Last night was the Transport Election Debate and so this is a recap of what happened. Unfortunately it wasn’t filmed so we can’t put up a video for you all to watch. If I miss anything important please add it in the comments.

I want to say thank you to the candidates that turned up. There was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First, Julie Anne Genter from the Greens, Phil Twyford from Labour, David Seymour from ACT, Damian Light from United Future and surprisingly as a late addition current Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

All up there were probably about 150 people that filled the room to hear the candidates speak. This photo was taken before the start and we ended up needing to get more chairs out.

Transport Debate audience

The evening started with Patrick giving an overview and recap of the Congestion Free Network. After that it was the candidates’ turn to have 8 minutes each to talk about their parties’ transport policy. The order of speakers was drawn at random.

First up was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First and he was perhaps one of the surprises on the night. The party’s transport policy is fairly good but to me it’s one thing to have a good policy, it’s another to actually understand it and know the reasons why it’s needed and Denis did well on that part. He spoke about the need for a more balanced transport system and the benefits it can provide to mobility, the economy and the environment. He talked about the need to address how we fund transport over the long term and said the party would support a long term shift away from Fuel Excise Duty and Road User Charges towards implementing road pricing on motorways and major arterials. He said that NZ First support the CRL starting immediately and would contribute 70% as they see the project as a vital investment for New Zealand. He also talked about their policy of having Railways of National Importance which did go against some of his earlier comments about not picking winners. Overall it was a fairly good speech.

Following Denis was Phil Tywford from Labour. Much of what Phil talked about was related to the announcement on the weekend that they would support the CFN. We were hoping Phil might start a bidding war on how much to contribute towards the CFN however unfortunately he ruled that out. He also commented about how the major upgrades to the rail network (DART and Electrification) were both budgeted for and signed off under the previous government so Gerry can’t use the claim that the government have funded $1.7b for rail in Auckland (to which Gerry said he would say it anyway). The other important thing Phil talked about was the need to both develop and enhance our rapid transit networks to cope with the sprawl that is expected to happen. He cited the massive developments planned for the Northwest as needing a Northwest Busway while in the South rail electrification and new stations would be needed. Related to that he talked about the need for more intensification/development around stations. Lastly on the CRL he said if Labour won, he would be down in the CBD the day next day with his shovel ready to start digging.

It was now David Seymour from the ACT party who was getting a turn to speak. The focus of his talk was about road pricing and how we need to use it to get more out of our existing road network. He referred to the Remuera Rd Bus Transit Lane as effectively being tolled but then said he wants the cost lowered so that more people can use the lane (which would hold up buses). He said he thinks vehicle trends will go back to pre-2013 levels of unlimited growth across the network. He said he’s “a fan of market driven technological solutions “all of which involve rubber tyres”. He also said he thought a focus on PT would harm housing affordability and home ownership as in his view we all need to be sprawling out.

Following David was Damian Light from United Future who said he was working in the transport industry. He said he thought we should build rail the airport before the CRL as that is something that would be used by travellers while also saying the CRL wasn’t a priority as he “lives on the Shore and so it’s no use to him”. Basically the impression I got was a whole lot uninformed of backyard BBQ type rants that had no basis in reality.

Gerry Brownlee finally got to have his say. He talked for some time about how the government could easily have cancelled electrification but didn’t as some sort of achievement, about how he thinks the government have been generous with their CRL targets and how he thinks the government are doing the right thing with transport investment. He said he thought Auckland Transport had been doing an excellent job and wants to replicate the concept to other regions throughout the country. I was hoping he might drop some hints to an earlier start for the CRL but unfortunately he didn’t. However, about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, he said it was his view that there would be three tubes and that rail would be included as part of that. Later on he was asked what new initiatives the government have undertaken for PT since they’ve been in office and the answer was the PT Operation Model. He also said he was not pessimistic on climate change and that he thinks we’re on the verge of some massive changes in travel to which he highlighted having been in a driverless car.

Last to speak was Julie Anne Genter and as I expected she was solid, explaining why we need to change our investments to get better, more resilient and more economically successful cities. She also spoke a lot about the CFN and providing choices to people

Overall it was a good night and lots of people came which was great to see as it shows just how much interest there is in how we develop our city for the future.

Transport Debate Gerry Brownlee and CFN
Gerry Brownlee and the Congestion Free Network

 Update: Alex Burgess captured some of the comments on video

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    1. Yes the complete destruction of all projects to enhance the CBD by funnelling tens of thousands of more cars into it really is something to look forward to. It’s great to think $5+ billion will be spent on a project with no merit, not needed and going against pretty well every single future goal AT and AC have for Auckland.

