Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins has signalled cancelling road projects to help pay for his flagship policy for fares-free public transport.
Among roading projects that could be axed are Lake Rd linking Takapuna and Devonport, Glenvar Rd in Torbay and Lincoln Rd in West Auckland, all of which have been planned but delayed due to funding constraints.
At an event in West Auckland tonight, the Manukau councillor unveiled a five-point transport plan.
The headline was a "fully free public transport system", but he also wants expanded public transport, putting two councillors back on the board of Auckland Transport, bringing all the ferry services under the public transport umbrella and ensuring AT's parking strategy is rolled out "equitably and democratically".
If elected mayor, Collins said he would introduce free public transport at the start of the new 10-year budget on July 1, 2024.
"Better and more accessible public transport is a quadruple win: good for the cost of living, for congestion, for climate and for revitalising our town centres," Collins told more than 50 supporters at Tirimoana Primary School in Te Atatu.
Collins said he would pay for his plan through existing sources of revenue which are spelt out in a new report by academic Dr Jenny McArthur, commissioned by First Union and the Public Service Association.
It recommended several ways to pay for free public transport, including more money from the National Land Transport Fund, largely funded by fuel taxes; reallocating council spending, such as spending on roads; more money from the Government on the basis it would contribute to reducing carbon emissions and improving public health; and congestion charging, or charging motorists to drive on certain roads at busy times.
One of McArthur's recommendations was to reallocate road funding to fund free public transport, saying in 2021 AT invested some $291m into new roading infrastructure.
Collins told the Herald he would target spending on consultants, "anywhere up to $100m", and roading improvements of $290m to help fund free public transport.
AT told the Herald free public transport would initially cost $100m to fill the funding gap, rising to more than $200m once patronage recovers and could reach $500m by 2030.
"What's clear is we understand both the costs along with the risks of inaction, there are available funding sources and there is a public mandate - so it will be up to me as mayor and my fellow councillors to just get on and do it," Collins told the meeting
Most Aucklanders support Collins' free public transport proposal in a survey of 772 Aucklanders conducted by the mayoral candidate and research firm Talbot Mills.
The poll showed 73 per cent support, 7 per cent opposed, 17 per cent neutral and 4 per cent unsure.
Collins' transport plan comes a day after a mayoral rival, Viv Beck, announced she would scrap the Government's $14.6 billion light rail route from the central city to the airport and replace it with practical, cheaper and quicker bus solutions across the city.
They include a fully separated busway alongside the northwestern motorway, rapid transit from the airport to Botany, $110 million in upgrades to the Northern Busway and ramping up bus lanes on the light rail route from the CBD to the airport.
Another mayoral candidate, businessman Wayne Brown, also had something to say on transport today, calling for the simple addition of transponders on buses that trigger green lights at intersections.
He criticised the "monopoly money" promises of other candidates, such as $300m a year for free public transport and $2.5b for new bus lanes without any mention of how to fund it.
Restaurateur Leo Molloy, also standing for mayor, has promised to scrap the regional fuel tax of 11.5c a litre and use unspent money from the tax to trial free public transport for a year. He also intends to scrap a $2b cycling fund proposal by Auckland Transport and its parking strategy.
Whoever wins the mayoralty, there will be no spare cash for new transport projects. The council is digging itself out of a $900 million Covid-driven hole in the budget, work has started on deferring $230m of projects, budget deficits of $90m to $150 are predicted from next year and Auckland Transport is running out of money to run public transport services at current levels.