“Please don’t go.”
Ring a bell? It was, after all, splashed all over the front of Gulf News two and a half years ago.
Yes, that was Phil Goff in October 2016 when, as incoming mayor, he didn’t want Waiheke to up sticks and sever ties with Auckland Council. He even went so far as to promise to look into allowing “some devolution of powers” to the local board. And we had to go along with it.
So here we are in 2019, fewer than six months out from another mayoral election. Maybe it’s time for some accounting. The trouble is, you only have to look at his latest proposal to boost public transport around the nation’s busiest city to realise we’re still not getting a fair suck of the sav.
On the surface, the mayor’s announcement was laudable. Free public transport for children under 15? Hurrah… and it’ll apply to Waiheke! Integrate ferries into the public transport system? Hurr…
Yes, it’s worth reading a little closer on that one. The original press release was peppered with commentary that should have made Waiheke residents bristle with expectation:
“Every person on a bus, train or ferry seat is one less in a car on our roads,” Goff crowed.
“The poor cousin status of ferry users is no more with confirmation of integration of ferry-feeder bus and train fares with ferry fares,” trumpeted North Shore councillor Chris Darby.
And, for sure, if you’re living in councillor Darby’s leafy suburbs of Takapuna and Devonport, you’d be rightfully chuffed that your bus-ride to the ferry terminal is going to be subsidised and those cluttered car parks freed up from commuter cars.
But if you’re a Waiheke commuter, or a parent dealing with the Saturday sports run to the mainland, or a regular ferry journey away from hospital visits or family catchups, you’d be rightfully miffed that the Goff and Darby show is restricted viewing to only those living on their side of the Hauraki Gulf.
Why has Waiheke been excluded? When I spoke to Waiheke Local Board chair Cath Handley, who’d fronted Tuesday’s Finance and Performance Committee meeting to ask that specific question, it seemed that she’d faced a stonewall response that Waiheke’s tourism pull and Fullers hold on the route made it impossible.
Impossible? Nah. Sounds like the too-hard basket to me.
It’s easy to pull these arguments apart. After all, Waiheke isn’t the city’s only tourism hotspot . Indeed, Devonport could fall into that category, too. And Fullers runs the 15-minute ferries to that terminal as well, so they’re clearly going to have to be brought onside with the scheme.
But the over-riding argument goes right back to that Gulf News front page and that large “Please don’t go” headline. If we’re part of Auckland – and that’s what we were told we were going to be back in 2016 – then we must surely be included in Auckland-wide plans. Especially schemes that have been designed to improve the lives of Aucklanders, such as an integrated transport plan.
The sentence that resonated most during my conversation with an understandably frustrated Ms Handley – and it was a sentence she repeated more than once – was “people on Waiheke are Aucklanders, too”. It resonated because, although many of us might still feel the hackles rise at the thought that we’re lumped in with the whole supercity, while the rates bills drop through our letterboxes bearing that cartoonish stamp of a pohutakawa flower adrift on a choppy sea, then we ought to feel some sort of camaraderie with our fellow Aucklanders.
It was that feeling of camaraderie that Goff was trying to engender in 2016 when he told Gulf News “the relationships are so entwined” between Waiheke and Auckland. He went on to say everywhere he’d been in Auckland, he’d found people who “feel they haven’t been getting their fair share, for whatever reason”. He’d sort that out, he said. The council would help, he said.
Well, maybe it’s time to front up then. Few causes bind Aucklanders together like efforts to sort out our terrible transport infrastructure. The basis of free weekend fares for children under 15 and integrating ferries is absolutely sound.
Just let’s make sure it’s for all Aucklanders. Even Aucklanders who happen to live on an island in the Hauraki Gulf. • James Belfield