Since my post on technicals and politicals is getting some wider traction, with a discussion on Auckland Transport Blog, I should raise the question of whether technicals are even necessary. Recall that technicals are the transit activists who tend to mistrust transit authorities, especially when they claim a certain project or project component is required when it is unnecessary abroad or just very expensive. It’s a sort of activism that’s created by agency incompetence. I can imagine being technical about New York; I can’t imagine the same about Zurich.
Not knowing enough about the level of government competence in New Zealand, I can’t know how relevant what I’m going to say is to Auckland. Reading Auckland Transport Blog suggests that Auckland’s expansion projects are well-run, and the primary obstacle is political opposition by the National Party. In Auckland based on the impression I get from the blog, or in most major European cities (for example, Paris), the major divisions among transit advocates are either about pure politics (social services versus profitability) or value questions concerning how express lines should run or whether there should be more investment into buses or rail. Once the investment plan at each given level of funding is optimized, the question becomes how much funding to provide.
The political/technical division thus seems to be primarily North American and maybe Australian/New Zealander, certainly not European. In Europe, because the average quality of local projects is much higher, it is much easier to tell the bad projects apart.
Take Stuttgart 21, an expensive boondoggle that only looks good on a map. The need for massive takings and the high and escalating cost of the project led to massive protests, catapulting the Green Party to a state election victory for the first time in German history. But unlike unpopular rail projects in the US, the response was not to cancel all investment (the Green-SPD coalition wants to give more priority to rail investment and put it on equal footing with roads) but instead look for better solutions, hiring Swiss rail experts and coming up with an alternative plan. In other words, there was no difference between politicals and technicals.
In the US, such a response would be unthinkable. There’s no way for a mass movement to support transit investment in general but also oppose specific projects that are bad and promote more cost-effective alternatives. The Tea Party is heavily against all transit and urbanism, regardless of merit, and should not count. The opposition to Stuttgart 21 gathered in weekly protests by the tens of thousands; the opposition to ARC gathered in small rooms with about ten people in attendance.