On Saturday we learned that Auckland Transport’s light rail plans will be an outstanding success. We learned this not from anything Auckland Transport has told us but from a column written by the Herald’s John Roughan. He ended the piece with:

An underground link to give Auckland’s lines a central turning loop is said to be the key to unlocking their potential for urban commuters. It’s not. It would remove just one of several reasons the trains are too slow.

Light rail in the streets with traffic and stoplights is even slower. Yet the fascination remains. Something about iron tracks makes them hard to let go. They may be a solid line to other places and to the past, but they’ve had their day.

Roughan rubbishing LRT is great as he’s proven to be one of the best reverse barometers we have for public transport so if he thinks a PT investment will flop it means it will be fantastic. Just take a look at some of his previous predictions

In July 2001 he lamented the then plans for Britomart and the then ARCs plans for rail and bus upgrades, more deregulation and shuttle buses were the solution he said.

This is all about what the council wants, not what is most likely to work. If they opened their eyes they would notice that a little bit of deregulation worked a treat 10 years ago.

Take the airport shuttles, as many now do. When minivans where allowed to compete with taxis and buses to Auckland Airport, they found immediate demand.

They were soon getting calls for other destinations, too, but were not allowed to provide them. Imagine if they could. An untapped dimension of public transport is right there.

Later in October that year there was this masterpiece where he urged people to vote for candidates who would oppose PT. He also promoted the group named “Roads before Rail” – now only found on the wayback machine

There will come a time, maybe in 10 or 20 years, when it will be apparent this election was the last chance to prevent a minor disaster and we might wonder what we were thinking of in 2001 that we didn’t stop it.

There were, we will remember, one or two greater disasters happening at the time, so possibly the voters of 2001 will be forgiven. But every time we drive past one of those light rail things we will wonder at our capacity for collective folly.

If, 20 years hence, our children can track down Mrs Fletcher or Mr Harvey and ask why they are lumbered with this little-used railway, they will hear a remarkable story of what was supposed to happen.

They are wasting their time and our money. And they are neglecting – wilfully one suspects – the need for more and wider motorways.

Auckland is a car city and always will be. Its people much prefer their own cars to any form of public transport and, contrary to the claims of the rail lobby, there is plenty of room for more roading.

History shows us that Fletcher’s decision to push ahead with Britomart was inspired and the station has been successful beyond all expectations – as we know from the chart below showing actual daily passengers compared to what was predicted in the business case.

Daily Britomart Passengers - Actual vs Projected

In 2002 he again claimed Britomart and investment in rail would be a financial disaster that will hurt not just Auckland but the nation’s economy

He will not stop the rail scheme. For better or worse, as with corporate regulation, he will probably get it done. It may be merely a financial disaster but it will hurt the economy of Auckland and the country badly enough when the costs hit.

In 2003 he said no-one would use park and ride and said the solution to traffic problems was walking school buses.

Driving to work these mornings, I pass a brilliant bit of traffic engineering. It is not the “park and ride” bus station they are building down at Barry’s Pt, although I pass that too.

Somehow I can’t believe Auckland commuters are going to drive to a suburban transfer station to make the rest of their journey by bus or train. Ask yourself, honestly, would you? Will you?

In 2006 it was that Britomart was built too big for the city – of course we now know it’s too small and will soon run out of capacity

It went ahead and built the Britomart railway station regardless of the scale of rail the region was likely to afford. Britomart, which will shortly farewell the last intercity railcar, is a magnificent terminal for a train that might never come.

In 2007 we have him claiming the busway wouldn’t work

The public transport entrepreneurs intend that we forsake the car entirely and take a bus to the busway. I hope they are right but I really don’t think so.

While not directly related to a Roughan piece, this image was in the herald when the busway opened and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a hand in it.

Northern Busway White Elephant

This of course is just a small sample and there are a lot more columns from him talking about transport, complaining about spending on PT and calling for more motorways. As I said, if he’s rubbishing it then it will probably be good.

