was in London I distinctly remember from the dream that Leila and I were going to the Victoria and Albert Museum (I must have a subconscious sense of guilt that we never got there even though I know Leila really wanted to). We had to get on the District Line to go to South Kensington station (which is actually quite correct as South Kensington is probably the best tube station to access the Victoria and Albert Museum and it is also on the District Line), although the District Line on the map in my dream looked very very different to how it actually looks in reality. Once again I guess it’s my subconscious being fascinated by rail maps, but is not quite able to transfer my actual knowledge of the London Underground map (which is probably unhealthily extensive for someone who’s only been in that city for 8 days) into my actual dreams.
Perhaps I’ll be having dreams about what an electrified Auckland rail system will look like eventually.
It felt a bit of a relief to get my dream rail system out of the way yesterday. Something that was interesting to write about, but the need to finish it seemed to be blocking me from getting on with writing in this blog about other issues. This post doesn’t really have a set agenda in the way that others have so far, so I’m not quite sure how it’ll turn out.
Firstly, it’s hard to get away from talking about the upcoming election at the moment. After all, it’s less than three weeks away now I suppose. My analysis of the transportation policies of different parties will probably come at some point, but for now I am just going to say “Vote Greens”. Labour has disappointed me in not really having much of a public transportation plan, and continuing the funnel money into motorways like there’s no tomorrow. National’s attitude towards public transportation probably freaks me out more than their attitude towards anything else – as it seems likely that if we end up with Maurice Williamson as our Minister of Transport we will be lucky to get a couple more bus lanes.
I’m not sure whether my mind has become totally sick of the election, or whether National’s lead in the polls just depresses me when I think about politics at the moment. It’s probably something, as the whole election campaign palaver it already starting to be annoying. Perhaps it is just a general frustration with how ignorant a huge number of people seem to be about issues… it’s hard to say for sure. Of course there’s still curiosity to see if anything major happens in the next while, but other than that I just want the next couple of weeks to disappear as quickly as possible so that I don’t need to endure more shots of John Key playing play-dough with nice middle class kids at some preschool.
I’ve managed to avoid using my car since the weekend, which is quite nice. A fairly good pattern of catching buses to and from work has settled down, and usually I’m able to bus on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I could probably do Wednesdays too but it’s Leila’s day off work and it’s quite nice to have lunch at home with her. On Fridays I need to pick Amalia up after work which makes bus catching rather difficult, although interestingly I think the last couple of Fridays I have ended up on the bus, as it’s been necessary for me to go into town for work. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but I definitely do feel better about life since I’ve switched to bus commuting. The better feeling probably started a little earlier than the last month or so – and was undoubtedly influenced greatly by more interesting work-related stuff of late – but I do certainly believe that decreasing my reliance upon the car, experiencing the local area more through catching a bus and enjoying Leila’s company for a bit longer than usual as we both wander up to the bus stop and wait for it (or sometimes catch it together if I’m going into town) has made me feel better about my life.
In the first couple of months after we returned from Europe I did feel really really trapped in a rather mundane feeling life. Being at home, driving to work, being at work, driving home, being at home…. after the experiences of Europe I couldn’t believe how depressing and boring Auckland felt. Sure, it was probably one of the wettest winters ever, which definitely didn’t help. However, I just felt so unattached to the city. I was forever just seeing it through my work-office window or through the window of the car, or merely from the window of my freezing cold house. Getting back into the CBD and wandering around streets with people again felt so liberating, even catching a bus seemed interesting again. Feeling like I was once again “engaging” with the city just felt so good – like I was once again part of a greater thing, I wasn’t isolated in one box after the next, really has seemed like such a positive experience for me.
It’s an interesting case study really, and I wonder how many other people feel the same. In the public v private transportation argument, general comfort and enjoyment of the ride seems to often favour the private car over catching a bus or train. I wonder whether this is a bit of a misguided belief? Perhaps people’s potential like for public transport is not being fully recognised? I definitely think this might be the case for a decent train system, which in my opinion is far nicer for travelling than driving your car. Sure I’m a bit of a public transport freak, but I enjoyed travelling on the Metro systems of Europe an awful lot, and they were indeed one of the highlights of the trip for me.
