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Mark Knoff-Thomas on Auckland's transport projects

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Our CEO. Mark Knoff-Thomas, offers his take on Auckland’s transport projects, change, and some of the pain businesses are going through.

Private vehicle ownership in New Zealand is increasing - that’s a fact. According to Ministry of Transport figures, in 2010 vehicle ownership in Auckland sat at 0.66 per person, and over the six years to 2016 that increased to 0.73 per person.

Internationally, we are starting to see increasing efforts from Governments to move away from this transport model – including in Germany, which is considering bringing in free public transport in an attempt to alleviate pollution and congestion. Still, it’s a relatively safe assumption that for the next 15-20 years the vast majority of New Zealand’s adult population will own and use private vehicles, albeit at a decreasing rate.

I’ve been following with interest the recent media coverage relating to the planned introduction of cycle lanes in West Lynn and on K Road, and changes to bus stops in Mt Eden – and in particular, the universal inference that business is anti-cycling or buses etc. It’s a perception which is both totally inaccurate and decidedly unhelpful to the conversation.

There’s a genuine and fully justified sensitivity among business-owners regarding the risk they’re exposed to when they experience any downturn in trade – whether its due to direct disruption from infrastructure works, or loss of easy parking options for consumers. If the material impact of losing on-street carparks is that my business’ revenue drops 10, 15, 20 per cent, it’s a big deal. Auckland’s thriving economy depends on a huge array of small businesses to make it tick, and employ many thousands of people.

Many businesses work bloody hard to bring in just 60-odd thousand dollars a year. These same businesses throw open their doors on a daily basis to earn money – money that pays the home mortgage, the business loan, the school fees, gst, rates, transport, etc. The New Zealand economy exists because of small business. Period.

That’s what makes it so frustrating to see local government’s lack of empathy as more costs are laden on business via new rates, or that business pays 2.73 times more in rates than residents do, or that business won’t be impacted by reductions in things like car parking. Currently the council has no ‘development response’ budget to assist affected businesses. Being in retail or hospitality means you are already at the disruptive mercy of new channels and business offers popping up left, right and centre - and increasingly from overseas. For our small business sector to thrive in 2018, and beyond, it means “hustling” - turning on every possible tap to market available, engaging with consumers consistently online, instore, in print, understanding what your consumers like and delivering that consistently. What these businesses don’t need is any additional roadblocks by the council or its CCOs.

I’m a fan of cycle-ways, bus lanes, T2 lanes, heavy and light rail - all forms of public transport. It is absolutely the right strategy for Auckland to follow. I remember back in the 90s being one of a handful of people catching the rickety old diesel trains from Ellerslie Station to the old Auckland Train Station on Beach Road and then schlepping my way to the office in O’Connell Street. Look at the number of train users now – it’s fantastic. Aucklanders are changing habits; transport options are increasing – and we should all embrace that. The uptake of train patronage, as an example, has been a well-integrated addition to existing transport options.

That said, the network is still not reliable, and we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. We are currently being hamstrung by a political ideology that seems to be distorting the pragmatic reality for the bulk of the population. All commuter transport options need to be on the table as we carefully transition, and yes that still means private cars have a role to play. For me, it’s all about change management – something Auckland Transport is approaching with all the tact and finesse of one of the Kray Twins.

What we need to see from city transport planners is a snap shot of the current situation, compared to the vision for 10, 20, even 50 years from now - and a gap analysis for everything in between.

“...it’s all about change management – something Auckland Transport is approaching with all the tact and finesse of one of the Kray Twins.”

Tell us how we are going to get there – no pun intended. What stages are taking place? What changes can we look forward to? What we have instead is a suburb by suburb grind as we get beaten into submission by endless piecemeal consultations – it’s a case of death by a thousand cuts.

Over time the private sector will ably and effectively respond to shifting transport models, and a retail version of Uber Eats (Uber Shop, perhaps?) will become the norm. Your newly purchased items will be whisked home for you to enjoy on arrival, as you make your city-wide bus/ cycle/ train/ or ride-share commute.

Until we reach a transport nirvana, small businesses have to trade and rely on foot traffic (and access to car parks) to ensure a steady flow of business. Unfortunately, there are still many that don’t understand this, perhaps blinded by their own ideology.


Mark Knoff-Thomas

Chief Executive