Coming back to his column on Saturday perhaps my favourite part is where just after saying that he caught a poorly implemented tram once we therefore shouldn’t build light rail in Auckland (or the CRL), he says this:

The Government doesn’t take much interest in AT’s operational decisions for Auckland’s buses and trains and when the Government contemplates the city’s congestion it prefers the advice of the NZ Transport Agency.

Thanks to the national transport planners, the part of Auckland that is probably best served by public transport is the one part that has no railway. The North Shore’s busway is probably the fastest flowing artery in the region and it is about to get better. AT has posted out a plan to Shore households this month that simplified all bus routes into loops between busway stations. It looks ideal.

So now not only is the busway good but he likes the new bus network AT is proposing. I’d agree with him on both those points but the thing I find quite funny is his inability to consider that the same people who developed the new network he praises are also behind the plans for light rail. How is it they can be both so right and so wrong in the space of a few paragraphs.

Just to note, there are a few other areas where Roughan can occasionally be right such as the examples below but they tend to be few and far between:

  • Two years ago he claimed that an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing isn’t something we need as the issue is the capacity on either side (he also praises the busway).
  • A month prior he urged the government to support the general direction the council have been pushing saying that above all else it is a vision and no one is presenting an alternative – interesting as we later learned the business groups were saying the same thing behind closed doors.
  • He has also noted a few times that we should consider road pricing as a way to get better use out of our existing road infrastructure such as this one.
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  1. Tim Murphy once lectured me after I wrote a post about Roughan hailing the success of the northern busway without noting that he’d originally declared it a certain disaster and a “monstrous” environmental insult. “Not everyone is obsessed with being on the right side of history,” Tim said. But being wrong *every* time and never once acknowledging it? That’s really not admirable at all.

    1. Yep it’s not the fact be was wrong once, we all are at time. It’s that he fails to admit he was wrong then continues to say the same thing. It’s the intellectual equivalent of banging your head against a wall, wondering why it hurts then doing the same thing again and again and again

      1. I think you’re all taking precisely the wrong tack in believing that Roughan is a “reverse psychic”. As a prominent commentator he’s not trying to predict the future; he’s trying to influence it. His columns have been trying to destroy public confidence in PT DELIBERATELY as part of a political strategy which is still being followed by the Brewers and Quaxes: the NIMBY-property-values-über-alles anti-urbanist agenda.

        1. Come on, I’m absolutely willing to accept the “reverse psychic” label. He practically swoons over John Key, thinking the great man is up there with God and Elvis, when in fact Key is far more likely to inhabit the other end of the scale.

        2. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the instant the tides turn, he’ll be calling the Key years a failure and sucking up to whoever the new Nat leader is.

        3. I think this is right – his columns are strategic. Whether or not he actually believes what he writes is another matter, but frankly I suspect he’s a mouthpiece for Owen McShane and his usual gang of idiots.

      2. Further to this, I’ve thought for a long time that this is why the Left and other progressive thinkers keep losing the propaganda battle: because we mistake honest opinion for shilling and trolling. Honest opinion should be argued with; shilling and trolling should be mocked, exposed, or ignored. Arguing with shills and trolls is like wrestling with a pig; you get filthy and exhausted and the pig loves it.

        I think Roughan is a shill rather than a troll, i.e. he’s making a (dishonest) political argument rather than just trying to get attention like Michael Laws or Bob Jones.

        1. Agrees, I also think that this article does a very good job of mocking him though. Sadly it’s taken until very recently to realize this.

        2. Agreed. It’s worth explaining why and how the shill is talking rubbish, for the benefit of anyone else who might mistake it for honest reality-based opinion, but there’s no point trying to convince the shill. And spending too much time arguing with shills and trolls lets them set the agenda, at the expense of presenting our own.

  2. His latest column was particularly ridden with logical errors and wilful ignorance, but his championing of the northern busway was particularly ironic. Why oh why do we give talking these talking heads oxygen?

