Much like broken hearted souls pining over lost loves, too many transport conversations in Auckland lament “missed opportunities” rather than celebrate “what could be.” Self-centred navel gazing is never attractive and rarely worthwhile; we risk taking transport too seriously. I hope this post can slap us out of our overly serious mood.
The key question I want to consider is “how can we make travelling in Auckland more fun?” First I’d like to coin some new jargon: transport solutions whose main aim is fun shall be known as “funsport”. So we’re talking about transport that puts a smile on your dial; that you use because of the joy it brings you, not so much the mobility it provides.
We’re most certainly not talking about LRT or BRT – only freaks like me get excited about them. One Auckland initiative that comes close to “funsport” is the Wynyard Quarter Tram. My initial scepticism about this project has fallen away, because I realised that I was considering its merits from the wrong perspective. It’s not about mobility, it’s about fun.
Just imagine the Wynyard trams (shown below) bumbling along the waterfront filled to the brim with toothless kids and their equally toothless grandparents? Only Montgomery “Release the hounds” Burns would not smile at that.
But in my opinion the Wynard Quarter Tram sits at the unexciting end of a reasonably long funsport stick. Here are some of my ideas for other, potentially more exciting, funsport initiatives that Auckland could develop:
- Flying foxes – I’m not joking. I think there are places in Auckland where a flying fox would be flaming awesome. Imagine a flying fox running from K’Road down Queen street? Or Albert Park to Britomart? Or Three Lamps/St Mary’s Bay to Victoria Park? I realise there are safety issues that need to be considered, but if companies can run a vertical bungy jump in the middle of town and people can jump off the Sky Tower than I see little reason why we could not get some flying foxes up and running. I also think we need to stop seeing Auckland’s hills as a barrier and more as an opportunity, which leads nicely onto the next idea …
- Volcano Ventures - run a gondola up Mt Eden to the summit along the existing road. Ban cars/buses from driving up and use the parking space to provide some nice green space for people to have coffee/tea/waffles. Then develop a downhill luge (like you have in Rotorua) for people to zoom back down if they want (those that don’t can always use the gondola to get back down). Luge carts could be automatically returned to the top by being attached to the bottom of the gondolas. One Tree Hill could have a similar treatment, although I think a cable car might be more appropriate here because there’s less room at the top for a gondola. Here’s an image of the cable car that runs to the top of Fløyen in Bergen (Norway). I travelled on this in January this year and it provides exceptional views.
Of course there’s many other potential funsport solutions. Many scenic trips can combine public transport with cycling. My particular favourite, for example, is taking the train out to Waitakere, from where it’s only a 30 minute cycle out to Bethells Beach (first picture below). Or, you can take your bike on the ferry to Waiheke and cycle around golden beaches and green hills for the day before forgetting your aching muscles over a glass of your favourite pinot (second image).
Funsport initiatives target recreational and tourist users, which are of under-rated importance. Auckland does not seem to realise that it must compete to attract mobile labour and capital. Basically, if we want to grow then we have to get people and businesses to be based here. So quality of life is not just important; it is essential (of course a large part of quality of life comes from having a good job, so quality of the business environment is also important).
At the moment I think that Auckland fails to give visitors memorable experiences that make them want to stay in the city for a week, let alone live here. As much as I value effectiveness and efficiency, I think there’s a need for Auckland to look seriously at funsport initiatives (ignoring the inherent irony in trying to take funsport seriously!).
I see an obvious role for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to coordinate funsport outcomes. Not only do many of these initiatives involve public land, but they could be integrated with the HOP e-purse. Visitors could then use a HOP card to pay for all of their funsport initiatives, as well as general public transport.
I’m actually wondering whether we should be giving international visitors to Auckland a HOP card, pre-loaded with some small money (say $10) to encourage them to get out and about, thereby overcoming some of the barriers to their Auckland experience. Together HOP and funsport could help create an image of Auckland that is welcoming, efficient, and exciting. That’s the image I want to present to the world.
Or maybe I’m in lala-land. If so slap me and bring me back to (grey old) transport reality . If not, then please share your own ideas – I’d love to hear them.