ZB

Kate Hawkesby: Questions need to be asked how to get more people on public transport

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Mon, 16 May 2022, 7:41am
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

Kate Hawkesby: Questions need to be asked how to get more people on public transport

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Publish Date
Mon, 16 May 2022, 7:41am

Having lived in London I feel like something of an expert on public transport because in London it’s the only way you travel.

Unless you have millions of dollars to burn up, in which case you might take a black cab, but for most of us, the Tube and the train and the bus, is it. And it works. It’s efficient, it’s modern, it’s pleasant, it can be convivial, it carries every cross-section of society imaginable, it’s cool.

You can hop on the Tube with business people, dog walkers, students, tourists, elderly, the edgy fashionistas, families, the works. I mean there were times when trains didn’t go due to weather preventing the tracks being used, or the Tube station you wanted to stop at had an issue so you just went to the next one, but by and large it runs smoothly so everybody uses it. They also have the population to use it, the networks to make it viable, and the infrastructure to make it sing.

Which leads me to New Zealand. We don’t have the same experience here because we don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have the slick networks, we don’t have the population volume to use it and we have an image problem with it. Case and point the Tauranga bus driver this weekend left "emotionally distraught" after a group of youths forced their way onboard and began smashing the rearview mirror.’ 

This was not a one-off either. It was reported as ‘the latest in a series of violent incidents at city bus interchanges that have prompted drivers to bypass stops if they felt their safety was at risk.’ So what is going on here? How do we recruit bus drivers, entice people to take the bus, and encourage public transport use, if this is the experience? In the instance of this bus driver, he was apparently “left shaken and stranded as the broken mirror meant the bus could not be legally driven, so he had to wait for a mechanic to come and repair it.” 

The problem is chicken and egg I think. On the one hand, we need more people to use public transport, and then when and if they do, it gets busier and more capable, it attracts a wider variety of riders, it means more people can be employed to police it, like monitors at stops or onboard, it makes for a safer experience. But you need the numbers for that.

And you don’t get the numbers if parents are too scared to encourage their young kids onto the bus for fear they wind up front row at an incident like this one in Tauranga. Or when elderly people don’t want to take it for the same reasons, or when business people decide it’s just safer simpler and more efficient to take the car. 

We need to be thinking long and hard about how our public transport functions in this country because with Waka Kotahi flagging more major pushes away from cars, and with the Government bringing in congestion charges, it'll be a reality more of us have to consider. 

So how do we make it good enough to warrant our patronage? Do we just support it and hope that by doing so it eventually gets up and running smoothly? Or do the public transport providers make a bigger effort to get it running smoothly first? 

I’m not sure which way round it goes but I know that as time marches on, it’s something we have to sort out.