The Emperor’s New Transport Strategy; Let’s Get Wellington Fighting

Now that the dust has settled somewhat on last week’s Let’s Get Wellington Moving announcements we look at the fallout. It seems that no one is happy with what has been proposed and with congestion at an all-time high across the region be prepared for it to get worse over the next twenty years.

In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” two tailors promise the Emperor a suit of clothes that will be invisible to those who are stupid and incompetent. Of course, there are no clothes, and everyone, for fear of being labelled stupid and incompetent, praises the finery, proving that they are indeed stupid and incompetent. A small child points out the obvious at the end of the tale.

When the Let’s Get Wellington Moving strategy was announced to great fanfare many aligned politicians praised it’s great finery and waxed lyrical on how wonderful it was when in fact it was anything but.

Completely short on detail and so long in the making, LGWM suddenly appeared to be anything but a strategy. A war immediately flared on Twitter, across party lines, with many pointing out the blatantly obvious. There was no strategy.

There was a shiny brochure of sorts and a promise of mass transit and other fluffy outcomes, such as money for pedestrians, but the reality was it contained nothing of substance.

Worse, the timelines for said invisible strategy were decades. And they could only be met if the residents came up with billions of dollars themselves, Treasury could be convinced, all the regional Council’s could agree, central government would sign it off, and a host of other hurdles that are impossible to get over.

We’re still in court over a cycle way in Island Bay after nearly a decade… And that was an “easy win” at the time.

How do I know they are impossible to get over? Because the self-same actors can’t sort out a bus crisis in the capital so how in god’s name (choose a god, Loki is probably the best) do we expect them to make good on these (vague) promises.

But don’t rely on my interpretation, read for yourself;

“Making an announcement at this stage carries significant risks, as it will raise public expectations of future investment before the costs and benefits of the package are fully understood.

“The Minister’s proposal also relies on several assumptions that have not been thoroughly tested, including exploring long-term financing to fund rapid transit.”

Treasury advice on LGWM

Ouch. Now, Treasury is a fickle creature, but it is a well-known fickle creature, that you want onside when you are going to ask for billions of taxpayer dollars. Or not. You could just ignore their advice.

So where to get the money from?

“They’ve basically said no to fuel tax and they have basically said no to congestion pricing and that means it is putting, roughly speaking, an extra 12 to 16 per cent on our rates.”

Andy Foster

Given that our rates are increasing at an absolutely alarming rate already, whacking on more increases over time is going to cripple the ratepayers. That’s if there are any ratepayers left after the next decade as the cost of living in Wellington goes through the ceiling while the livability plunges.

The Wellington City Councillors are all over the place on the announcement as you would expect. Not a great start to getting some consensus on where to from here. Don’t blame them, as those in the concerned camp have pointed out, the plan is very, very light on detail.

The Associate Minister of Transport showed her glass jaw and blew a head gasket (punny, I know) on Twitter over the negative reaction to the plan.

“We need a few car fascists to stop opposing infrastructure that gives more people the option to walk, cycle or scoot safely if they wish.”

Car fascists not best choice of words

Unfortunately, it confirms what a lot of us have long suspected, which is that central government is happy to let us all gridlock in stinking traffic fumes until such time as we are forced to get on a bicycle.

But before you get up in arms and prepared for the consultation process, forget it, there isn’t going to be one.

The negative reaction went on and on with the Light Rail Transit Association describing proposals for mass transit as “unbelievably stupid.”

Well, that’s to the point.

The Let’s Get Wellington Moving proposals for “mass transit” – which may or may not mean light rail – are “unbelievably stupid”, according to Brent Efford, the NZ agent for the UK-based Light Rail Transit Association. “The study has clearly taken no notice of expert advice and has failed to learn from international experience.”

Press Release

Several opinion pieces followed the original announcement with the Dominion Post clearly under pressure to provide some balanced views. It all just added to the cacophony and confusion surrounding LGWN.

Sounding increasingly desperate the Mayor had a crack at his own opinion piece and ended up by saying;

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. If we become mired in politicking or court action, it will be another 40 years before we see any change. That will break our city.

Justin Lester

He’s right and it must be frustrating to be the Mayor and have absolutely no power of this. At all. Nothing. Reduced to press releases about how great it could be and opinion pieces warning of stagnation.

Here’s our advice Wellington, plan for a worsening public transport system, more congestion, increasing personal transport costs, and the continued blind ideology of a political bloc that hates the car with a passion.

Because LGWM will deliver absolutely nothing for decades. As Andy Foster said back in 2014 of a then decision around the Basin Reserve, it would set transport and public transport back a decade.

Well he was wrong. It wasn’t a decade, it was more like four decades.

With local groups already lawyering up one thing is certain, LGWM is pretty much dead before it gets started.

For this year’s local government elections, of which transport is a key issue, it’s a nightmare debate that will be led by polarising promises from all corners of the political spectrum. Worse, the view is that LWGN is very Wellington CBD specific, while mounting issues with connected Councils and suburbs seem largely neglected.

What hope do we have when we can’t agree on a cycle way in a small suburb at the south end of the city and the bus network is broken? How about we start with fixing those before we get into grandiose schemes of mass transit?