To continue on from my previous post, we now take a step into a bit of the unknown. I will probably continue to change my mind about the best way for Auckland’s rail future versus the most realistic way to actually get change in my head for a fair while yet, but I guess this is a bit of a mixture: somewhat ideal, somewhat realistic.
The first stage is probably about 10 years down the track. In my opinion, planning for these improvements need to either start (in the case of the CBD loop) or be refined (in the case of rail to the airport) now. I’ve talked a lot about the CBD loop in previous posts, so I think it’s fairly obvious why this is such a crucial project. The airport loop is obviously also important (Mike Lee enjoys saying that we’re not a true international city until we have trains to the airport), but I think it’s less important than the CBD loop, and would have to happen after the loop to ensure the existing system doesn’t grind to a complete halt.
In this system we see the Onehunga Line being extended all the way to Manukau City, via the airport. This would be a pretty big project, but I think access from the airport to both Onehunga and Manukau City is pretty important. It means that trains don’t have to “turn around” at the airport too. This line has been studied quite a bit in recent times by ARTA, which confirms heavy rail as the preferred method of providing public transport to the airport. The study also proposes that the airport line be extended from Onehunga through to Avondale – but I think it’s a pretty unnecessary extension as passenger numbers wouldn’t justify it. The Avondale-Southdown line (as it’s known) will probably be built for freight at some point (so it can bypass Newmarket), in which case the line might as well also be used for some passenger services, but it’s not needed nearly as much as other projects.
The other main project at this stage would be the CBD loop – which after electrification is THE MOST IMPORTANT PROJECT FOR AUCKLAND. I would run the three existing lines in loops, returning them to where they came from and therefore offering great access to the CBD. Lines might vary as to whether they go clockwise around the loop or anti-clockwise, although the eastern line would HAVE to go anti-clockwise, while the southern line would probably also go that way (so people don’t have to go the LONG way around to get to Britomart). More on the CBD loop another time.
OK, so next we have the ‘ultimate stage’, which is realistically 20 years away. This involves two major projects (I probably can’t emphasise how much they’d be enough): the North Shore Line and an East Tamaki Line.
The North Shore Line would involve converting the current busway so that it could cater for heavy rail. This would mean quite a lot of earthworks to ensure that the gradients weren’t too steep, and also would obviously involve digging a tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour to link the converted busway with Britomart. This has been costed at around $1.5 billion I think.
The East Tamaki Line is only really a dream at the moment. It represents fixing what I think is Auckland’s greatest failure: allowing so much development east of the Tamaki River without building a railway line to serve the area. There is no designation for rail through here, so it would be enormously disruptive putting a line through. Light-rail or busway options may be more realistic. It’s a nice dream though.
OK I have to say that I do love doing this, pontificating about what Auckland’s railway system might look like in the future. A few posts back I wrote in quite detail why I thought Auckland’s railway system has a bright future, and how that would absolutely result in a need for future expansion of the system, particularly through building the CBD Rail Loop. I’ve put together a few images to more clearly show how I think Auckland’s rail system could/should develop over the next 15 years. This post will be part 1 of that process, which details the current system and also improvements to it that are already under construction, or are due to have construction begin in the near future. There is probably about 10 billion worth of work to be done in order to complete the whole system, but it’s easy to think that if we don’t embark upon at least some of the extensions I propose, we’re really going to be up shit creek without a paddle in a few years time when high oil prices REALLY start to bite.
OK for a start, let’s have a look at the current system:
The Green Line is the Western Line, which has been around in some form or another since the 1880s, but has been pretty rubbish for most of that time. Only in the last few years has the line actually been double-tracked. This project is ongoing, with the last couple of bits (between Newmarket and Boston Road, and between Avondale and New Lynn) due for completion some time in the next couple of years. Once it’s been fully double-tracked, the Western Line will be able to run a train every 10 minutes each way at peak hour.
