Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced an ambitious plan to build a $3 billion light rail network in Auckland from scratch on the same day Prime Minister Bill English confirmed a mix of heavy rail and road projects to deal with congestion.

The two leaders went head to head in Auckland on Sunday, offering voters a different mix of policies on transport.

Ardern, in her first public appearance since taking over the Labour leadership last week, unveiled a plan to build a 20km light rail line to the airport and light rail to West Auckland within 10 years.

I think the competition of ideas between what the political parties are offering will give Auckland the best result.

She addressed 300 supporters at Wynyard Quarter - the proposed city terminus for the link up Queen St and down Dominion Rd to the airport costing $2.25b.

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Her Auckland Issues spokesman Phil Twyford added Labour was going to skip a northwestern busway and go straight to light rail from Westgate to the city costing $900 million.

The two light rail projects would be finished within 10 years and light rail to the North Shore would be built in the second decade, Twyford said.

Ardern also announced Labour would allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax - possibly 10 cents a litre to raise $160m a year - which was welcomed by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Infrastructure New Zealand.

English and Transport Minister Simon Bridges made National's transport announcement at Papakura railway station where 150 supporters welcomed a $267m commuter rail package for Auckland and Wellington.

The package includes $130m to electrify the rail line from Papakura to Pukekohe, adding a third rail line on the busy freight and passenger rail line between Wiri and Westfield costing $100m and double-tracking the Hutt Valley Line between Upper Hutt and Trentham for $22m.

NZ Prime Minister Bill English announces new transport policy at Papakura Train Station. Photo / Doug Sherring
NZ Prime Minister Bill English announces new transport policy at Papakura Train Station. Photo / Doug Sherring

English also confirmed a report in Friday's Herald that National has a $2.6b election transport package for Auckland that includes bringing forward a $955m four-lane highway from Manukau to Drury and $835m for a northwestern busway.

He tied National's policy to a housing boom that will see 200,000 new homes built nationwide over the next six years and plans for 21,000 houses in South Auckland between Drury and Pukekohe. It also involved discussions with Auckland Council over a joint transport programme spanning 30 years, English said.

Bridges said driving to the airport had halved in time since the Waterview tunnel opened and National believed there were other priorities to just light rail, such as the northwestern busway and a new four-lane highway between Manukau and Drury.

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"That's not to say light rail isn't part of it, it actually requires a range of things," Bridges said.

Auckland's Mayor Phil Goff believes the city's transport situation will improve, no matter who wins the election.

Goff says both National and Labour's plans will benefit the city by addressing commuter problems.

The council, meanwhile, is being told to look into its own wallet - not everyone else's - if it wants to improve transport.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief Michael Barnett told Newstalk ZB's Nadine Higgins that even the ten cents a litre tax is peanuts compared with the size of the problem and says Labour should be asking the council to contribute more.

Ardern said Labour's policy would cost $15b, $2b more than National's, which would be made up from new revenue like the petrol tax and infrastructure bonds.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern addresses a crowd in downtown Auckland, where she announced the party's transport plan for the city. Photo / Nick Reed
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern addresses a crowd in downtown Auckland, where she announced the party's transport plan for the city. Photo / Nick Reed

She said Labour's policy was incredibly different to National, one which focused on building a strong public transport network and "not trying to asphalt its way out of Auckland's problems".

"I believe Labour's plan is a game-changer. It will reduce the $2b a year that congestion costs Auckland," she said.

Ardern acknowledged the lobby groups, Greater Auckland, Bike Auckland and Generation Zero, whose "congestion-free network" Labour has strongly committed to.

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter was thrilled that Labour had "joined the Greens in having light rail to the airport and the rest of the congestion-free network".

Auckland Director of Generation Zero Leroy Beckett said it was relieving to see so much attention on the transport crisis from National and Labour, a view shared by Barnett.

"I think the competition of ideas between what the political parties are offering will give Auckland the best results," he said.