Yadana Saw is an avid footballer, sports fan, and taxi driver to her children. The music journalist and broadcaster is a Greens candidate for GWRC in this year’s local body elections.
OPINIONS: The institution of weekend sport has remained unchanged for generations.
Kids today are probably dreaming the same outlandish dreams we once did at their age: scoring a winning try, bicycle kicking a goal into the back of the net; or, in my case: imagining my rightful place in the Silver Ferns squad.
Our national netball team never called, so the dreams of sporting greatness are now replaced by an amateur imaginary motorsport called “Wellington’s Saturday traffic”. Weekend sport commuters claim victory by pulling into the car park closest to the field. Extra points if you make it in time for the warm-up.
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Standing on the sideline in the crisp winter morning air helps to melt away the tension of driving to the game. But the frustration quickly returns when thinking about how it is that 20th century ideas of mobility still dominate how we get around our region. A mindset that has left public transport quaintly adhering to an “off-peak” weekend mode, while making jumping in the car and joining the gridlock the preferred and painful way for Wellingtonians to get around.
On any given Saturday, it’s an Amazing Race on our roads as thousands of parents and players frantically fit in all the sport, errands, social catch-ups, family obligations and chores that can’t get done during the “peak hours” of a work week into that precious 48 hours of weekend time.
The need for improvement and investment in Wellington’s public transport is overdue and urgent. Greater Wellington Regional Council itself outlines this in its Regional Land Transport Plan’s investment priorities that aim to reduce “dependency on private vehicle use” and “encourage the use of public transport as a mode of choice beyond weekday commuting”.
The regional transport plan is planning for a 35% reduction in carbon transport emissions within the next eight years. To meet this objective, our existing ways of living, playing and working will need to urgently move away from our systemic reliance on private vehicles.
In short, we shouldn’t abandon Aotearoa’s secular religion of Saturday sport. But we do need to reimagine and redesign how we get to games – and public transport needs to be part of that solution.
Just like our sports and cultural facilities, public transport is an essential community asset, and will become increasingly so as the regional council is predicting a 40% increase in public transport and active mode share by 2030.
To meet this target, our public transport service will need to be reliable, efficient and ideally, free. Things that it has failed to achieve under the current competitive tender model with issues such as the bus disaster, driver shortages and ongoing employment disputes with operators. It is difficult to trust that the present model will prioritize passengers, drivers and emissions targets.
Reflecting on Saturday sport, it is ludicrous that we haven’t activated existing resources or employed some cross community and governmental teamwork to efficiently transport thousands of people from various sporting codes doing roughly the same thing, at the same location and when the time is known in advance. While a handful of players are organized enough to carpool, and the premier teams are well cared for, the rest of us weekend warriors will be scrambling out of our cars hoping we’ve made it on time.
Sport NZ found that 84% of New Zealanders felt that sport and physical activity foster a sense of belonging and social cohesion. Seventy-four per cent felt that it builds vibrant and stimulating communities. Supporting and encouraging sporting codes to read their impact on weekend traffic is an important first step.
It is entirely possible to give greater community access to our publicly owned regional facilities. Without crushing the hearts of the Sky Stadium groundskeeping team, how sweet would it be to roll up by train, bike or car and play your amateur grade season final?
Or having targeted, timely express services to serve our regional sports hubs such as the Kilbirnie Regional Aquatic Centre, National Hockey Stadium in Berhampore, Taita’s Walter Nash Stadium, Te Rauparaha Stadium in Porirua, and the ASB Sports Centre.
Mode shift needs to be an easier choice for players. Schemes like Tawa’s on-demand bus could be adapted to shuttle players and supporters to sports grounds when fixtures and match times are known well in advance of game day.
I may have never made it beyond a ”weekend warrior”-level player in various sports, but if we can find a high performance way to transport ourselves to our matches – that means we aren’t stuck in traffic, or contributing to others getting stuck – that’s a gold medal we should all absolutely win.