Labour's first big shot in the Mt Roskill byelection - a pledge to invest $680 million in a light rail system - has rightly been labelled "pork barrel" politics by senior government figure Steven Joyce.

But equally, Labour leader Andrew Little has a defence to the suggestion he is wooing voters with extravagant promises by noting he is simply bringing forward by a decade one of the priorities of a strategic plan signed off last year by Auckland Council and the Government.

The rhetoric which followed Little's undertaking needs to be viewed through the prism of byelection politics, as does the pledge itself.

The promotion of transport as a hot-button issue is obvious.


The feverish atmosphere which accompanies a campaign, however, is not conducive to sound policy decisions.

In that sense, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's measured response was appropriate.

Even though he could hardly be blamed for wanting Labour candidate Michael Wood to succeed him in Mt Roskill, Goff offered no commitment the council would pay the other half of the $1.36 billion light rail bill.

His position is correct, though the transport policy plan he issued two months ago for his mayoralty campaign endorsed the light rail project which Little is promoting.

At the time, Goff explicitly ruled out tapping ratepayers to fund the investment.

He favoured an infrastructure bond scheme, and public-private partnerships where it made sense to do so.

Whether that is the right way to go is not at all clear.

The point is that these fundamentally important projects - for the shape of the city, its ability to perform as a driver of the New Zealand economy, and its place as an international destination - can only be resolved with broad agreement.


In reality, all the players should be holding off pledging funds to the big-ticket items which Auckland is going to need in the coming years.

Last year's Auckland Transport Alignment Project had much going for it in that it got all the key parties together to settle on the direction of the region's transport system over the next three decades.

The light rail project, meant to run from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, is a component of the strategic plan, which budgeted for a $23.7b investment in the first 10 years alone.

Clearly the numbers are sizeable, and most likely subject to change.

Just yesterday the Greens were highlighting congestion problems with a road-only additional harbour crossing, saying some form of rapid transit was essential to future-proof the $4b tunnel to be built sometime between 2030 and 2050.

Who can say with conviction that the transport technology in use today will still be with us in 10 or 20 years?

Pushing ahead with the Dominion Rd light rail scheme might, or might not, be the right project to lift up the pecking order.

Such however are the scale of the transport pieces that it would be a mistake to cherry-pick one when it could simply create costly snarl-ups in another part of the Auckland transport mosaic.