WCC Watch Soapbox: Jack Yan – Balance is the key for our transport future

The latest person on the WCC Watch Soapbox is mayoral candidate Jack Yan. Feel free to leave questions for him in the comments. As always candidates (or readers) are welcome to contribute too and can submit pieces here.

Balance is the key for our transport future

Over the last term of Council, transport has been one of most divisive issues around the table.

Continued disagreement over proposed upgrades to State Highway One and fanciful suggestions of a light rail line without the necessary lobbying have seen little improvement across the network for both public and private transport. 

Wellingtonians want to be able to get around our city, and our region, quickly and affordably. In order to ensure this, we need to be making progress in transportation, rather than stagnating.

I believe the adoption of a unitary authority in Wellington would go a long way towards achieving these goals. Along with other benefits, a unitary authority would remove the fracture and tension in decision making the current division of power between City and Regional Council creates.

Presently, different transportation responsibilities are been split between the City Council, Regional Council and the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA). Amalgamating the Councils will see one body with one vision for transport in the city and create a stronger body when it comes to lobbying NZTA.

In addition to this, I believe our transportation future is multi-modal. Public transport is critical. Any increased investment in roading needs associated public transport investment if we want to ensure the improvements in transit times are maintained; we know from the Downs–Thomson paradox that in the event of a roading upgrade, users will keep switching from public transport to private until the time saving is eroded through congestion. The Downs–Thomson paradox partially explains why traffic is so bad around Wellington City on the weekend, when public transport runs less frequently.

The Downs–Thomson paradox also explains why the Regional Council is predicting that new highways will be chocked by gridlock. Unlike some of my opponents, whose transportation policies can sometimes be overtly in favour of private or public transit at the expense of the other, I recognize the solution requires a mixture.

If we want to reduce transit times, investment must be made in the infrastructure of both public and private transit. With fuel prices rising and a greater number of inner-city residents who have ditched their cars, it’s important that public transport is efficient and reliable.

While investment in links around the Basin Reserve is a done deal, in that the Council has been outplayed by NZTA, it strikes me as being passé.

The discussions surrounding these issues have taken place through much of my lifetime. I remember the underpass at Buckle Street was first brought to my attention in The Evening Post around 1984.

In 2010 I proposed that teleworking was one way to help alleviate congestion, so that people didn’t have to head out on to the roads at the same time. It’s still a likely alternative.

We seem to have made only incremental changes, not ones that are wholesale.

In public transport, our biggest step forward seems to have been Snapper, based on licensed Korean technology. It is the right thing to do, but it has potential to be extended further.

Earlier this year, my campaign proposed making Metlink’s real-time transport data public, rather than needing to apply and agree to Metlink’s conditions. If we allowed apps to be built with the data, such as live maps that could accurately illustrate the location of a bus or a train, users would find greater predictability and time their own journeys to bus stops and train stations more effectively. It is often the unpredictability that prevents people from adopting public transport: the idea that hopping into a car affords greater freedom. Yet in so many cities, where there is a predictable frequency of buses or subway trains, public transport isde rigueur, appointments are not missed, and social events and business hum along.

Further, the development of these apps could earn a Wellington firm—we are already among the best and brightest when it comes to innovation—healthy royalties, more so when licensed internationally.

Wellington is the best place to examine such a system. We should, if it were not for politicking, be able to implement these ideas rapidly because, in theory, our city is able to connect to innovators at a more personal level, and that there are fewer layers restricting these innovations from going ahead. But there seems to be a distinct lack of a long-term, coordinated vision, one which combines the technologies we have and understanding the demands of Wellingtonians.

Selling a vision is the job of the mayor, and it strikes me that “politics as usual” has been the flavour for most of this century. Voting councillors into the top job—which has been a novelty since the 1989 reforms, as the majority of our ex-mayors since then were not former city councillors—seems to further this systemic problem. Our GDP growth per annum has been below the national average, and we seem incapable of seeing our natural advantages in being a small city that can easily form connections to education, business and innovation.

Public transport deserves our attention, but, more importantly it deserves a fresh set of eyes from the mayor’s office, one which eschews the same old political arguments, in which some candidates must be complicit. There is an opportunity with Wellington’s compact size, the connections that can be formed between the existing bodies, and a mayor who understands the 21st-century potential of technologies that can make public transport a real, viable option for the region.

2 responses to “WCC Watch Soapbox: Jack Yan – Balance is the key for our transport future

  1. Pingback: Bringing Transportation into the 21st Century·

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