  1. Excellent debate thank you and quite a coup to get Gerry brownlee to front

    who was the other speaker? The one who felt strongly about climate change and maybe I heard him say that he setup the trade and exchange?

  2. Another great night and good to see left and centralist parties agreeing on transport.

    A correction, NZ First policy is to provide 75% of CRL funding, push airport rail route designation by end of 2015, and fund 75% of Airport rail construction costs. Additionally, extension of electrification to Pukekohe and south towards Hamilton.

    1. Great stuff Jon, I thought NZF were the [positive] surprise of the night. And indeed it is had to see how the CRL isn’t a transport project like any other. It is after all just as much in one place as any State Highway.

      So what is the proposed source of the funding, the NLTF? If so does NZF propose canning or deferring the RoNS?

      1. NZF was created out of Winston’s distain of National selling NZ Rail Ltd in 1993, 2 weeks or so later NZ First was born. So transport actually has had a significant part to play in NZ First : )

        Through the NLTF. The plan is to review all significant roading projects, including RoNS for reevalution. NZ First policy we want all alternatives studied to RoNS. Classic case is to have NZTA do a proper investigation into Operation Lifesaver vs. the current proposal. To investigate if rail and PT would deliver better results. At the moment NZTA, and effectively the Govt, simply do not know or do not want to know, because there has been no studies undertaken except for steam rolling through RoNS desired by the Nats. That is not common sense.

        To help kick start our “Railways of National Importance” 10 year programme, NZ First will immediately transfer $300 million from the RoNS budgets to reopen the Gisborne to Napier line, continue with electrification to Pukekohe, fund the study required for extension of electrification to Hamilton. Given that the CRL does not have to be paid for all on day one of the first sod, the funding can be transfered from RoNS as required over the building phase.

        NZ First wants the CRL to be owned by the Crown, through Kiwirail or an ex-Ontrack type arrangement. Auckland Council would fund the stations and any commercial development surrounding the stations.

        Given NZ First will be back in Govt. on Sept 20th, it’s good to know that common sense transport is coming to Parliament and National will not be able to stop it.

        1. Nice to see some common sense ideas. It sounds like NZF are interested in reinstating intercity passenger rail between cities as well. Given the economic development potential, the excessive cost of domestic flights and the potential this has to reduce traffic issues around Auckland Airport it would be great if this was a priority as well. Would NZF look at congestion charges and local sales/hotel type taxes to get these projects started sooner?

        2. My god, I must be getting old. NZ First are starting to make sense to me.
          Not that I will be voting for them…

        3. Most political parties have policies that make sense when they are explained in detail as Jon has, rather than being filtered through the bias of traditional news media, which is why debates such as the Election Transport Debate are a critical part of the democratic process.

          I only lament that the debate doesn’t happen more often than the three year cycle of Parliamentary popularity contest.

  3. Good work by the Campaign for Better Transport and others to set-up the debate, and managing to get all of the key transport spokespeople to turn up was definitely a sign of the work that CBT, TransportBlog, Gen Zero and others have done to lift the debate on transport issues. I’ll give credit to Brownlee for fronting up, even though he knew the audience probably leaned towards his opponents position on many issues.

    I was a little disappointed that the question session at the end was so abbreviated. I think Cam asked maybe two questions before saying “just 5 more minutes”. The Q and A felt a bit more like extensions of the candidate’s speeches, rather than an opportunity to test the candidate’s positions on particular issues. I went to the Epsom candidates’ a couple of weeks ago, and the Q and A session there was really good. When David Seymour started going about intensification again, it was galling because I had written a question on that exact topic that just *might* have got Seymour to commit to either intensification or protecting property rights. (And if I had known so few questions would have been asked, I would have asked him beforehand when he was working the crowd).

    Both Seymour and Brownlee seemed to indulge in a bit of Silicon Valley “technology will save us” wishful thinking. I bet they wouldn’t nearly as gung-ho about pods as they seem to be about driverless cars, despite the fact that automated vehicles interacting with other automated vehicles is less of a technological hurdle that automated vehicles interacting with unpredictable human beings. David Seymour also wanted to put a price on everything transport-related. I’d really love to know if he thinks that should apply to externalised transport costs like parking.

    Most surprising speaker: Dennis O’Rourke, who outlined a much more progressive, informed position on transport than I would have expected from New Zealand First.

