Is Auckland Transport biased?
Purpose of the RMA
The Resource Management Act 1991 (“RMA”) requires the sustainable use of our environment. It is the legislation that balances between people that want to push hard using our resources and those that want to preserve them for the future.
If you want to build a noisy quarry somewhere close to a residential area then this is the Act that puts the checks and balances in place to make sure only a good outcome goes forward.
Auckland Transport (AT) is the RCA (Road Controlling Authority) for the greater Auckland region (post merger).
It is their job to look after everything to do with the roads from planning them, to overseeing putting them in, maintaining them, and making sure they are safe to use.
When you see the fancy new LED lights on the lane markings coming up to a red traffic light (Takapuna) then it is AT that put those there (as advance warning of a stop light).
What is Vision Zero and do we agree with it?
Vision Zero is an international movement, adopted by AT, to strive toward zero “deaths or serious injury” on our roads. It is not an attempt to achieve zero crashes (as that would be uneconomic and a unrealistic thing to attempt), but to achieve a significant reduction in injuries (and death) from the crashes that do occur.
Do we agree with this vision? Of course we do! As a company we are all about the sustainable use of resources (not consuming more than our share at the expense of others), but we also believe that everyone has the right to go home safe at night.
Health & Safety are not just words we use in our work place. We are against the oppression of anyone on the basis of race, class or gender. It naturally follows that anything that can be reasonably done to reduce death and injury should be done.
The only small proviso we make to this statement is we do accept that you cannot spend $1m dollars saving every individual life. We know there are lot of things that could be done to make the roads a safer place, but as a country we simply do not have the money to implement everything, so choices need to be made.
Billboards in our community
When we became involved in digital billboards years ago we asked ourselves if they were even a good thing to have in the community. Should a prison be placed next to a school etc?
After considering all the factors we came to the view that digital billboards are a fantastic thing to have in a commercial zone. They are bright and vibrant – this makes the place more interesting to look at. They are a very cost-effective way to advertise for the results you get – clear economic benefits.
Care should be taken placing them around resident and open places (as the character of these zones are important). They have long been seen as a preferential item at historic places (as they can provide an income stream to maintain that important item).
So yes, we think they’re a super good thing.
Greenlane hearing 15 June
On 15 June we attended a 2 day hearing of our application to install a double-sided 12m digital billboard on the Wash Depot site, next door to McDonalds in Greenlane, Auckland (LUC6034256).
We brought along Dr Urie Bezuidenhout who is a lecturer at the Auckland University who has a PhD and is extremely experienced in traffic matters. His work had also been peer reviewed by Dr Barry Hughes (PhD School of Psychology on the way drivers react to distraction).
I think it would be fair to say we had an extremely strong case that was based on a review of all international studies released in the area, assessed in a New Zealand driving environment, and peer reviewed.
AT brought along 1 expert (by definition) and their Safe Systems Manager. I was completely shocked to hear that in the case of the expert she said that in her personal opinion digital billboards should never be put up anywhere as she personally did not like them!
For those of you that don’t know it is the role of an ‘expert’ to be independent and unbiased and to assist the Court (or tribunal) on matters of fact to help them arrive at a decision. Given her bias this expert was not able to point to a single location where she considered a digital billboard would be safe (even though there are plenty around).
The Safe Systems Manager would only support billboards in 30kmph shared pedestrian zones (like Wynyard Quarter and Queen Street) – but isn’t this the place of the most distraction and what about all the billboards that are situated everywhere else around the country not in 30kmph zones?
Is AT wasting our money?
AT brought along 2 lawyer (TWO), their planner, their expert and the Safe Systems Manager (5) but also a further 5 employees who sat for the whole day observing.
Do you think it is a good use of tax payer money (you and I) to have 10 people at a hearing arguing something is unsafe without bringing any proof?
There was evidence AT opposes every single billboard application put into the Council. Does this sound like they are following the law (RMA) and doing a weighing up exercise (between benefit and effect) or just acting as a dictatorship and seeking to implement their own policy (of doing whatever they like)?
I know for one I found the experience extremely disappointing, unprofessional and a complete waste of resources (time and money).
In this particular case we have also applied for an Encroachment Licence to put the billboard pole on the grass as the property has a driveway built right to the edge. AT have said they refuse this as well (even though they are operating digital billboards themselves on the road reserve in over 60 locations in Auckland)!
Is AT required to follow the same law as us? Or are they actually a law unto themselves?
I think time will tell – but I would not be putting any bets on the AT side if I were you.