Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cycling to Save the NZ Economy?

Not long ago, New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, held a "job summit" to try to find ways to save jobs during this global recession. He gathered together a bunch of business and labour leaders to see if a day of brainstorming could produce a miracle solution.

While many ideas were bounced around, one of the ones that seems to have really caught the PM's attention is a proposal to build a cycleway the entire length of New Zealand. This would become a major tourist draw, and help to boost falling visitor numbers. It would also create jobs building the trail, which was estimated to cost around $50 million. (Sounds low to me.)

There's no doubt it would be great to be able to cycle New Zealand from north to south (I don't know why, but that sounds easier than going south to north. For no apparent reason heading north equates in my brain with going uphill.) Is it the best way for the government to spend taxpayer money when people are having trouble paying rent and putting food on the table? I'm not so convinced. In the grand scheme of things, it would make more sense to me if they put the public works money into improving public transit. But then again, I wasn't invited to the "job summit" - probably for very good reasons.

The cycleway idea has also ruffled the feathers of the folks at Te Araroa Trust. Te Araroa (The Long Pathway) is a long-planned hiking route that will run the entire length of New Zealand. Sort of an Appalachian Trail or LEJOG for the Southern Hemisphere. They've been working on it for over a decade, with the major problems being access through private land, and funding.

Certainly the funding needed to complete Te Araroa would be far less than that needed to create a whole new cycleway. On the other hand, it would not require as much manpower, so fewer jobs would be created. Also, as you and I and the whole world have realised, you don't make as much cash from tourists who spend all of their time hiking as you do from people cycling who are more likely to be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.

I can see where the cycleway may be a winning idea, depending on the cost. But I would also love to see the government throw a bit of cash at Te Araroa to get the damn thing finished. New Zealand is arguably the hiking capital of the world - a title it would really deserve if it had a long distance walkway.


Neil Cuthbert said...

In the UK to combat the recession the Government hasn't done much more than pile loads of money into the banks...I actually thought the idea of a cycle route sounded good!

At least your PM is listening to those in the outdoors. I agree a long trail would be a good choice as well.

Mike said...

Hi Michelle. I had similar thoughts about the cycleway when I first heard about it, and I still am now. To me it seems more like a publicity stunt and an attempt to divert attention from more depressing matters.

The Te Araroa response is here, by the way, and I agree with its tone, too. I was a little dismayed to hear so much media speculation about doubling them up as much as possible.