27 Apr 2018

Transport plan 'too little, too late' for South Auckland

9:51 am on 27 April 2018

It's been billed as New Zealand's largest ever civil construction project - but South Aucklanders say a government transport plan doesn't go far enough.

A crowded Auckland train as 'March madness', combined with a rail worker strike, begins.

A crowded Auckland train as 'March madness', combined with a rail worker strike, begins. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

Yesterday, $28 billion was announced for roads, rail and cycleways across the city over the next decade.

For those living out south, the money is being funnelled into improvements on Mill Road, the electrification of trains to Pukekohe and the widening of the Southern Motorway from Papakura to Drury.

Mill Road is about 6km of hilly countryside, but the single lane rural link is carrying increasing amounts of traffic from State Highway 1.

The government said it was putting $500 million into Mill Road to improve intersections and the northern end of the road.

But Jatin Khurana, who travels from Papakura to Ellerslie every day for work, said waiting 10 years for just the first section to be upgraded wasn't going to make much of an impact.

"The first phase - those few kilometres - that's going to have a bottleneck effect so it will not really improve the situation," he said.

"I think it's too little, too late."

Mr Khurana said the heavy congestion on the Southern Motorway and the increasing traffic on Mill Road had driven him to take the train.

The government said 11,000 new homes are expected in the next decade, south of Takanini.

Rod Moody, who works in Newmarket, said with that kind of population growth, more needed to be invested in South Auckland - particularly into feeder roads.

"People I know who live in rural Karaka, to get from there to the motorway can take them up to 45 minutes and that's less than 10 kilometres," he said.

But Mr Moody said electrifying the trains to Pukekohe was a good step, not just for the environment but also for cutting down the noise pollution.

Congestion charges, more transport options needed

Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Steven Selwood told Morning Report the plan was the most ambitious that had been seen in a long time, but was just a part of what would be needed to actually reduce congestion.

"Absolutely the investment needs to be made in public transport but I guess the caution is that it raises expectations that public transport is going to be if not solved then at least substantially addressed and that's simply not the reality," he said.

"All of the analysis that the ATAP programme has done has said 'look, at best we can hold congestion to where it is today', and most Aucklanders I think are expecting an improvement, not the status quo."

He said charging particular routes, offering incentives for car pooling, or running rapid bus systems to share the cost would be needed.

"The combination of investment in public transport, congestion pricing and greater density of living particularly alongside the public transport corridors is really the three-legged stool that we need, and at the moment we've kind of got one leg.

"That will encourage other decisions to be made - do employers really need everyone to be working nine to five, could be more flexible with the hours that we work. All of those decisions really make a difference.

Greater Auckland transport blog editor Matt Lowrie agreed but said viable alternative choices needed to be available for people to make congestion pricing worth it.

"I think the second thing with that is that there's always going to be some element of congestion, yes pricing can come in but there is no city in the world that doesn't have congestion in some form.

"What we can do is we can lessen the impact and we can give people alternatives for people to get around it so they can avoid it if they want to."

However the government's plan was "fantastic" and long overdue, he said.

"This has been something that has been needed for decades, and in fact it goes back as far as the 1960s when the motorways were built. We were told at the time that we needed to build public transport that is of a high quality - railways and busways and what have you - to ensure people could move around.

"There's no city that is ever finished ... there's always something that's going to be going on, there's always going to be something to build, and to help improve our access, but this does make a big step towards doing it and the fact that it is funded is really important."

Mayor keen on South Auckland Express

At the announcement yesterday, Auckland mayor Phil Goff also said he hoped to have an express train from south Auckland to the city.

University student Meenul Dayal said that would be a fantastic idea.

"I would love it ... it would probably cut down so much time because right now I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to get to an 8am lecture so it would make a massive difference," she said.

Ōtara -Papatoetoe Local Board chair Lotu Fuli said while the Mill Road improvement was good news, she was hoping for light rail to connect the south to the Airport and also out east.

"We think it's an easy win for the government because we already own the land," she said.

"The route's already been protected - has been for a decade at least - and all they need to do is just put the tracks down."

The 10-year $30 billlion plan will be partly funded by a fuel tax, tolls, and private finance.

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