This Association continues to call for effective and accessible public transport so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of society. This week in the news we heard that the Government is now not going ahead with a regional fuel tax that we were told would have funded critical developments in Auckland’s public transport infrastructure. The Government has instead opted for a lower nation-wide fuel tax.
This Association continues to call for effective and accessible public transport so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of society. This week in the news we heard that the Government is now not going ahead with a regional fuel tax that we were told would have funded critical developments in Auckland’s public transport infrastructure. The Government has instead opted for a lower nation-wide fuel tax. Not surprisingly, people around the country have not been slow to express their outrage at having to, as they might put it, pay for Auckland’s roads, but the more important point about this decision is that the funding from this new tax will be directed more to roads than to public transport. It seems to signal that the Government does not consider public transport to be strategically important.
Government and local authorities have an obligation to ensure that the urban environment is accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. I recently blogged about how people with disabilities have moved out of an era dominated largely by living in institutions to today’s world in which we live in the community. Living in the community means working, studying, shopping, socialising, enjoying entertainment, playing sport, and doing everything else that comes with being part of modern society. Without an effective public transport system, a city designed largely for people who drive cars is, frankly, likely to seriously impede the mobility of people with disabilities and other transport disadvantaged groups, preventing us from participating to our full potential in the community.
It is actually that simple. Think about the way life has changed in our larger and even our not so large cities. There might have been a time when we were content to just live and socialise in the neighbourhood, maybe get the bus to and from work and just shop at the local shops. Now we must travel much further to larger mega-centres to do even basic shopping. Now we are encouraged to attend large events such as shows and concerts held in big stadiums and events centres that might be many kilometers away. Cities are getting larger, and often it is economic pressure that forces people to live further away from the city centre. It is not unusual now for people to drive forty or more kilometers each way every day to get to work, which might be anywhere in the metropolitan area. Social networks now extend right across the metropolitan environment and are not simply centred in the local neighbourhood. Now it is not unusual for people to travel right across the region just to meet for dinner. People with disabilities have the same right to socialise and participate in the community as everyone else.
People with disabilities have always been much more dependent on public transport than people in general. Many of us just have no choice other than to use public transport. But as the urban environment changes, the public transport system is not keeping up. There once was a time when it was simply enough just to take the bus to town every so often. But not any more. If all of us are to go to cricket games, or to support our local rugby or league teams, if we are to go to concerts and other big events, if we are to support our kids when they play in inter-school sports, if we are to buy the things we need, if we are to meet up with friends, and so on, then all of us need to be able to travel comfortably and with dignity to all these places scattered throughout the urban environment. Social mobility should not be something enjoyed only by people who drive.
Society in the end controls how our cities develop, where the roads go and which areas are dedicated to which activities. People can’t just build what they like where they like. Government and local authorities are primarily responsible for how our urban environments develop. The city planners who continue to expand and change the urban environment without ensuring public transport keeps up are failing in their obligations to people with disabilities and other segments of the public who can’t drive. In fact they hav let everyone down because they have created an environment in which people are really forced to drive if they are to do most things. They have created a self fulfilling prophecy: if people have no option but to drive if they can, then most people will have cars and they will expect to be able to use them all the time.
I don’t know to what extent politics has entered this issue, why National has now overturned Labour’s initiative, and while I do have my political views, this blog is not the place for me to air them. But in the end it comes down to this. There has been disinterest in and devaluing of public transport by successive governments and at both national and local levels for decades. We thought perhaps the recent sudden rise in petrol prices, the general economic crunch and increasing awareness of the environment had led people to recognise the true value of public transport to everyone, not just people who can’t or don’t drive. For those of us who depend on public transport, there was a real sense that at last things might be moving in the right direction. In fact, some of the initiatives that were to be funded by the regional tax were directly relevant to people with disabilities and would have improved the overall accessibility of public transport.
This latest announcement tells us that the power still rests with people who have little regard for public transport, and who just want to jump into their cars whenever they feel the urge and drive on an ever-expanding network of roads which we all must pay for. Yes, in the end, we all pay for it, either directly or indirectly, even those of us who don’t drive. The region will now have to find an alternative source of funds or scrap some of the plans altogether.
Somehow public transport is expected to pay for itself in a way that nobody ever expects of roads. Because roads in general don’t come with any direct income stream, our only way of assessing their value is in terms of the general public good, the idea that we can all drive freely on them so we all benefit. But it seems investment in public transport is often seen as an optional cost which tends to only benefit the poor or disadvantaged. It is only ever measured in financial terms and we fail to value it in terms of the general benefit to the public as a whole.
As long as this attitude prevails, people who can’t or don’t drive will not be able to participate to our full potential as members of today’s urban society. People with disabilities may no longer be in institutions, but we will be spending more time home bound if public transport does not catch up with the needs of today’s modern urban environment.