An Auckland councillor is using money from his own back pocket to take to the airwaves and criticise the decision to drop trains to the airport.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Councillor Mike Lee's 30 second radio commercial aired across five stations all owned by NZME.

Lee, who sits on the board of Auckland Transport, says in the commercial that rail to the airport has long been a priority for the city with a "longstanding commitment to route protection".

However, last month the boards of Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency voted to eliminate it as an option in favour of light rail or a bus option.


"I believe this is short-sighted. Contact your Auckland councillor and tell them to refuse to allow this reversal of policy and to protect our rail options to the airport," he says in the ad.

Lee broadcast the advertisements the day before the 90 day regulation period kicked in for those standing in the Auckland Council elections in October.

He told the Herald he was driven to take the "unusual step" because he felt it was his duty to speak out about the decision and future-proofing rail to the Airport was an Auckland Plan commitment.

Auckland Transport's board said it dumped an extension of the commuter rail network because it would cost more than $2.6 billion as against $1.3bn for light rail or trams.

And the scrapping of the heavy rail connection was a u-turn by the Transport Agency, which last year said it was "extremely committed to providing a rail link connecting the airport and the city".

The transport bodies were under pressure from Auckland Airport to make a decision by August when the company needs to know what form of rapid transit to include in its plans to build a new domestic terminal to by 2021 and a second runway a few years later.

Auckland Transport spokesman Wally Thomas said while they were aware of Lee's views on the decision, they didn't know about his campaign and he did not advise the chairman or chief executive.

With the decision about heavy rail made, they would now progress route protection and also develop a bus-based model so it can carry out cost and travel time comparisons with light rail.


"Ultimately whatever rapid transit mode to the airport is selected, the decision must support value for money."

Thomas said the decision to drop trains was made by the collective whole of the Board of Auckland Transport, not-with-standing Lee's views.

Mayor Len Brown told Radio New Zealand after the boards' announcements that ultimately it would be for the council to decide as it must provide the funding.

He said that process could run for a year, including a possible change of council at the October elections.

What the mayoral candidates said:

Phil Goff:

Auckland Mayoral Candidate Phil Goff. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland Mayoral Candidate Phil Goff. Photo / Nick Reed

If light rail is a way that we can get from the airport to the city and vice versa more economically and it becomes a reality sooner then I think you have to consider light rail as an option. We're not going to be able to put heavy rail all over the city ... we are going to need a light rail supplement to heavy rail and that can be initially bus ways and then light rail.

Vic Crone:

What we do know is that the Auckland Airport area will see phenomenal employment growth over the next 20 or so years. With light rail, we'd be trying to solve serious 'commuter' congestion problems with a 'tourism' solution. That's because given employment growth specifically, the majority of people will need to get there from all over Auckland, not just areas around the proposed route.

That's not to mention we'd be introducing a different mode of transport in a system that's already lacking integration. If you wanted to be serious about light rail as an option, you would be thinking in context of an integrated network of light rail right across Auckland. I just can't see that happening.

Mark Thomas:

It's nuts that we don't have a modern, fast way of getting to the airport and it's taken too long to resolve. But heavy rail is $1 billion more expensive than the alternative and that's hard to justify to ratepayers. Auckland needs to spend an extra $400 million per year to fix our transport backlog, and we can't do that by gold-plating. The Northern bus way has been a big success and a version of this should have been part of the airport investigations much earlier.