There has been a bit of a furore developing over the last week or so around Len Brown’s commitment to regularly catching the train to work from Papatoetoe – instead of being driven in the Mayoral car. When it was announced that Len was going to do this I fully supported the move: not because one less car on the road would make the world of difference to congestion or climate change, but because it’s important for Len to truly understand the ins and outs of the Auckland rail system. Things like:

  • where there are delays
  • where (or whether) there are unnecessary stations slowing trains down
  • where lots of people are boarding and alighting
  • how the ticketing system works
  • whether a lot of people get free trips because they’re missed by the clippies

Of course, while he’s on the train he will have a fantastic opportunity to chat with regular train users and ask them how things are going. Last week the train he was going to catch broke down – a good illustration of the problems Auckland’s rail system faces.

A week or so ago it emerged that Len had only caught the train one in a couple of weeks, which was pretty disappointing as it seemed his mayoral calendar would have allowed for more trips than that. Since that time it seems he has caught the train more often, but there’s yet another controversy because his mayoral car continues to be driven on the motorway to his office (I think because his driver lives in Howick and Len needs the car during the day to get around Auckland).

Councillor Cameron Brewer suggests that this simply proves catching the train is “too difficult” for the Mayor, and he should give up:

Mayor must stop taking train – just too hard and costly

Auckland Mayor Len Brown should abandon his train trips because they’re costing ratepayers more, adding to his carbon footprint, and wasting his and staff members’ valuable time, says one Auckland councillor.

“The revelation that the mayoral car drives alongside the train completely defeats the purpose. Good on the mayor for promoting public transport, but given his huge commitments catching the train is just not practical or cost effective for the city,” says Cameron Brewer, Councillor for Orakei.

Not for the first time, Councillor Brewer misses the point. While it would be better for Len to keep the mayoral car at home or at the office when he catches the train to work, perhaps he diary means it’s impossible to align a trip home with a trip to work by train the next day (plus the fact that his driver lives in Howick). The congestion and pollution added by this one car would be fairly minimal I suggest – particularly (in terms of congestion) if the car was driven to work outside peak times.

As I noted at the start of this post, Len Brown isn’t taking the train so that he can reduce congestion by one car or so that he can make a tiny difference to carbon dioxide emissions, he’s taking the train so that he can get a better understanding of Auckland’s rail system. For a mayor who was elected on a policy platform that had rail improvements at its core – I think it’s exceptionally important for the mayor to catch the train as often as possible.

I hope that over time he can catch the train on other parts of the network – so that he can learn how slow the Western Line is, so that he can experience the infuriating and unnecessary 3 minute wait at Newmarket on the Western Line while the driver changes ends, so that he can see how unnecessarily long the trains wait at each station and how slow the diesel trains accelerate and decelerate. Hopefully he does get held up at Britomart waiting to find a slot into the two-track tunnel during peak times once in a while, or perhaps gets to ‘enjoy’ what happens when the points, signals or trains themselves fail.

I am strongly of the opinion that our politicians often make poor transport policy decisions because they simply don’t use public transport. When Steven Joyce became Minister of Transport he decided to ride the Northern Express bus service – which was apparently the first time in around 30 years he’d used public transport! He needed his hair-dresser to tell him that train fares were cheaper than bus fares, even though by that point he’d been Minister for over a year. Is it any surprise his policies have been so extremely roads-focused when he never actually uses PT?

So in the end I don’t actually care if Len Brown catching the train doesn’t take a car off the road and I don’t care if it takes him a bit longer to get to work than would otherwise be the case. If he’s genuine about his promises to really focus on improving Auckland’s public transport network (and I do believe he is) then he needs to see how things are now. He needs to personally experience and learn how the system works, and perhaps more importantly, how and where the system doesn’t work. So I sincerely hope he keeps catching the train, and hopefully a few buses too!

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10 comments

  1. Councillor Brewer does indeed miss the point. He noted that it was “naive” of the mayor to take the train. This is typical of non-PT users who don’t understand that for many patrons, the bus/train is just another mode and another option – not a replacement for your car for all trips and for all circumstances. Len Brown is mayor of a very large city. His schedule probably doesn’t take him directly to his downtown office every day and it’s naive of Councillor Brewer and the Herald to assume that he would take the train to work every day. It’s just sad to see supposedly responsible government figures (and the nation’s largest daily) behaving so childishly around this issue.

  2. Ho ho! I wrote a letter to the Herald last night that basically said exactly the same as the above blog (but in 200 words). great minds think alike 🙂

  3. “he’s taking the train so that he can get a better understanding of Auckland’s rail system”

    He’s also taking the train to promote rail travel as a viable alternative to driving. If he turns the whole process in to a farce then he undermines this promotion. And it must be a farce when a round trip to work on public transport requires 150km worth of vehicle movements. It isn’t any use arguing that his needs are somehow unique because everyone thinks that their needs are unique and require the flexibility of roads and cars. And to a certain extent they’re right… every single one of us is a special case.

    Personally, I’m surprised to hear that Brown has a driver. I know cabinet ministers do but does Phil Goff? What about other cities? I’m pretty certain that Celia Wade Brown doesn’t because she bicycles everywhere. Rather than live a long way from a railway station, maybe Brown should move closer to work or to a station and then either bicycle or walk to work or the station. If his job requires a car during the working day then it could be left overnight in a council garage. Or he could take a taxi to events he needs to attend.

  4. Since that time it seems he has caught the train more often, but there’s yet another controversy because his mayoral car continues to be driven on the motorway to his office (I think because his driver lives in Howick and Len needs the car during the day to get around Auckland).

    This is the problem. A properly integrated, frequent public transport network should be of such high quality that it should allow someone to get around with minimal wait time, maximum convenience and cheaply. Frequent buses and trains and cross town connections would allow anywhere to anywhere travel that even busy Mayors could depend on.

    “The revelation that the mayoral car drives alongside the train completely defeats the purpose. Good on the mayor for promoting public transport, but given his huge commitments catching the train is just not practical or cost effective for the city,” says Cameron Brewer, Councillor for Orakei.

    What this conclusively shows is that Auckland’s Public Transport is so bad that people question your sanity for using it! Actually a driver + the Mayor is two people in the car, most cars have 1 person in them, so this is no worse than what goes on for everyone else already.

  5. Why doesn’t the mayoral car stay in town for his daily use?
    Why doesn’t the driver take the train also?
    Oh, maybe it’s because PT to Howick is so poor. If anything, this highlights the areas of deficiency in Auckland’s PT infrastructure.

  6. Nice attempt at a defence of Mr Brown but for someone who has “an aspirational goal to reduce our carbon footprint by 40 per cent” having his empty car driven into town while he takes the train is not leading by example. Why can’t he set a proper example and organize his schedule so that he has one carless day a week?

  7. So the driver drives himself to his workplace while the mayor catches the train to his. Somedays they carpool to work together. What’s the big problem?

  8. Because he works until 11 at night and there are no trains home that late? I have no idea what Len Brown’s schedule is but just putting it out there…

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