Transport has turned into a roads versus rail contest with key points of difference between the major parties at this election.

National has returned to a familiar theme with a $10 billion plan to build 10 major highways around the country, while Labour and the Greens have latched onto modern trams in Auckland and long distance trains between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Also in the mix is NZ First, with a strong emphasis on upgrading heavy rail, including improved access to Northland and its port at Marsden Pt, trains to Auckland Airport and re-opening the Napier to Gisborne line.

The most visible battleground is Auckland, where congestion is choking the city at a cost of $2b a year and people are flocking to trains, buses and ferries to travel to work. Transport, and the crucial role it plays in housing and growth, is on everyone's mind - and don't politicians know it.

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National's record in office dealing with Auckland transport is mixed, from rubbishing the City Rail Link to embracing it, the crazy decision to upgrade the Northwestern Motorway without a busway and completing the $1.4b Waterview tunnel - a huge pre-election success story.

In fact, National is using figures showing the tunnel has halved travel times from the city to the airport to stick with cars and buses to the airport in the foreseeable future, while other parties argue over trains or modern trams along the route.

Trams running on light rail along Dominion Rd to the airport. Source / Auckland Transport
Trams running on light rail along Dominion Rd to the airport. Source / Auckland Transport

Jacinda Ardern's first public appearance as Labour leader was to announce the party would spend $3b to build tram lines from the Auckland CBD to the airport and West Auckland within 10 years, and complete the first leg of the airport route to Mt Roskill by 2021.

This would be followed by light rail to the North Shore in the second decade.

The Greens have gone one step further and promised to build the full 21km tram route from the CBD to the airport by 2021. They are also promising light rail from the Wellington railway station to Newtown by 2025 and Kilbirnie and the airport by 2027, and a wholly electric bus fleet for the capital city.

Labour and the Greens would allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax - possibly 10 cents a litre to raise $100m a year - to hop on board a more ambitious public transport programme for the city.

The two parties have adopted the tram policy from lobby group Greater Auckland, which has also persuaded them to adopt the first stage of its 'Regional Rapid Rail' policy for a $20m trial train service between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

If it's a success, Labour and the Greens will invest in stages two and three of Rapid Regional Rail, delivering trains that can travel at 160km/h, new rail lines to Rotorua and Cambridge, and a tunnel through the Bombay Hills to reduce travel times from Auckland to Hamilton to 70 minutes.

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Labour's decision to adopt Greater Auckland's agenda is blatant pitch into Green territory, but it doesn't bother Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter, who believes voters know who is more committed to implementing the policies, and will vote Green to be sure Labour follows through.

The Greens have also made a pitch for the youth and student vote by promising these groups free public transport costing $70m to $80m a year, which they say is less than 1km of new highways being built by National.

Not everyone is on board Greater Auckland's agenda, and debate still rages within transport circles over trams versus trains to the airport.

NZ First's plan is for a 7.5km rail line from Puhinui to provide a 30-minute journey by train from central Auckland to the airport terminal - part of its "Railways of National Importance" programme.

NZ First wants to reopen the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
NZ First wants to reopen the Napier to Gisborne rail line.

The party's transport spokesman, Denis O'Rourke, says NZ First is not afraid to intervene and invest heavily in rail. The party has 13 immediate investment priorities, including upgrading rail in Northland to allow containers and cars to be moved from Northport to an inland port at Kumeu, and extending commuter rail to Kumeu and Huapai in West Auckland.

The Maori Party has proposed a new "IwiRail" network for freight, tourism and regional employment. The party believes the project has the capacity to add $1b into the regions and will be asking their potential coalition partner to invest $350m.

The plan involves connecting Gisborne to the East Coast Main Trunk Line in Kawerau and bringing back the mothballed Napier to Gisborne rail line to create 1250 jobs on the East Coast.

National's focus is unashamedly on roads while recognising rail has a role to play. It is centred on extending its "Road of National Significance" - begun in 2009 and largely complete - into a new set of major roading projects.

Motorists would get a four-lane highway from Auckland to Whangarei, the $1.8b east-west link through Auckland's industrial belt and other highway projects throughout the country.

National has also come up with a $2.6b election transport package for Auckland that includes building a new highway alongside the Southern Motorway costing $955m and $615m for the Ameti transport project in southeast Auckland.

The $1.8 billion east-west link through Auckland's industrial belt. Source / New Zealand Transport Agency
The $1.8 billion east-west link through Auckland's industrial belt. Source / New Zealand Transport Agency

That's not to say, National is all about roads and Labour and the Greens are all about public transport and long distance trains.

