A real reason for road rage - Auckland's trains and no loop

The misuse of Don McKinnon, the road rage of Tau Henare and how the Rugby World Cup train debacle is just a foretaste of things to come for Auckland

The launch of Paul Holmes' book Daughters of Erebus in Parnell last Monday night was, like all of Paul's social events, a great night. I don't know about the wisdom of opening old wounds, but it was a rare opportunity to mix with the maestro's wide and eclectic circle of friends.

At a Holmes bash you see people from all corners of the political spectrum who wouldn’t normally be found in the same room, and I was able to tell Sir Don McKinnon that I thought the Key government had missed an obvious opportunity by not making him Governor General.

McKinnon is that rarest of kiwis, a politico who moved on to international success as Secretary General of the Commonwealth. I don’t mind the army bloke, but there must be a better use for Sir Don than chairing the Auckland Regional Facilities quango.

Late in 1987, Paul brought journalist Claire de Lore around to my place in Grey Lynn where we were churning out direct mail letters from the garage, as part of Labour’s election campaign.

Later that week, the then-Don McKinnon launched an attack on me in parliament as some sort of mind-manipulator, mentioning the garage in Grey Lynn.

Ms de Lore was certainly not Mrs McKinnon at that point (tsk tsk), but I was secretly happy to have made Hansard.

Later in the week, we saw a less stellar National Party operative redefining the term dickhead.

Tau Henare, who according to lobbyist Matthew Hooton, is the National Party candidate in the marginal seat of Te Atatu (I’m a local and I didn’t know he’d been selected), was driving around Henderson in a loudly sign-written campaign vehicle when he experienced a fit of road rage.

Henare made the front page of the Herald when a female motorist wrote to his boss complaining about his gesticulations, which she interpreted as obscene.

I don’t see Tau so much now the local supermarket has stopped selling the DomPost and I have to say that I quite like his hoonish streak, but save the road rage for when you’re a bit more anonymous Tau, and don’t ever give a story like that legs and another day’s coverage by arguing the toss.

National is, it seems, intent on developing an Achilles heel where Auckland public transport is concerned, with the normally astute Transport Minister Steven Joyce stonewalling the progress of an essential but expensive rail tunnel.

With petrol prices going through the roof and staying there, Aucklanders are voting for public transport with their bums. What happened with train travellers trying to get to the opening rugby game is just a taste of a near and looming future.

The passenger rail system is close to capacity years in advance of projections, and right now, on ordinary working days, some services are so jam-packed that drivers have to bypass stations to meet OSH requirements.

The inner city tunnel would vastly increase rail capacity and it simply has to happen if Auckland is not to reach the gridlocked congestion it was heading towards under the long and inert tutelage of Transport Minister Maurice Williamson in the 1990s.

In that decade National sluiced off more than three billion dollars of Aucklanders’ petrol tax and road-user charges to Taranki-King Country, Clutha-Southland and other rural tory heartlands – nearly twice the price of the new tunnel.

I don’t think either Mr Joyce or the PM gets it. The PM hasn’t been in a bus for so long he apparently thinks they’ve got seat-belts and between the two they’ve cooked up the “holiday highway” which would knock six minutes off the journey to their baches around Matakana at a cost exceeding a billion dollars.

This road would follow an entirely new alignment when you could fix the current state highway for about a third of that price. Infrequent holiday congestion around long weekends etc. can, and has been, mitigated by good traffic management.

Three or four years ago there was no congestion around Orewa on one holiday weekend when Transit NZ put up a sign at Wellsford advising travellers returning from Northland that SH 1 was busy but that the alternative SH 16 wasn’t.

That solved the problem, much to the chagrin of TVNZ who’d sent a crew to Waiwera to film gridlock which didn’t happen.

So there’s the first billion for the rail tunnel, Steven.

Dump the holiday highway, fix the three bits of SHI that cause an infrequent problem and make that sign at Wellsford permanent.

The second billion might come from the pile of cash Aucklanders paid for rural state highways under National in the '90s.

Easy really.