Opinion by Councillor Cameron Brewer
Reports that the board of Waterfront Auckland has suspended funding the Wynyard Quarter trams should come as no surprise.
Promises that the two old trams would attract over 10,000 users a month and pay for themselves were completely pie-in-the-sky. Ratepayers deserve a full explanation why such outrageous promises to Auckland Council could’ve been made in the first place.
Back in May 2012, I released alarming figures which showed revenue from ticket sales for the trams’ first eight months was only a third of what was forecast and monthly patronage numbers* had fallen to only 20% of what was forecast. By then, the tram company had already recorded an operating loss of $139,136 and Waterfront Auckland was actively seeking a further $150,000 subsidy required to return the tram company to a break even position and ensure continued operations.
The trams’ financial failure was well-signalled but no one wanted to hear about it. Instead they just kept driving empty trams around a desolate car-parking hoping something would change. Ratepayers have been forced to keep forking out, while a few camels have kept their heads completely in the sand. It’s totally unacceptable.
The trams proved popular when they first opened and during the Rugby World Cup but they have been a disaster since. Their hours and days of operation should have been cut back over 12 months ago. Instead every day from 10.00am to 4.30pm, according to Waterfront Auckland’s website, they’ve been going around and around – empty most of the time. You wouldn’t run a business like that. Ratepayers have been treated like mugs.
As well as a full explanation of why Waterfront Auckland’s forecasts were so wrong and why it kept the service going for so long, the $8.2m allocation to extend the tramlines over the Te Wero drawbridge, and along to Britomart should be deferred indefinitely.
Waterfront Auckland assured us that such an extension of the project wouldn’t increase existing operational costs much as the trams were already fully staffed and running full time. However ratepayers should be very worried about further operational and capital cost blow-outs.
According to the council’s draft 2013/14 Annual Plan and Waterfront Auckland’s website the extension work has been deferred from the current financial year of 2012/13 to 2013/14 with the project starting in September this year and due to be complete September 2014.
That’s still too soon. Waterfront Auckland needs to first and foremost sort out the failings of the current service, before extending it. Let’s not throw good money after bad. Ratepayers deserve better and Auckland has much greater priorities.