This week’s speaker is Simon Kingham speaking about transport options for our country. Simon spends part of his time working for the Ministry of Transport in Wellington and part of the time as a Professor at University of Canterbury. We have asked Simon to speak about the challenges and solutions currently facing transportation in New Zealand. James Caygill from Waka Kotahi will also be present to answer questions about funding available for councils.
I find the current discussion about petrol and diesel engine vehicles versus electric quite boring. When you consider that car manufacturers decided that vehicles should be petrol driven at the start of last century because they had found a massive supply of oil. Now car manufacturers are promoting electric vehicles because they have found places in the world where they can exploit the local communities to supply them with the raw materials for electric batteries. Many of us will end up with them, even if they will be a transitionary form of transportation.
The real question is why are we not massively investing in free, or low cost, public transport? Why are we not by-passing the electric vehicles altogether and investing properly as a country in public transport?
As I pondered this question I came across this article about trains. The writer asked the question why are trains seen as the preserve of wealthy tourists? It’s a great question.
My wife decided to take our grandchildren to Picton by train and catch the inter-island ferry. The cost was prohibitive. The excessive price of plane tickets was cheaper than the extortionate prices of the train. Our grandchildren have never ridden on a train.
Here’s what the writer, Suraya Sidhu Singh, wrote:
If providing more affordable, available passenger rail could cost roughly the same, why does KiwiRail go for the “high price, nearly invisible timetable” model? The answer is simply that if your balance sheet doesn’t cover moral issues like saving lives or reducing emissions, the exclusive, high-end service model looks much more attractive.
Despite this chilling reality, the government recently reviewed KiwiRail’s corporate set-up and decided to keep it that way. One can only hope the ongoing Inquiry into the Future of Passenger Rail means there’s still a chance they’ll throw the nasty 1980s hangover of corporatised rail wherever blue mascara and string vests went.
She concludes the article by asking:
New Zealanders have a question to ask ourselves. Is passenger rail critical national infrastructure capable of delivering valuable human outcomes like reduced road deaths and reduced emissions? Or is it a trivial, pointless fun fair we can afford to devote exclusively to squeezing the most money out of well-off tourists?
After many years of corporatisation, KiwiRail seems only to have gone deeper into the “fun-fair” model. It’s time to stop chasing imaginary profits and give affordable, widely available passenger rail back to those who built it: ordinary New Zealanders.