Apparently it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was trying the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. Brian Rudman’s excellent article in Monday’s NZ Herald highlights the fact that the insanity argument could be levelled against Ministry of Transport officials – who say that despite building more and more roads having never fixed congestion in the past, perhaps if we built a few more roads we might get a different outcome in the future.
Wading through the idiot’s guide to Auckland’s transport woes, prepared for new Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee by his bureaucratic advisers, I wondered if he’d had that awful Eureka moment when it suddenly dawned on him that the billions of dollars poured into upgrading the region’s road network in the 15 or so years up to 2017 will have been in vain.
“The performance of Auckland’s road network … is expected to deteriorate after 2021. The improvement achieved by the current investment programme would be eroded by around 2031. Congestion will increasingly affect the midday period …”
And the solution the wiseheads of the Ministry of Transport offer? To continue with the failed policies of the past 60 years. “Roads,” they enthuse, “are critical to the efficiency of urban centres, with private motor vehicles and buses providing transport modes for most people. This importance will continue.”
As Mayor Len Brown pointed out just over a week ago, (although whether his transport plans back this up remains to be seen), trying to fix congestion through building motorways has, at best only a temporary effect as new or wider roads just fill up with more traffic and often it just shifts the problem a couple of interchanges down the road. The problem is this doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the mostly Wellington based bureaucrats at the Ministry though, who have taken their one opportunity to speak in a fairly free manner and used it on peddling the same old roads-centric policy that has got us into this mess. It’s also worth noting that the MOT or other government agencies doesn’t exactly practice what they preach, almost all of their Auckland offices are based not only in the CBD but right at the bottom of Queen St, just across from road from Britomart. Rudman again:
The continuing concentration of economic growth in northern centres, particularly Auckland, “presents a challenge for a nationally funded transport system … Auckland alone is forecast to account for 60 per cent of population growth to 2030″. The writers say “achieving an efficient transport system for Auckland is central to improving the contribution the city can make to the national economy”. The completion of the motorway network and the upgrading of commuter rail is forecast to reduce congestion by 14 per cent by 2021, despite population growth of 22 per cent, but then it’s downhill again. The report refers to this as “a short breathing space before decisions need to be made on the next generation of major projects”.
In this breathing space, the Government will be pressing Aucklanders to come up with new ways of taxing ourselves to pay for the inner city underground rail loop, which it’s refusing to fund. A better debate would be exactly where a rapidly intensifying city, already looped and bisected by motorways, will find room for any more roads and cars.
There is frequent debate about congestion and often revolves around whether it’s increasing or decreasing and the impact it has on the economy but very rarely do we discuss a possible more important matter, choice. At the end of the day the majority of people will use what is the easiest and most convenient method for them to get around, they don’t drive simply because they want to sit in traffic on a motorway but because it is far too often the only option they have. It gets forgotten that up until a few years ago we focused almost solely on improving roads and hardly spent any money on improving public transport that it is no surprise that PT only works well as a viable alternative for a minority of Aucklanders. Where ever we have started providing high quality PT people have flocked to it, the busway is booming is now estimated that around 40% of all people crossing the bridge at peak times are doing so in a bus, investment in rail has seen huge increases in people catching trains to the point where we are about to hit capacity in the number of services that can enter and exit Britomart at peak times.
What’s more these trends aren’t just confined to the higher profile aspects of PT like the rail system or the busway, buses along Dominion Rd carry more than 50% of people travelling that route at peak times and there are similar stories along pretty much every route that we have put in dedicated PT infrastructure. The lesson we need to learn is that when we give people valid choices in how they travel, allowing them to avoid congestion on bus lanes, busways and railways, a large number will give it a go.
By investing in improving PT infrastructure across the entire city people could be guaranteed a trip to and from key destinations almost completely free of congestion and it would transform the way PT used, but that would take the Ministry of Transport to get over its insanity, which is a pretty hard ask.