Brian Rudman asks if it’s time for the Canary test.
A sitdown on crowded, polluted Customs St will show minister why Auckland needs money for rail link urgently.
The ping-pong marathon between Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Mayor Len Brown over the start date for the $2.86 billion City Rail Link staggers on. This week the mayor unveiled a commissioned PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report claiming the rail patronage and downtown employment targets set by the Government for the project were unrealistic.
It said the 20-million trip trigger point would be achievable only after full introduction of the new electric train service in 2016.
Last year, the Government said the project could start earlier than its preferred 2020 date only if patronage was on track to 20 million trips a year well before then and city centre employment was up by 25 per cent.
Mr Brown says the tunnel has to be started by 2016 to prevent crippling peak hour road congestion by 2020. And PwC says the 25 per cent employment increase is unachievable because of falling office vacancy rates and a shortage of new office space in the pipeline.
Mr Brownlee remains unmoved by the PwC arguments. So what now?
Perhaps it’s time for Mr Brown to challenge the minister to the canary test. Challenge him to sit in one of the downtown Customs St bus stops at peak hour and breathe deeply of the noxious fumes.
Rudman goes on to talk about noise emissions from buses in the city centre. I don’t think it would just have to be at a bus stop. Sitting in Britomart would be good for breathing in fumes – although only for another 15 months or so. However one thing that perhaps Rudman perhaps isn’t aware of is that even with the CRL, the number of buses is set to increase in the city centre, it’s just that they will be from areas that aren’t served by the rail network running at higher frequencies than they do now. That means it’s going to be equally important to look at how we can improve the standards of buses.
What should be alarming Aucklanders is that the longer the CRL is delayed, the more buses and cars will try to cram into this de facto, roadside main downtown bus interchange. Not only will the noise and air pollution increase in Customs St, but it will spread out along the adjacent streets as the bus depot slowly expands. Lower Queen St, Albert St, Commerce St … the pollution will quickly spread.
Add the fumes from the expanding fleet of private cars squeezing into this increasingly congested bottleneck and the strip between the “world’s greatest harbour” and the centre of “the world’s most liveable city” will become, at peak hours, a fetid no-go zone.
While vehicle numbers have increased in the region/country, they have actually dropped coming into the city centre over the last decade or so and AT’s modelling is suggesting that the drop will continue over time as better PT is provided and the city is made more friendly for people.
Back to the canary test, if he came sat in Britomart he could also see the thousands upon thousands of passengers who already stream off train services in the mornings. Pictures like the one below are now a common sight at Britomart.
— Josh (@joshuawalkernz) May 27, 2014
And if Brownlee could be persuaded to come and see Auckland’s rail network in action in a bid to get a project over the line he wouldn’t have been the first to do so. Back in 2006 when double tracking of the western line was getting underway the initial plan for New Lynn was for the tracks to remain on the surface. Michael Cullen was dragged down to New Lynn by former Waitakere City mayor Bob Harvey to witness the impact that even a small number of trains caused to the local roading network. He eventually agreed to the tracks and station being put into a trench and although it was more a roading project than a PT one we still got a great integrated rail and station as a result.
Unfortunately the chances of getting Brownlee to witness our PT network in action are very small. He’s shown no interest in it so far and generally seems to avoid Auckland as much as he can. I know the Campaign for Better Transport have tried to have a meeting with him and he always says he is too busy – even Steven Joyce was at least prepared to meet advocacy groups. Interestingly enough Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Brownlee about being in Britomart at peak times last week in a select committee.
She also tweeted a few other comments from it that were interesting.
Brownlee just said contradictory things about CRL: can’t build it because demand isn’t there, but generally need to invest ahead of demand? — Julie Anne Genter (@JulieAnneGenter) May 28, 2014
Brownlee doesn’t know that CRL is needed for 5 minute frequencies. CRL will make rail much more attractive, best wy to grow patronage. — Julie Anne Genter (@JulieAnneGenter) May 28, 2014
I think one of the fundamental problems we have with the discussion on PT is that in general politicians (from all parties) have a lack of understanding about the impact it has and the potential it provides. Unfortunately that’s not an easy problem to solve.