The Red Line is the Southern Line. Between Westfield and Newmarket it runs on its own, otherwise it doubles up with either the Western Line or the Eastern Line. I haven’t really used this line particularly much, but apparently there’s pretty strong demand from its more southern parts (Ellerslie and then stations south of Papatoetoe). The line is double-tracked throughout, while the current Newmarket station upgrade is going to ease congestion through that junction on the network. The Onehunga branch (which will be talked about reasonably soon) will link in with this line.
The Yellow Line is the Eastern Line. I think this was built significantly more recently than the Southern and Western Lines, at least originally. It is a bit of a higher standard than those, with most crossings grade-separated. Whilst some stations such as Orakei and Meadowbank aren’t particularly well located, others such as Glen Innes, Panmure and the new station at Sylvia Park are very busy apparently. South of Westfield it shares with the Southern Line. I think the main development proposed with regards to this line is the Manukau spur, which would possibly form a future terminus for this line (meaning that all trains that continue south of Manukau City would come through Newmarket, which has debatable merits). Manukau City Council hate public transport with a passion, and are doing everything they can to make the Manukau spur a failure. It might be complete around 2011.
OK, the next imagine is a “near future” snapshot of Auckland’s rail system. By near future I probably do mean 2011, as nothing ever particularly happens quickly here.
There are only really two main changes here. The Onehunga Branch is supposed to be opening some time next year I think, which should be a pretty big boost to that suburb. The railway line had been sitting there abandoned for a heck of a long time, until a good amount of pressure was put on various politicians to open this line up again. I can’t imagine it’s going to be serviced particularly much, due to rolling stock shortages, but perhaps a few peak hour services and hourly off-peak services is realistic?
The other change is the Manukau Spur. This is a pretty important link in my opinion, as Manukau City is the centre of one of the largest “cities” in New Zealand, and certainly one of the fastest growing. Whilst the ‘city centre’ remains basically a mall and a carpark at the moment, there have been a few apartment buildings constructed here in recent years, and it’s certainly a pretty major centre in terms of offices as well. Current plans for the Manukau spur (which may or may not be under construction in conjunction with the motorway development going on down there, it’s hard to find out any information about it) unfortunately only show it linking with the main line in a northwards direction, meaning it’s utterly useless for people living south of Manukau wanting to catch a train there. Once again, a pretty stupid decision as I imagine there are a lot of people who live in Papakura, Manurewa & Homai who may want to catch a train to Manukau when they do their shopping (or if they work there). When one considers that Manukau is a predominantly business area, and therefore is likely to be more of an endpoint for journeys than a start-point, it does seem stupid that it can only be an endpoint for journeys starting to the north of it. The other annoying thing about the Manukau spur is that the City Council (who seriously hate anything but cars, I’m not joking here) has refused to spend any money on the line to bring it closer into the actual shopping area. Instead, the proposed railway station is now a reasonable walk from anywhere particularly useful, and is located in a park. Not quite the safest location in a part of Auckland not exactly known for its lack of crime.
Well anyway, I have heard plans that the Eastern Line would start at Manukau, while all other stations south of Manukau would be served by the Southern Line. This does seem a little strange, but once again seems to result from not having a south-facing link. Stations south of Manukau (Homai, Manurewa, Te Mahia, Takanini, Papakura & Pukekohe) represent a pretty significant chunk of users of the railway system – particularly from Manurewa and Papakura, where good transport interchanges with park n ride facilities now exist. These station are current served by both the Southern and the Eastern Lines, which provides pretty good frequencies at peak hour. For those frequencies to be at least maintained (they will need to be improved over time actually), you’re going to need a heck of a lot of trains running on the southern line alone. I think the real solution is to have Manukau City operate as the spur it’s supposed to be, with links to both the north and south. Apart for express trains, every train would make a slight detour into Manukau City, whether it came from the north or the south. This would provide a much improved situation I think.