    Most disappointing speaker: Damian Light from United Future, who seemed woefully uninformed on what the City Rail Link will actually do, why its desirable to build it before a link to the airport, and how it might actually help the North Shore.

    Best speaker: Julie-Ann Genter, who was the only candidate to step out from behind the podium, and also made best use of the mic.

    1. Seymour is an unhinged fantasist. Just flat wrong: ‘All cities get less dense over time’!? With added lazy technophilia: ‘Technology will make us travel faster and further forever over time’ What infinitely; so teleporting?

      Meantime of course just build more roads. So dishonest too.

      Julie-Anne Genter was very good, more rigorous than the other opposition parties as she was braver about what the Greens would not fund in order to shift the investment to the missing higher value modes. The RoNS. She also took on the issue of the huge private costs of auto-dependency which seems to be something everyone else just wants to ignore, or finds too complicated… I also found out afterwards that she was unwell so that makes hers an even more impressive performance.

      Gerry Brownlee was affable but presents an incurious and unsophisticated view of the world. Vague waffle about future technology solving everything from global warming to the spatial physics of urban transport…. including of course that old standby, driverless cars, which begs the question why are they indebting us up to our necks building vast duplicate highways when we apparently won’t need them cos -> ‘technology’!

      Where’s my jetpack?

      1. Nice summary Chris and Patrick. Some more Q&A time would have been nice, but the event was already quite long, so a tough one to balance.

        In any case a massive thanks to the organisers, it was a fantastic evening, very thought-provoking and informative. Much appreciate your efforts.

    2. Fair comment on the Q and A – it’s always challenging to make this worthwhile, especially when each party responds to one question and they pass the mike down the line. In the end time was running out so I opted to cut it short. It left time for people to come up and approach the party representatives and ask their questions personally, which quite a few took advantage of for Gerry Brownlee.

      Perhaps next time the Q and A format should be questions directed to each individual speaker for five minutes each so we can hopefully drill down a bit more.

      I want to acknowledge the help I got from CBT Committee members Jennifer Northover, Ross Galloway and Jodi Johnston. These events don’t just happen – they are a lot of work to organise, publicise and run on the night.

      Really pleased with the great turnout. I got the impression that Gerry Brownlee thought the audience might have been stacked in favour of public transport advocates, but I think the crowd we got was actually quite representative of the view of most Aucklanders. Hopefully the message is starting to get through.

      1. More than understand your dilemma – especially when the candidates take the long road to answering the question. At the Epsom debate, where questions were invited from the floor, the questioner had to nominate who the question was addressed to. And generally the more parties asked to answer, the less time the moderator gave each party to respond. I did look for David Seymour after the debate, but he seemed to have fled (probably wanted to knock on another 100 hundred doors before midnight or something). I think the idea of giving each of parties 5 minutes to answer a range of questions might have worked well – you avoid the issue of one party monopolizing the questions ( by accident or design).

  4. Did have a chuckle at the Minister’s answer to cycling: 50-something kilometres bundled into motorway projects.

    Bike paths by the motorway, like eggs by the dozen. Buy any two RoNS, get a free cycleway. Call within the next election and pay by NLTF to receive a bonus on-road extension, etc.

  5. Kudos to CBT/ATB/GZ for all their work in getting this issue out there into the public realm for discussion.
    Patrick spoke very well. Concise and effective. Good job.

    I can’t believe Damian turned up so unprepared. It was embarrassing.

    Great policy from NZ First. Just what you would expect from a populist party. But I don’t think you can trust NZ First to deliver anything unless they make it unconditional before the election in any coalition government, but I don’t see that happening.

    I would never vote ACT, nor do I agree entirely with David on all his points, but he made some excellent points about how technology and the free market can rapidly change society. Throughout history technology has been a primary factor in driving massive economic and social change. As engineers both David and I understand this very well. The plough, ironworking, the wheel, gunpowder, crop rotations, steam engine, the AC motor, the airplane, the computer, the internet etc. It is not wishful thinking to say that technology is powerful tool for change. You just need to look at the last thousand years of human history.

    In 1890 New York and London were projecting that within a few decades their streets would be piled high with horse manure. The greatest minds in the world got together and could not find a solution. Remember that at the time both these cities still had trains and lots of walking and cycling. More of which could not solve the problem either. Within 30 years the problem dissappeared. The horseless carriage had wiped out the issue, but no one saw the solution coming. No more stench, far fewer accidents, better health bla bla bla. The car saved the big city. Technology and private enterprise saved the day, not trains, not goverment policy, not government intervention.

