Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gainsay the AA

Here’s the AA promoting the Waterview motorway link
that will rip through the Auckland suburbs of Mt Albert and
Avondale, requiring the demolition of hundreds of houses
and the concreting-over of at least five hectares of parkland.
Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they. The Automobile
Association exists to promote driving and the use of private
vehicles, and naturally it will lobby for anything that aids
and abets those activities. Since its formation in 1903 it has
grown to be a powerful, well-funded organization regarded
—as its website correctly claims—as the ‘leading advocate
for New Zealand motorists and their interests.’ Fair enough.
What I want to know is: where is the leading advocate for
New Zealand public-transport users and their interests?
Where is the powerful, well-funded organization that exists
to promote the use of buses and trains? There is none.
There are many small groups throughout the country
dedicated to improving public transport but no overarching
nationwide lobby group. If we had one that spoke out as
frequently and as forcefully as the AA does, with the kind of
research resources the AA has, the debates over such issues
as roading, peak oil and public health and safety would be
greatly enriched and far less one-sided, especially at a time
when the government of the day believes that the transport
budget is best spent on more and bigger roads. We need the
public-transport groups to coalesce and fight as one.

Look at the Waterview debate, for instance—such as it is.
The campaign against the overground motorway is being led
by a local group called Tunnel or Nothing. Good on them,
but it's like trying to fight bushfires. You might damp down
one but another flares up. And these are volunteers doing
what they can in their own time and at their own expense.
The case for public transport in this country needs to be
made in a nationally coordinated, professionally resourced
way, because the National-led government, supported by
bodies like the AA, is scorching the earth everywhere with
its motorway firestorm.

Footnote: in the link above, the New Zealand Herald reports:

Auckland University senior economics lecturer and former
Treasury employee Rhema Vaithianathan, a Mt Albert
resident, has meanwhile calculated that keeping the $1.4
billion earmarked for the [Waterview] project in the bank
for 10 years would earn enough interest to halve bus-fares
throughout the region.

Ain't that the truth? On ya, Rhema.

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