    1. His dissing of Sydney LRT on the fact that it continues out to the suburbs therefore more for locals and of no interest to tourists, as a reason for not investing in infrastructure local users would use, makes no sense.

      1. Exactly. If only I could sit him down, highlight those sentences and shake him a little, yelling “DO YOU EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WROTE?” Bizarre cognitive dissonance (if I’m being charitable), or self serving double-speak (if I’m not).

      2. If he thinks Sydney LRT is of no interest to tourists then he has definitely never been on it.

        I usually go for a spin if I’m visiting the city and outside of commuter hours it’s not hard to spot the rail fans like myself riding it out to the end and back just for fun.

    2. As a fairly recent immigrant, I was under the impression that he was some sort of satirical character written by the same guy who does those hilarious “Bob Jones” opinion pieces. Surely nobody can be that consistently wrong and STILL be given a platform to spout nonsense?

        1. To be fair Bob does have a point – why do we waste our time with a safety drill on a plane when:
          (a) the car ride most of us took to the airport was much more dangerous and no one put us through a safety drill, and
          (b) if the plane does crash you are pretty likely to die regardless.
          A simple please put your seatbelt on (which is fair enough due to turbulence) is all that is required IMO. If people want more info than that they can read it.

        2. Some rules are silly, but beg to differ on point b.

          The survival rate for many modern plane crashes (sea or land) is actually high.
          Many recent crashes show that of the fatalities occur in what happens once the crash has occurred as people attempt (or not) to get out of the plane. And also how aware they are of the situation around them.
          [Note: Can’t say crashes like MH370 or MH17, or TE901 are “regular” aircrashes – all these would be unsurvivable from the outset].

          In the recent Bob Jones’ case, he was sitting in an emergency exit row, it was incumbent on him to know what (and what not) to do and for the crew to know he and his fellow passengers were going to react correctly. Not just for his survival, but the survival of other passengers.

          When you select or are assigned a seat in the exit row(s) on a Air NZ domestic flight you have to agree to assist the crew in an emergency before that seat is assigned.
          This is also reconfirmed BEFORE you board the plane. This agreement also includes that you will be paying attention all instructions (including the safety briefing) from the crew.

          If Bob Jones doesn’t want to do these things, its easy, he doesn’t need to sit in the Exit Row on the plane. Or better yet he can get his own private jet and not use Air NZ.

          I can well imagine if they still allowed smoking on planes, he’d have been there puffing his pipe on the plane the whole time, as he ignored the safety briefing and rules about no pipe smoking.
          (in fact I vaguely recall he was pinged for doing exactly that many years ago when pipe smoking, but not cigarette smoking was banned on planes).

          The guy is a contrarian, like Roughan.

        3. Roughan is not a contrarian; he is a militant conventionalist. He fights extremely hard for the Status Quo, especially the Status Quo of some decades ago. The success of the Busway has now moved into the ordinary sufficiently for him to be accept it. Although only to the degree that it is the lesser of two evils. Of course he is still unable to accept the success of Britiomart because the need to reject rail is still a convention trueism among his kind. It is a next-level kind of dangerous for his deeply fearful kind of suburbanism.

        4. I can’t believe the guy does it just for ideology. I say he gets his money worth for the bullshit he writes

        5. No I’m sure he believes it. Yes it gives him something to put in his column and because of that he got the contract to write the hagiography of the PM. Sweetly I think that’s all it takes in NZ. We are considered to be about the least corrupt country on earth, basically that means shilling comes real cheap.

        6. Internationally kiwis in general are considered to be quite naive. Key plays up to this with his ‘good kiwi bloke’ act which is lapped up by the average kiwi but Key knows this is an act and strategy. Kiwis, like Roughan, also don’t like change, such as a shift back from cars to PT, and resist this. I also can’t deny there is a bit of New World spirit at play here with freedom of the private vehicle but many wish for decent rail public transport and the bully boys of New Zealand wish to deny this opportunity.

