Gareth Hughes

Why ignore an 11,000 strong petition for commuter rail?

by Gareth Hughes

As the Campaign for Better Transport reports, last week the National Party members on the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee where I sit, voted to not even consider the petition for a commuter rail service between Hamilton and Auckland.

Putting aside the fact that in most countries you might expect to find a commuter rail service between the 1st and 4th largest city, especially when they are only 120 kms apart….

It’s a pretty disappointing thing to do given that over 11,000 people signed the petition – i.e., almost 10% of Hamilton’s population. Representative surveys have also shown that 85% of residents support the idea. That’s a large proportion to dismiss out of hand. And, not surprisingly, many Hamiltonians are pretty angry about the committee’s decision.

The members on the committee claimed that they didn’t need to consider the petition because Hamilton’s local government has already considered introducing a commuter rail service and decided against it. But, actually, as one local Hamilton councillor puts it that is “complete cr*p“.

It’s true that the regional council – Environment Waikato – aren’t so keen on the idea of a Hamilton-Auckland rail service. But in Hamilton, as around the rest of the country (except Christchurch, of course), there are two levels of local government. The Hamilton City Council is all for the idea of an Auckland-Hamilton commuter rail service.

Personally, it’s hard for me to understand why David Bennett, the chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee is so opposed to the idea of a commuter rail service. After all, the Capital Connection rail service between Palmerston North and Wellington is extremely popular and doesn’t even require subsidies.

Bennett says that trains are an outmoded method of transport and electric cars are the future. But his stance seems to ignore the facts – that there are a more than a million trips by rail in Auckland and Wellington every month while only a few hundred people own electric cars. And Ministry of Economic Development figures suggest that by 2020 only 5% of our vehicle fleet will be electric.

I believe that we can’t afford to wait until 2020 to reduce our emissions from transport or our reliance on cheap oil to get around. What do you think?

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Featured by Gareth Hughes on Thu, May 6th, 2010   

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