It took me fifteen minutes to get to work. And the cost of parking! I was complaining like crazy and announced that it would be so much better if I could just use public transport. Imagine if there was a train! We’d be like a real grown up city! Here’s the thing though. That was in 1999, when I lived in Auckland, on Queen Street, and ‘commuted’ to Newmarket. That same trip by car now, during peak hour traffic, would likely be more than half an hour. And pity the people who live in the south and are taking an hour, or even two, to travel a mere 40 km to the city.
We all know the stories of how a statesman wanted a good train network in Auckland, but no-one wanted to pay for it, and now the city has almost ground to a halt. (Sir Dove-Myer Robins proposal for a bus-rail rapid transit plan was “to provide fast, modern electrified railways through the main traffic corridors of the region”. The proposal had passenger trains every three minutes running from an underground subway terminal in the city centre with above ground tracks leading to Howick, Auckland Airport and even a subterranean tunnel to the North Shore. The scheme was heavily criticized for its cost (an estimated $273 million in 1973) – when Auckland had less than half a million people living there.
But wait! There are numerous stories of Hamiltonians taking 45 minutes to get from Rototuna to the city by car. And then paying ten bucks a day or more to park. There’s plans afoot for a large subdivision south of Hamilton, where already there is a twenty minute back up of traffic on Collins Road (and don’t say the bridge will fix this because the traffic from Tamahere is even worse). There’s almost a gruesome pleasure in complaining about not being able to find a carpark, and a curious one-upmanship that occurs when we talk about commute times. I’m afraid for Hamilton. Millennials and Gen Z get it – they are using the buses in droves and not getting their drivers licences. Generation X (like me) used public transport happily when on our OE’s and think back fondly to it. Our parents didn’t even own cars. So what happened? Since the 1960’s we New Zealanders have become a nation that prides ourselves on being able to park outside the shop.
Of course the grand plan in the news this week with that gorgeous diagrammatic of a light rail system for Hamilton seems ridiculous – the cost! The disruption! Who would use it!? The same was said about Auckland remember? And now rides are in the millions.
Let’s not be like Auckland. We do need a total rethink on public transport. Imagine if an outcome of the the Waikato Wellbeing project was the ability for all of us to access our work, our study and our play easily, safely and at low cost. Imagine if we managed to avoid becoming an extension of the great southern car park. Imagine if we could reduce the horrendous road toll our region has. Imagine if we could capture more of the tourist market that arrives in Auckland every day and bypasses us. Imagine being able to get to Auckland, Tauranga, Taupo, Wellington and work or socialise as you travelled.
Sounds like an oncoming train to me!