  3. Brilliant post. I hope he gets to read it.

    My problem with guys like this is that they (intentionally?) make it into a cars vs PT debate. Aside from road-pricing (which he supports) no one is suggesting an attack on the right to drive your car. The roads are not going away. New roads will still be built, maintained and enhanced (just not urban motorways).

    Your ability to drive will remain, uninhibited. Your want? That will remain up to the individual. Your need? not so much….

    1. I guess they are bemoaning things like bus lanes. For instance Onewa Road to Birkenhead has now bus/T3 lanes on both sides during the peak hours, where it could be just a 2×2 lanes for cars. So strictly speaking during peak hour the amount of lanes for cars went down from 2 to 1.

      But the amount of people getting through has since long exceeded the capacity of 2 car lanes (or even 3 if I recall correctly)

      Perhaps this is today’s version of the Braess Paradox (cut the link marked with X to improve flow)

      lane 1
      ———————(car)—— X—————→

      (A) – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – (B)
      lane 2


      (edit: blog not too keen on ASCII art)

      Meanwhile, on the Devonport peninsula people complain about narrowing their single lane on Lake road for a bike lane.

  4. Aside from his consistent wrongness on matters that can be objectively measured, in my view, there is a theme that weaves through the majority of his writing and it is a theme that I see as being commonplace amongst the right-wing community. John seems to mistakenly believe that his own experience of things, the world etc. is the experience of everyone. For some reason he (like many r-wing folk) lacks the cognitive capacity to realize that not everyone is like him, thinks like him, has the same experience as him and so on. And as a consequences, despite being wrong for over a decade on matters PT, he absolutely fails to shift his thinking. Even in the face of so much evidence that is contrary to his own writing. It is really interesting and suggests that he is very very concrete.

    I often wonder weather political ideology leads to a certain way of thinking about the world, or whether a certain way of thinking about the world leads to political ideology. In John’s case think it is the latter. A certain black and whiteness characterizes his arguments, with no grey/context accounted for (again, a hallmark of right wing thought). Anyway, I digress…

    1. Can you advise what evidence you have to support your assertion that right wing lack the cognitive ability to realise that not everyone is like them?

      1. Accepting [or not] the value of urban rail Transit is not necessarily a right/left issue. It isn’t almost everywhere in world except NZ, Aus, and US, and possibly Canada. Here is PM Cameron on Crossrail. The politicisation of debates about what makes cities successful is regrettable as it clouds discussion of the evidence. This is one of the reasons that we do what we do, in order to discuss the evidence separately from entrenched political camps.

        1. Just some of the legacy of conservative New South Wales transport minister Gladys Berejiklian:
          Light rail extensions , Opal smartcard introduction
          North West Rail Link (23km driverless single deck metro) – http://nwrail.transport.nsw.gov.au/ along with further developments – http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/media-releases/funding-secured-sydney-metro-be-reality
          Securing of funding and tenders for a new generation of double deck inter-city trains (65X8 car EMUs)
          …and oh yes, a heap of roading projects too.
          Point being that the approach of Gladys’ administration to transport investment was balanced.

          This sort of smart Conservatism really leaves the opinions of the likes of Roughan, Quax and Brewer way up there in the realm of Colin Craig’s vapour trails and Moon landing conspiracy theories 😉

        2. It just comes down to understanding the nature of cities. Those that deny urban rail’s utility as a matter of faith also tend to be those that bemoan the general value of cities at all. If they then live in a city their hypocrisy and stupidity reaches great heights.

    2. Could you provide the link to the peer-reviewed research that you must be referencing to in regards to right-wing thinking – should be a fascinating read.

      1. The right comes in many different flavours (as does the left). In the transport scene, Britain’s David Cameron might be described as being open minded to both rail and road projects that stack up. Mike Baird’s New South Wales government is another great example of mode neutral right wing governments with some great PT investment initiatives occurring.

