There's been a lot of discussion about the cost of living recently, with one focus on transport costs.
These costs disproportionately fall on the least well off, with the lowest-paid spending up to 28 per cent of their budget on transport, compared to just 8 per cent for the most well off.
While the Government has helped ease the cost of living with half-price public transport and lower costs for drivers, these measures are only temporary.
My friend's midwife Ana (not her real name) nearly didn't finish her training because of how much it cost her to get around.
Ana did not have the luxury of financial support from her parents. She didn't have access to good public transport where she lived, so had to drive to work and study. Ana was spending a few hundred dollars each time to purchase low-quality cars that would quickly break down and constantly needed to be repaired, something she couldn't afford to do
It was often simply cheaper to buy a new, low-quality car, and the cycle would continue.
It led her over the course of a year into debt problems because she didn't have enough money to buy a good car to start with.
Luckily, my friend was able to support Ana out of this debt spiral and she could finish her training and eventually delivered my friend's baby.
New Zealand came close to losing the talents of a wonderful midwife. Other cases have less happy endings – we just do not always hear about them. People carry a lot of shame around debt.
It is easy to forget the paradox that it is very expensive to be poor.
Giving people better and more affordable transport options isn't just good for the planet, it's good for the back pocket, too.
If we set up our cities and policies right, then people won't always need to own cars and have all the costs that come with car ownership. We can also lower emissions and the cost of living if we give people real transport choices.
We all want a zero-carbon Tāmaki Makaurau that is easy to get around, has no road deaths and, importantly, doesn't put extra costs on the least well off.
The Helen Clark Foundation's most recent transport issues report Te Ara Matatika – The Fair Path, released in partnership with WSP, made a range of recommendations to help bring this vision to life.
These included changing transport investment to prioritise public transport and walking and cycling over private cars; establishing a fund to promote low-carbon shared community transport solutions and making public transport free for Community Service Card holders and people under 25.
There's a big opportunity for Auckland to make initiatives like these happen.
Transformative initiatives could be funded with the current underspend in the Regional Fuel Tax (RFT).
What the RFT can be spent on is enshrined in legislation, but some of the original projects it was earmarked for have now been funded through the New Zealand Upgrade Programme, such as Penlink.
Auckland Council quietly consulted on what other projects it would like to fund instead last year, but these don't seem to have been submitted to Government to actually change the law. This means potentially hundreds of millions are unallocated for transport projects.
There are several Auckland-specific projects and policies that could be rolled out quickly and would make a real difference.
We would like to see long-discussed walking and cycling upgrades implemented, such as on Manukau Rd in Royal Oak, which could have prevented the tragic death of Levi James in March.
Half-price public transport could be extended beyond the three-month trial and the upcoming Community Connect concession which will give Community Service Card holders half-price public transport could instead make be free for them.
More affordable public transport is part of the equation, but we also need quicker and more reliable services. There could be an investment in places traditionally underserved, such as the South and East, to make it a real option.
Analysis shows an extra $100 million a year could have three-quarters of Aucklanders within 500m of a bus stop, train station or ferry wharf, running services at least once every 10 to 15 minutes from 6am-9pm, every day. This would make public transport a real choice for so many more Aucklanders.
If we give people real alternatives, it reduces their transport costs while also reducing emissions and congestion.
If Ana didn't need a car, she wouldn't have needed to go into debt.
Achieving transport equity is important to reducing overall inequality – and thanks to the opportunities available, Tāmaki Makaurau is in a prime position to go much further down that path. I urge Auckland Council to work with the Government to get started.
• Tom James is the WSP Fellow with The Helen Clark Foundation.