Of course one would have had to be living under a rock to not realise that election time has rolled around again. The first leader's debate (well….. of the two main parties) was last night, and probably didn't prove much except reasserting my annoyance that those who dumb themselves down the most generally are seen as "connecting" the best. Sticking with the new theme of this blog, there really wasn't much said about transportation, which was a pity. I guess the closest we got to it was with Helen Clark talking about "bringing infrastructure development forwards" if necessary. I'm not quite sure exactly what that means, but finance minister Michael Cullen gave hints that might eventually mean an electrified rail link to the North Shore – a pretty fantastic project that I've always thought was probably in the 20 years away basket. If we end up getting something like that brought forward, then hell bring on the economic recession!
So anyway, what's my take on the 2008 election? Well, I guess the natural starting point for looking at this election is to analyse the results of the 2005 election. I went into detail on that at the time, but essentially National did recover from a disastrous 2002 election to post a pretty good result, only being narrowly edged out by Labour. Then a while later Don Brash was replaced by John Key as leader, after a series of complete and utter messes, and it seems like ever since John Key took over as leader National have been way ahead in the polls. I guess it's not necessarily particularly surprising for this to be the case. Only one New Zealand government has enjoyed four terms in office since World War II, and it really does seem like the country has either a 6 year level of patience or a 9 year level of patience with a government. National governed from 1975 to 1984, Labour from 1984-1990, National again from 1990 to 1999. The typical New Zealander who doesn't really care that much about politics probably just gets sick of seeing the same faces on TV over and over again, or thinks that every little thing that is going not quite perfect in their lives could be fixed by a different government.
So basically, my viewpoint over the past two and a bit years has generally been that, while Labour has done a great job since 1999 and has been our best and most effective government for a heck of a long time, the general populace seems like they're just getting a bit bored of them, and want someone new. It does seem a bit of a stupid reason to toss out a government, particularly one that has managed the country damn well, but then my faith in the average New Zealand isn't particularly high unfortunately. This situation led to my own indecisiveness about whether to vote Labour or Greens. Obviously I prefer a Labour led government to a National led government, so the easiest way of ensuring that happens would be to vote Labour. However, throughout the last couple of years the Greens seem to have come up with some really fantastic ideas – particularly relating to public transport – even though I'm still a bit wary of the extremeness of their economic policies (not quite sure how you could do away with income tax and replace it with resource taxes for example). I suppose that a vote for the Greens would be my way of saying "hey, well actually I'm not particularly happy with the way the world's going at the moment, and you guys are the only ones who seem to truly understand the long-term problems we face, and the only ones who really have some ideas about how to do something about them."
Interestingly, in the last week or so the financial crisis that seems to have finally reached New Zealand (even though we didn't really play much of a part in causing it) seems to have given Labour a fresh opportunity. A couple of polls last week showed it was closer to National than at any stage of the last couple of years. It seems like the 'average New Zealander's' appetite for change may be rather reduced in a situation where there is so much uncertainty. Maybe people are starting to realise that Labour have done a pretty decent job handling the economy over the past nine years. While National continue to criticise a lack of economic growth yadda yadda yadda, maybe people are realising that National hasn't really offered much in the way of doing things better – except for the same old mantra of tax cuts. Interestingly, National's final announcement of their proposed tax cuts last week was met with a pretty average response: people finally realising that in order to keep the much improved social services they had enjoyed throughout the past nine years, including important policies like working for families (which has apparently lifted 130,000 children out of poverty, a pretty amazing achievement in the space of 4 years), you couldn't actually make huge tax cuts without ending up needing to borrow masses of money.
So it's interesting to see where things go from here. There have been a lot of policy announcements for the country to digest – and on top of that nobody really knows whether the economic crisis is just starting, already as bad as it'll get, or even that it hasn't really started yet.
Well we might as well give this a crack, I guess there are a few questions to pose myself to get this thing going.
- Why the heck write a blog on Auckland’s Transport, it sucks, end of story!
- Well this is probably a good question to pose from the start. I do have issues with Auckland’s transportation system. Most obviously with the public transport system, but obviously there are issues with the roading and motorway system too. However, it feels like there is JUST SO MUCH HAPPENING to transportation in Auckland at the moment that I’m going to be damn busy just trying to keep up to date with what’s going on. In short, this is a really critical period in the history of transportation in Auckland, so you don’t want to miss out!