        Unfortunately, John Roughan’s brand of right wing conservatism appears to be very similar to outstanding intellectual luminaries like Tony Abbot. Here is a link to a press release on recent federal Australian transport policy: http://www.railway-technology.com/features/featureraw-deal-australian-railways-face-funding-slash-4593493/?WT.mc_id=WN_Feat

        Many who read Transport Blog will also aware of Dick Quax’s “open mindedness”… they will love how he trotted out the line about the Manukau branchline struggling for patronage in early years when he knowingly helped sabotage the link by voting to stop it short of the Manukau shopping centre. Thankfully, the new Manukau Institute of Technology has gone a long way to countering his actions with a great example of intelligent design and much boosted patronage on the trains.

        The big question now is – where do other members of the right wing fraternity draw their inspiration from in transport policy? The dinosaur brigade (Abbott/Bush/Tea-Party/Quax), or 21st century smart conservatism (Merkels/Cameron).

    3. No, he just has a point of view that’s different to you (and me). I’m sure he can point to all sorts of evidence and studies that he thinks support his views, and believes that his views are rational and common sense. He probably despairs of the intransigence of “the left” in their blinkered views of PT above all else.

      I’m utterly convinced he’s wrong, and he’s utterly convinced he’s right. But to claim he’s somehow less open to other’s views because of that is nonsense.

      1. “I’m sure he can point to all sorts of evidence”

        You’re being way too kind. What distinguishes Roughan is not his fawning love of the right but his proud ignorance. Who needs facts, just like his idol John would say.

      2. I would be very surprised if he has one piece of research or evidence to back up his views. The user pays, neolib, trickle down ideology has been shown as faulty many times.

        It is not an economic school, it is an economic religion and its tenets are articles of faith, not science.

        1. The lack of user pays, market based pricing is widely recognised as a, if not the, major issue in urban transport systems.

        2. What about rural transport systems? Tell the farmers to pay fully for their highways out in the sticks. User pays is madness

        3. “widely recognised” – Evidence?

          Maybe by neolib acolytes – but that is just a circular argument.

          If motorists and truckies had to pay the true cost of the damage they do to the roads and cost of maintenance, there would be a lot less cars and trucks on the road. And as nonsense says below, if rural people had to pay the true cost of their roads, there wouldn’t be too many selaed rural roads other than State Highways.

  5. I loved that he suggested that the new network on the shore was good, but rail was bad, even though the new network only has the NEX running on the busway, just like a rail line.

    1. Ahh yes, but in his book rubber wheels = good, steel wheels = bad.

      So thats why “train like” NEX gets the tick (now).
      But if ever heaven forbid we run LRT down there it will be a total and abject failure
      Unless of course it was a Tram/Train – one of those LRT type hybrids that run on rubber tyres – in which case its already 100% Roughan approved.

      Then again, his attempted “go” on the LRT in Sydney may have turned him against all vehicles longer than a bendy bus, forever.

      Who knows with this guy.

      He is like a rusty, jammed up, old wind vane – that spends more time pointing towards ideas and places where the winds of change once were – not where they are coming from now.

  6. What did he mean on July 14, 2001 when he talked about minivans?

    Is he saying that private companies are not allowed to run shared minivans to destinations other than Auckland Airport? So something like UberPool or matatu (shared minivans they have in east africa) are illegal?

  7. Greg N, “Many recent crashes show that of the fatalities occur in what happens once the crash has occurred as people attempt (or not) to get out of the plane.”

    Well, no. If you mean a crash like a wheels-up landing, foaming the runway, lots of big fire trucks lining the runway, maybe. But a crash crash, where the plane is destroyed, no. There aren’t enough live people to get out of the plane in order to die in the process. If you look at the stats, the number of people hurt or dead in getting out is vanishingly small.

    1. Oh, you mean a crash crash not just a crash. I guess the key is knowing in advance whether your plane is going to be in a crash crash or just a crash as to whether it’s worth putting your seatbelt on.

  8. Any Herald opinion piece has good odds of being rubbish, and is also likely to contain mistakes in spelling and grammer. If it’s engineering related, its likely to have errors in fact, numbers or units. If it wasn’t free I wouldn’t read it

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