Len's train set

Len Brown went around the campaign denying to all who would listen that he was promising to spend more than $4 billion. I sat in quite a few debates between him and John Banks and everytime John Banks said that Len Brown was promising to spend more than $4 billion he would vigorously deny it.

Yet now in the past few days we have heard nothing else but his $4 billion pipe dreams. It’s actually closer to $5 billion, but who is counting when he denied it all campaign.

He has campaigned on three rail project plans – a central city tunnel, a city-airport link and a city-Albany link – which will cost up to $4.75 billion.

Now the greedy fat cats of the South Island are upset about his plans. I can understand their upset, they would really rather have the billions spent on them. But it is a little bit off after the government dumped $1.7 billion on South Canterbury and another $4 billion on Christchurch and bailed out the greedy farmers in Southland who lost stock from a wee storm to the tune of another $1 billion.

I wonder just how much government assistance there would be for businesses in Aucklnd that lost stock in a storm? I bet it would be zero.

Credit though to the greedy South Island mayors who have seen that the new Auckland City will become a political powerhouse. Tough titty to them though. The simple fact about Auckland is that more than a third of the population live in the new city and more than half of the population lives north of Taupo.

However Len Brown does need to be held to account for his insane rail policies. It is perhaps relevant then to look at some details concerning car vs. public transport.

I found a great article in the Winnipeg Free Press about just this.

Before the Industrial Revolution, food was scarce and gruelling work was done outside. European paintings of the period glamourize women who were very white and more than a little plump. Today, most workplaces are out of the sun, and food is plentiful, so people will pay a lot of money to be tanned and thin like the achingly thin models on catwalks. Following the pattern, as cars have become abundant, fashion has set its sights on the car-free lifestyle.

It’s good to be in a society where such experiments in living are available to those who want them; this writer has no car and rarely needs to venture out of Regina’s Cathedral neighbourhood. But public policy, by its very nature, binds everybody. It’s therefore important that romantic visions are tempered by respect for personal choice and cognizant of what new technology will make possible.

Yes, indeed, public policy binds us all, and even the NZ Herald editorial today implores Len Brown to “sell rail to everyone“. Well this blogger ain’t buying rail. It is a 19th century invention that hasn’t much improved, and it is expensive in the building and more expensive in the running.

It’s time to recognize that cars are a wonderful thing, and there is good reason to expect technology that already exists will soon mitigate the objections some have to them.

Cars have made people more mobile than at any time in our history. As author Randal O’Toole has calculated, the average American travels 29,000 kilometres per year, at an average travel speed of 56 kilometres per hour. Twenty-three thousand of those kilometres are by car. For comparison, Americans in 1900 averaged 3,600 kilometres per year at an average speed of 13 kilometres per hour. They were dependent on street cars, steam trains, and their feet.

This mobility increases the options people have for work, culture, and commerce. The American Transportation Research Board has found that welfare recipients with a car in Los Angeles County have access to 59 times more jobs (yes, 59 times as many) as those reliant on walking and transit.

Those are very impressive statistics and are a testament to the freedom a car gives you, rather than the tyranny of public transport.

Minority sports would be impractical without the car. You can play ice hockey in tropical Auckland, New Zealand, and rugby in CFL-mad Saskatchewan. Such diversity is possible only because minority sports’ thinly spread devotees are able to move quickly to a central point for games and practices.

Similarly, large-scale stores such as Walmart and Superstore, which have driven down prices for consumer goods, are possible only because large numbers of people can travel to them easily and take home enough goods to justify an involved shopping trip in a large store.

This is the crux of any issue regarding public transport. Everyone thinks it is a good idea for everyone else to take public transport. But diversity necessitates private transport rather than the constraints of rail.

What’s more, there are good reasons to believe that technology will make cars dramatically better for the environment and less draining on infrastructure.

Driverless cars are already here. Try searching YouTube for “BMW GPS Control.” You’ll see Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson sitting mortified with his hands off the wheel and his feet off the pedals as the car laps a racing circuit at full speed complete with smoking tires.

What that means for transport is that road use will become a lot more efficient. With all the foibles of imprecise judgment and distracted behaviour, humans driving cars at 100 kilometres per hour can manage a traffic flow of 2,200 vehicles per lane per hour. With the precision of computer controlled cars, that figure can rise to 8,000 and you can see how we might not need to widen roads as much as we thought.

Could we really trust robots as chauffeurs? Autopilots have landed passenger jets for decades, and the alternative is human drivers who may be tired, drunk, texting, distracted or all of the above.

Well if we trust airlines to land us remotely why not explore technology as a means of unclogging our roads. When I say technology I mean 21st centruy technology not 19th century technology.

On the environment, General Motors have claimed that their Chevrolet Volt, an innovative electric car scheduled for launch next month, will get an equivalent of 230 miles to the gallon for city driving. That’s almost 10 times better than current vehicles. Such an innovation will likely make a mockery of efforts to wrestle people out of their cars. Why bother when technology has just solved 90 per cent of the problem anyway?

We hear public transport advocates calling for integrated ticketing, when it would be far better to have an integrated transport system. That for me means ripping up the tracks, and making them bus/truckways, giving buses the ability to provide end to end delivery of passengers without the need to transfers. They simply pick up their passengers in suburbia then drive to an interchange with the busway and then travel unimpeded to their detination. Add trucks onto the heavy transport corridor and all of a sudden the motorways would move freely.

We don’t need trains, they cost too much, and Len Brown doesn’t have the $4 billion anyway, so let’s get sensible with public transport.

Like the pasty fat women in the paintings, alternative lifestyles will always be idealized by the trendy set. That’s fine, but the private car is not just some gross obsession of the masses. It’s probably created more freedom and opportunity than any other invention we have, and it’s going to get better. Let’s hope that public policy makers can rouse enough of their own enthusiasm to respect that.

And that is the problem. Len Brown and his hangers on are socialists and freedom is not something they want for people, they prefer control.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.