- Is this going to be another blog which is just a link fest to newspaper articles?
- I really really want to avoid that from happening. While it’s good to use news in a blog, I don’t want it to be totally based around news items that are dripped through the media. I mean heck, most people reading this site will probably have already read a Herald article before they get around to reading this, so what’s the point? Hopefully I’ll include a lot of user-experiences (as I do catch buses pretty frequently these days), combined with news, combined with lots of pontificating about what the powers to be should be doing (probably my favourite thing to do!)
- Why not just start a new blog?
- Well I kind of approached this question in yesterday’s blog post. The jarbury.net blog has been around since January 2001 in some shape or form, and it really forms an important aspect of who I’ve been throughout that time. I will bring in stories about my life where they mix with transportation, or even if I just have something interesting to share. Therefore I guess there’s enough crossover to keep things going. However, do expect a few changes around here in the near future.
- Are you going to update more than once a week?
- Well isn’t this always the big question? I mean in general my blogging is fairly erratic in how frequent I post. However, at least at the moment I have a heck of a lot of ideas that could turn into fairly reasonable posts, so who knows – maybe every 2-3 days is realistic. I’m sure there’ll be enough news relating to transportation to ensure that I don’t want to get too far behind.
OK, well who knows how much things will change in the next while. I feel like I’ve been half-shifting towards this change for at least the last few months, so hopefully it will make things easier. Surely I’m a better response for the google phrase “Auckland transport blog” than bloody Aaron Bhatnager anyway!
It is true that seemingly every second post I’ve ever written on this blog probably falls into the category of “blogging about blogging”, but I genuinely do feel as though my blog is either at the very start of a significant change, or that it’s about to head into a time of significant change. Generally, my biggest starting point for a blog post has been “what have I been up to?” So that at least some sort of record can be made of my life throughout a particular time. As a result of that, I do have a pretty fantastic record of the last seven and a half years of my life – accessible on the left hand side of this page for all those nosey people who want to find out.
However, I guess there’s a certain point where the whole public/private conflict starts to mess with my head. Do I really want a detailed record of my past up on a blog that is reasonably well attached to who I am? Do I want everyone in the future who reads this blog to have such a detailed knowledge of my past? I’ve looked to solve that in the last while through partially unlinking my blog from my real-life personality: at least to the point where my full name is no longer too easily found on the site. But in a way that feels like an annoying solution. Perhaps I want people to find a blog associated with my name? Perhaps the limited anonymity that I’ve created (extremely limited really as it is super-easy to find out who I am by having the quickest of looks through the blog and its associated website) is more of a negative than a positive? All interesting questions for me to ponder I think. At the same time, the whole “here’s what’s been happening in my life” basis for blog posts just hasn’t really seemed to work for the past while. Either what’s going on is fairly mundane, or I can’t really talk about it because it relates to confidential work stuff, or I don’t want to really talk about it because it relates to private stuff going on in my life that I don’t really want the world to know about. I guess I could always start another blog that was less about personal issues and more about “my take on this particular thing”, but I am sure if I did that, then this blog would become abandoned. And that would be a pity considering fantastic archive it has.
I do see a way forwards though, one that is probably most evident in the last couple of posts that I’ve made. I do want this blog to survive as it is, but I can definitely see its focus shifting in the future away from “what’s going on in my life” towards “my take on this particular thing”. And in particular, in Auckland’s Transport System and its associated developments, I have a pretty good blog topic that hasn’t been done to death by millions of other people (in fact a google search for Auckland Transport Blog reveals some pretty unrelated results). I imagine that there’ll be a few things that I need to change to make this work, and I still envisage offering reasonable insights into what I’ve been up to. I’m not a fan of blogs that just make links to newspaper articles all the time, with a couple of comments on them. I’m far more into ones that, while helping you keep up with the play, also are interesting to read and really give you an insight into a place or person. One of my favourite blog reads in recent times has been a blog specifically on the London Underground, which manages to keep a nice balance between links to news articles, but also with its own little twist on things. I doubt I’ll be able to create something quite so awesome for a fair while yet. But perhaps I’ve found a niche.