by Ondine Green
After decades of sabotage and delay it's finally been agreed by all parties that Auckland's rail network needs to be electrified for the needs of people and planet. So it's absolutely stupid that the Auckland Regional Council has been forced to approve a budget without provision for buying electric trains in the coming year (see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10516091)
The Labour government declared in 2007 that Auckland could have electric rail - but only if ordinary Aucklanders paid up to 5c extra per litre of petrol for it. Now the petrol tax is in political doubt because of skyrocketing oil prices. Yet Labour refuses to consider any other options for funding. So, in other words, Auckland's electric rail is in jeopardy because petrol prices are too high! This is of course the stupidest Catch-22 situation ever. It's precisely because oil is in short supply (and going to get shorter) that we need electric rail, and other sustainable transport, as soon as possible. Aucklanders might be wondering whether the Labour government actually wants Auckland to have electric rail. It's possible that windfall profits from petrol price gouging have blinded them. Perhaps they really don't care if Auckland chokes on its own congestion and pollution. A government with working people's interests at heart would immediately guarantee all the funding needed for Auckland to have an efficient, comprehensive electric rail system within five years. This should be paid for out of general funds, not by putting an extra tax burden on working people in Auckland, most of whom at the moment don't have a real choice but to use their cars to go to work. The nasty Nats aren't any better. Maurice Williamson says he wants electrified rail "somehow". "Somehow", in Maurice's book, always means what are euphemistically called "Public-Private Partnerships". Maurice wants the government to subsidise big business to build our rail network - and then to make a profit off it indefinitely. But the profit motive is exactly what got us into this mess. The reason we need electric rail is precisely because the corporate sector is infatuated with the car. All the experience of the 1990s - especially the debacle with our national rail network - shows that private enterprise just doesn't run public transport in an efficient or sustainable manner. Public transport must be owed by the nation as a whole, and run for ordinary people's needs, not the health of some balance sheet. Labour and National agree - Aucklanders being able to get about their city without having to burn expensive and polluting fossil fuels is not a priority for them. Isn't it time we had a better option?