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Monday, September 06, 2010

The Locals: Public transport around Aotearoa

As we wrote in our last The Locals post, public transport is a key issue in the Auckland Council showdown. Yet throughout Aotearoa transport issues are going to be hotly debated with right wing business based candidates and councillors keen to keep the traffic jams growing with while left and green candidates attempt to defend and extend public transport from the ever present threat of privatisation, underinvestment and closure.

The following snapshots of the transport issue around the country give some indication of the nature of the struggle between working people and big business and the oil, trucking and road industry.

Gisborne-Napier Rail Link

On New Zealand’s east coast campaigners are fighting hard to keep the rail line between Napier and Gisborne from closure. The line which handles freight movements is marked for closure even as timber movements boom in the area. “A report indicated that the difficult stretch of State Highway 2 between Gisborne and Napier would have to handle 50-80 return truck movements daily, if the timber was moved by road.”

Gareth Hughes, Green MP, has been on the case even catching a fertiliser train to check out the route himself,
“Talking to the drivers I learnt first-hand from long time rail workers about the death-spiral that has plagued rail in NZ for decades: what with asset stripping, decades of massive investment deficits, and Government funding and policy that tilts the playing field in favour of trucks without accounting for their negative costs. This route has suffered from a classic negative feedback loop: services and frequency were cut, which drove away customers, so they had to further prune the services back and on and on. What we need is Government leadership to start a positive feedback loop: invest, provide more services and frequency, and attract more customers.

Yet this Government is subsiding trucks; the newly allowed 53 tonne juggernaut trucks will make our roads less safe and much more expensive to maintain. This weeks it has come out that many of our roads can’t handle their loads, and will need further state subsiding.” More
In Gisborne local council candidate Manu Caddie has been building support for the railway as part of his council campaign. Caddie’s progressive transport policies include: Retain the Gisborne-Napier rail-link; Make industry pay a greater share of road repairs bill; Reduce logging trucks on town roads by storing logs at Matawhero and train them into port or on to Napier.

The stoush in sun soaked Gizzy is between anyone who wants a sustainable and safe transport future and all the corrupt politicians in this country who take cash from the trucking industry for their campaigns then sell out policies that would favour our state owned railways.

Hamilton-Auckland Rail Link

In the Waikato a similar picture emerges this time with a backdrop of cows and Waikato Draught cans. Hamilton City Councillor and Alliance Party veteran Dave Macpherson and a small army of other candidates across the Waikato have been given the thumbs up be the Campaign for Better Transport in the shape of a massive “Vote TRAINS” push that will include sit-ins at Waikato train stations this weekend.

As Macpherson has written “The Hamilton-Auckland passenger train service is an idea whose time has not only come, it’s overdue! If the Waikato and the NZ Government want their region and their country to be regarded as part of the modern, sustainable and economically viable world they will invest in getting this service up and running. The Hamilton City Council has earmarked its share of investment for this, and calls on Environment Waikato (Regional Council), the Waikato District Council, and the Govt’s NZ Transport Agency to all come to the party with u, and to do it within the next 18 months."

Yet a very visible anti-rates platform for Council in the Waikato led by far right politicians for council including Roger Hennebry for Mayor threatens to drown the hopes of the Waikato residents in their fast flowing river. As Macpherson pointed out,
"The Hennebry Team have never supported Hamilton's fast-growing public transport network, trying at various times to:
• cancel Sunday bus services
• cut middle-of-the-day buses
• prevent new bus routes starting
• cut kerbside facilties for bus passengers
• demand large bus fare increases"
No surprises then that Roger Hennebry owns seven cars...

Dunedin’s most pressing need

Further south and the Dunedin race for local government will be overshadowed by the ruckus over the new stadium but some greenies are trying to keep buses in public view.
An increased council subsidy for regional bus services might reduce the isolation of some Dunedin communities, while boosting how much people have to spend in their local economies, a sustainable living advocate says.

Transition Town Port Chalmers member Nicky Chapman said the Otago Regional Council should have another look at bus subsidies to get people on the outskirts of the city to use public transport.

Cutting fares for the northern and southern suburbs would reduce wear and tear on the roads while minimising people's reliance on relatively expensive cars. That would free up disposable income in their communities.

Mrs Chapman said people paid about $10 a day for a return trip from Port Chalmers to the city. This made public transport too expensive for some.

"When you consider the timing of the buses as well, then the idea of access to an inexpensive service is a big issue for communities outside of the central city.

"Environmental issues, economic issues, and isolation issues could be tackled if we could find a workable solution."

Out of service
?
The roading corporates and right-wing politicians have done a good job of sabotaging public transport in this country for the last twenty five years. The latest local body elections only highlight the need for public ownership, free fares and a massive extension of New Zealand's public transport network. Working people need to mobilise industrially, politically and organise their communities to fight for public transport.

Don't let the sign read "Out of service", get active in the struggle to protect public tranport from the corporate saboteurs. Support pro-public transport candidates and join environmental or social justice groups fighting for better transport options.

Under capitalism we face a constant battle to ensure that our public assets are safe from corporations that want to spin a profit from everything-even catching a bus to visit your grandmother in north Dunedin. The corporations are the most undemocratic lobbyists, throwing money at politicians to buy votes. Anti-capitalists fight not just for better transport but also to win the class war against the capitalists and corporates that want to rip up our train lines so mutlinational trucking firms and petrol corporates can make a greater profit.

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As we count down to voting later this month we’ll continue our coverage of local body issues including taking a detailed look at the political races in Auckland and Wellington.

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