Last night I went along to the public meeting to meet some candidates for the upcoming election, labelled “Talking Transport”. With columnist Dave Armstrong conducting the proceedings, it was a fairly humorous evening at the ASB Indoor Arena, probably with the highlight being the very beginning, where Armstrong introduced our city with a sardonic viewpoint on how well we were getting on here – the quote above being a classic of what we’re not getting right. With a steady background noise of squeaky netball shoes in the background, and the pale blue of the daylight fading over the city, we sat down to listen – an almost 3 hour meeting for some.
Many of Wellington’s transport cognoscenti were there in the audience, including Mike Mellor, Demetrius Christoforou, Chris Calvi-Freeman, and representatives from all the pro-walking and pro-cycling pressure groups. I’d say their views were fairly evenly split from the audience: the general public seemed quite strongly pro-car in their mutterings. We were in the Eastern suburbs after all, where they face a daily one-sided battle to get into town. To them, getting to the Airport is the easy part of the day, it is the getting into town (past the Airport) that consumes their minds. Talks of routing Light Rail through the city to the Airport was not what they wanted to hear: they just wanted to hear that the candidates would sort out the buses.
So, that is exactly what was discussed. With the candidates on stage standing for the GWRC, what they heard is that everyone wants to sort out the buses. Everyone, that is, with the exception of a funny little man with giant ears called Phil O’Brien, who was so fervently pro-car that it was difficult to tell whether he was taking the piss or merely giving it away. The pro-cycling fraternity in the room soon turned against him, with his ridiculous pro-car statements, but I have a sneaking feeling that he will do quite well from the votes of the silent masses of pro-car audience members in the room. O’Brien soon became a crowd favourite, despite standing for the right wing “Wellington Party”, stating weird things like: “I’ve probably walked through the Mt Vic tunnel more often than I’ve driven, and there is hardly ever any pedestrians” (despite him living in Island Bay and being rather pro-car), and the classic “whenever I go for a walk, there is no one else around, I’m often the only one walking.” He kept hammering home the observation that what Wellington wants is more roads and more cars – because as he observed time and again, “Wellington people love their cars.” His solution therefore was to reduce the width of the footpath, as clearly no-one was using it, and that way there could be room for wider roads and more cars. Hmmm. I’m really not sure that the Wellington Party has picked the brightest candidates.
Statements by the other GWRC candidates there were all fairly uniformly pro-bus, pro-cycling, pro-mass-transit, pro-walking, pro-walking-bus, etc. The clapping from the audience fell away, as candidates merely parroted the vote-winning statements of the others. Everyone, it seems, reckons that the buses have been FUBAR by GWRC, and everyone wants to get them sorted. Some were specific with details: one candidate stated that he would bring back the number 22 bus and the 18E – whatever that means, they’re obviously staples of the Eastern suburbs. Everyone present supported a second tunnel through Mt Victoria, with most of the candidates qualifying it by saying: “but only for active modes and Public Transport, not for cars.” O’Brien, predictably, wanted it for cars but didn’t mind walkers, as long as they didn’t get in the way.
If you’re really into transport planning, Demetrius Christoforou has posted a very partisan list of who to vote for if you love Light Rail (available on Scoop) to which Chris Calvi-Freeman has posted a very fair riposte: “If you havenâ€™t already voted, I suggest you support people who have some knowledge of or involvement in this field, rather than just anyone who says â€œwhy donâ€™t we have light rail everywhere?â€ without necessarily having a clue as to how to make it happen.” Fair call!
Bryan Crump from RNZ and The Traffic Jam was there too, running wild with a malperforming microphone (I thought the King of the Sound-Clip would have been more in control of feedback than he was – some truly hideous screeching from the PA), but for me, the people standing out from the crowd were David Lee (transitioning from WCC to GWRC, spoke well and spoke intelligently and knowledgeably), and Tony Jansen (very clear lines of thought from this guy – no bullshit, but clever and to the point). Roger Blakely spoke well too, but I have an inbuilt dislike of any of the current members of the GWRC – how can anyone stand and tell us of what they are going to do in the next term, when they did none of the those matters in the previous 3 years?
After the Tea break (organised with military-like precision despite a lack of coffee), the conversation turned to the WCC candidates for the Eastern suburbs – not my constituency, so I left to return back to Castle Leviathan, to watch Grand Designs erect a giant wedge of black somewhere down south. It is ironic that from the ASB Indoor Sports Centre, everyone drove there and back – there is no bus route that stops outside the door, the way that a well-organised transport system should be. It is possible that one day in the future, there will be a fast transport link from the airport to the city, stopping off to collect people at the Indoor Sports stadium, but judging from last night’s performance, I’m not holding my breath.