The Herald’s political and specialist reporters examine the big issues facing New Zealand and how the main political parties plan to deal with them. Today Bernard Orsman looks at transport.
Transport is not normally top of mind when voters enter the polling booth, but the issue is increasingly playing a role in the bigger issues of climate change and housing - where there’s a sharp political divide.
A raft of issues have dominated the headlines - from potholes and road maintenance to light rail, cycleways, Let’s Get Wellington Moving, congestion charges, and big road projects like Transmission Gully and the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway.
Away from these talkers, the catastrophic summer storms have exposed the country’s transport network to the impacts of climate change, and the issue of housing intensification along transport corridors has become a hot topic in the big cities.
Underlying the issues is a complex web of funding mechanisms fraying at the edges. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency boss Nicole Rosie has warned the country’s state highway network is eroding and “at quite a tipping point” from population growth, rising costs and an outdated revenue stream based on fuel taxes, and Auckland Transport is crying out for a new funding model.
In Government, Labour has a poor record in the transport portfolio. Not just the party’s failure to build one metre of track for light rail but the toing and froing between being progressive on public transport, walking, cycling and safety, and fizzing about the economic and social benefits of new highways.
Auckland light rail, like KiwiBuild, has been a hallmark of Labour’s failure to deliver. It was a key election promise by Jacinda Ardern in 2017 and meant to be up and running between the CBD and Mt Roskill by 2021, but the party is still at sixes and sevens.
But wait, there’s more. The Government’s plan for a second Waitematā Harbour crossing will include two three-lane tunnels for vehicles and a 21km light rail tunnel between Albany and the CBD - a plan that will take decades to finish and cost tens of billions of dollars.
In the meantime, Labour has released a $20 billion plan for the next three years, boosting road maintenance, public transport, cycling, and road improvements along SH1 from Cambridge to Piarere, Wellington CBD to the airport, and the Christchurch northern link.
It won’t be popular, but Labour is proposing to raise petrol taxes by 12 cents a litre over three years to rustle up more funding.
The Greens take transport seriously as playing a major role in ensuring a zero-carbon and equitable Aotearoa New Zealand, and will press Labour hard in a governing arrangement.
Expect to see a big pushback on new roads, more investment in public transport, walking and cycling, further moves towards free public transport, aligning housing intensification with rapid transit in cities, and inter-city rail services.
The Greens would also push Labour to abandon tunnelled light rail for the cheaper and quicker surface option, and want light rail in Wellington and Christchurch.
Unsurprisingly, both National and Act are promising a big road-building programme, and looking to public-private partnerships and domestic and offshore investment.
Act is particularly keen on using tolls to pay for new roads, and for maintenance on existing roads, provided there is an alternative route.
National is resurrecting its Roads of National Significance programme to connect the major upper North Island cities of Whangārei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga with four-lane highways starting with Whangārei to Port Marsden and Cambridge to Piarere in the first term.
The Nats have also promised to start construction of a second Mt Victoria tunnel in the first term, and a $500 million pothole repair fund paid for from cuts to road safety initiatives. Light rail and the Auckland regional fuel tax of 11.5c a litre would be scrapped.
National and Labour share a common goal of building a northwestern busway in Auckland, but the parties are light on the details, so don’t expect to see shovels in the ground any time soon. National missed a golden opportunity to build the busway alongside the Waterview Tunnel project during its last term in office, which party figures privately admit was a big mistake.
Northland is a big focus for New Zealand First at this election, with policies to connect rail to Northport, and build a four-lane highway alternative for the Brynderwyns.
The main parties are keen on introducing congestion charging, starting in Auckland, to address congestion, but it’s easier said than done.
Transport: The policies
*Tens of billions of dollars for light rail in Auckland(no start date)
*Begin second Auckland Habour crossing by 2029
*$20b package next term focused on road maintenance, public transport and cycle investment
*Fuel taxes rising 12c a litre over three years
*Roading projects include SH1 from Cambridge to Piarere, Wellington CBD to the airport, Christchurch Northern Link, Napier to Hasting SH2, Tauranga to Tauriko SH29
*Safety improvements on SH1 between Warkworth and Whangārei
*Start work on Northwestern Busway in Auckland
*Extra rail lines in Auckland
*Four-lane highways from Whangarei to Tauranga
- Whangārei to Port Marsden - $1.3b to start in frist term
- Warkworth to Wellsford - $2.2b to start in next four to 10 years
- Cambridge to Piarere - $720m to start in first term
- Tauriko West State Highway 29 - $1.9b to start in four to 10 years
*Begin Auckland’s Mill Rd stage one and East-West link and final stage of Eastern Busway in first term
*Start second Mt Victoria tunnel in its first term
*Scrap plans for light rail and 11.5c a litre Auckland Regional Fuel tax
*$500m pothole repair fund in first three years funded by cuts to road safety initiatives
*Increase public-private partnership to build and maintain roads, paid for through tolls
*Toll existing roads (as long as there is an alternative route) to maintain them
*Proritise investment in public transport, walking and cycling, rail and electric vehicles
*Encourage intensification along public transport corridors
*Avoid building new roads, except where necessary
*Build surface light rail in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch
*Tax incentives for zero-emission heavy vehicles
*Free public transport over time
*Restore inter-city rail services
*Support moving Ports of Auckland operations to Northport
*Connect rail to Marsden Point and Northport
*Build a four-lane highway alternative for the Brynderwyns
*Improve Christchurch to Picton rail corridor
*Secure funding for a rail spur from Puhinui to Auckland Airport
*Incentise businesses to electrify vehicle fleets and depreciation measures to support secondhand electric vehicle market