National has spent $1.7b electrifying rail in Auckland, it is paying half the cost of the $3.4b city rail link, committed $267m to rail over the next three years, a third rail track on the busy southern line between Westfield and Wiri, and $835m for a Northwestern Busway.

Labour has announced it will increase regional transport roading projects from $140m to $280m a year, and will proceed with the east-west link in Auckland, albeit a scaled back version of National's $1.8b scheme.

One area all the main parties agree on is the need to improve cycling and walking in our cities, with National keen to build on a $333m urban cycleway programme and Labour promising to pay for the $30m SkyPath cycle and walkway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Transport policies

National

A strong focus on roads by extending its "Roads of National Significance" to 10 new projects costing $10b, including a four-lane highway from Wellsford to Whangarei and the $1.8b east-west link through Auckland's industrial belt.

A $2.6b package for Auckland, including a new highway from Manukau to Drury, $615m for the Ameti transport project in southeast Auckland and a $835m Northwestern busway.

National favours cars and buses to the airport in the foreseeable future.

A $267m rail package includes $130m to electrify rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and $37m for Wellington, including double tracking the Hutt Valley line between Upper Hutt and Trentham.

A target of one in three electric or electric hybrid cars in the Government's fleet of 15,500 cars by 2021.

Labour

Adopted the policy of lobby group Greater Auckland for a congestion free network in Auckland.

The main focus is $3b to light rail for trams from the Auckland CBD to the airport and West Auckland within 10 years, and complete the first leg of the airport route to Mt Roskill by 2021.

This would be followed by light rail to the North Shore in the second decade.

Allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax - possibly 10 cents a litre to raise $100m a year.

Adopted the Greater Auckland policy for Regional Rapid Rail, starting with a $20m trial train service between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

If successful, invest in stages two and three of Rapid Regional Rail with trains that can travel at 160km/h, new rail lines to Rotorua and Cambridge, and a tunnel through the Bombay Hills to reduce travel times from Auckland to Hamilton to 70 minutes.

Fund the $30m SkyPath cycle and walking path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Auckland is the main battleground for transport at this election. Photo / Peter Meecham
Auckland is the main battleground for transport at this election. Photo / Peter Meecham

Green Party

Free public transport for students and anyone under the age of 19.

Like Labour, adopt the policy of lobby group Greater Auckland for a congestion free network in Auckland, but put it on a faster track.

Build light rail for trams from the Auckland CBD to the airport by 2021, and light rail from Wellington railway station to the airport by 2027.

Light rail towards Helensville and dedicated rapid busways to Howick and Botany.

A new track on the southern line to speed up commuter and freight trains.

Adopt the Greater Auckland policy for Regional Rapid Rail, starting with a $20m trial train service between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

If successful, invest in stages two and three of Rapid Regional Rail with trains that can travel at 160km/h, new rail lines to Rotorua and Cambridge, and a tunnel through the Bombay Hills to reduce travel times from Auckland to Hamilton to 70 minutes.

Allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax - possibly 10 cents a litre to raise $100m a year.

NZ First

Emphasis on rail on "Railways of National Importance" and potential for modern tram routes in Auckland over the long term.

Wants to upgrade Northland rail, including a line from Oakleigh to Northport; reopening the Napier to Gisborne rail line and progressive electrification of the main trunk line for improved freight and passenger trains with extensions to Dunedin and Tauranga.

Build a commuter rail link between Swanson, Kumeu and Huapai; heavy rail to Auckland Airport.

Toll state highways in Auckland. Opposed to a regional petrol tax.

Investigate Northport taking some of Ports of Auckland business at Marsden Pt from an upgraded freight rail link to an inland port at Kumeu.

Maori Party

A new "IwiRail" network for freight, tourism and regional employment with the capacity to add $1b into the regions. Ask a potential coalition partner to invest $350m.

Connect Gisborne to the East Coast Main Trunk Line in Kawerau and bring back the mothballed Napier to Gisborne rail line to create 1250 jobs on the East Coast.

IwiRail would receive $100m a year for regional line upgrades and maintenance.

Act Party

Increase the use of funding options to better reflect the principle of users pay, such as tolls on new and existing roads, congestion charges, peak time charges and preferential lanes.

Revenue from tolls should be offset by cuts in petrol taxes.

Technology and entrepreneurship should be encouraged in transport, including ride-sharing, car-sharing, congestion charging and high occupancy toll lanes.

Encourage private sector investments in roads. Review regulation to ensure the viability of autonomous vehicles.

Opportunities Party

Transport is very simple, says deputy leader Jeff Simmons, "politicians should get their grubby hands off it" and leave it to New Zealand Transport Agency to decide on a cost-benefit basis taking into account carbon emissions and accidents.