    Smart phones and driverless cars are both disruptive technologies. One is well established and another is in it’s infancy, but I see much change happening rapidly. A third disruptive technology is something like Uber which is causing chaos in the taxi industry. Companies like this want to make privately-owned cars obsolete and I see that happening in the next decade or two. David suggest investing in rail/PT is a waste of resources because the market will solve the problem. I disagree in that PT investment will have great returns as JAG pointed out. Instead I think that disruptive tech like Uber could eliminate the need to build any more roads in the first place.

    The old guy from the Climate Change Party NZ or something was random. Not an actual party, but just a group to raise awareness. He was talking about how planet is going down the toilet so we better all enjoy our lives and use up as much resources as we can now before we are all killed by huge blizzards and tidal waves. Or something along those lines.

    1. Ari, NZ First has campaigned AND DELIVERED on public transport. History shows you can trust it. 631,000 New Zealanders have a Gold Card. No other party thought of that, the benefits it would bring to society or to public transport usage. In fact the other parties said it would never work and cost too much.

      Remember, unlike all the other parties, NZ First does not have a hidden agenda somewhere. Is not bankrolled by corporates, unions, vested interest groups. Just policies which are common sense and put NZ First.

      1. “””…unlike all the other parties, NZ First does not have a hidden agenda somewhere.”””

        I don’t think the Greens have any hidden agenda, at least I hope not. They certainly have an agenda but they are pretty open and up-front about it.

        Unless that is, they are hiding plans for more social engineering like Anti–smacking, pro-abortion, legalising-dope, going-soft-on-crime, etc. I hope not, because within their core business of transport and the environment they are becoming a trusted brand. Meddling in these other things could derail the whole process.

    2. >> The car saved the big city. Technology and private enterprise saved the day, not trains, not goverment policy, not government intervention.

      The car may have happened to solve a few problems, but a number of other acceptable options could have done so too — it was not an inevitable choice. There is no reason to believe that technology self-selects, or is naturally selected, or is selected rationally by a market. Consider that some cities got by without such a high dependence on automobiles, or that some cities were able to successfully re-orient to non-car modes in their policy and design, even after the fact.

      If you believe that the best technologies have won out by an objective, natural or market process, then the fact that we ended up with high automobile dependence should really dissuade you. Often, in practice, “worse is better”, and it takes intentional intervention to avoid it.

      >> The plough, ironworking, the wheel, gunpowder, crop rotations, steam engine, the AC motor, the airplane, the computer, the internet etc.
      >> Smart phones and driverless cars are both disruptive technologies.

      While some technologies may be disruptive in a particular social context, there is no total order of technologies that necessarily defines objective progress. Technological options for policy, design and use are more correctly described as a kind of partially-ordered set — the key properties being that some are as fit for a purpose as others, some others are incomparable but still worthwhile (or not), and many technologies overlap in myriad ways. There is not always a deterministically obvious winner to pick. It does still take conscious human intervention based on rigorous, reflective contemplation and social co-operation, in order to make good and not arbitrary choices.

      1. I just meant the car solved that particular problem that trains, cycling and walking could not economically solve. Obviously there were other ramifications ie sprawl, but arguably that came about by government directives to fund massive road building projects(massive subsidy) as opposed to letting the market decide whether the car was the economic solution for transport needs(it isnt). So no, we havent ended up with an auto dominated world because of just the market being left to itself. Instead we are here because of goverment intervention.

        I also don’t think better idea always win out, steam vs ICE vs electric, BetaMax vs VHS, IBM vs Xerox, Qwerty vs Dvorak etc. Sometimes the better product is eliminated because it can’t compete for other reasons.

        I agree with you in the sense that it’s difficult and non-obvious to pick a winner and I don’t think any government is historically that great at choosing the winner. Nor should it be their role. It is the main reason why NZ/Auckland is so motor dominated in the first place. The goverment dictated the market and the solution. The government’s role should be to create an environment where fair competition can take place (no subsidies) and people are free to choose what suits them best. If that had happened, Auckland would probably have more trams, more affordable housing and denser suburbs, less roads and less cars. Essentially a better place to live.

        1. I recently read a good article about that conference where they said the manure would be piling up. That article said that the initial solution to horses was really the electric streetcars/trams which led to the first round of sprawl (and to Auckland and Los Angeles being such great public transport cities). The ICE automobile came along shortly after and just expanded on that model.

          I think if the wide availability of the automobile had been delayed by another 10-20 years, the trams would have been much more entrenched in our cities and difficult to eliminate.

          Interesting to see that Europe is starting to use freight trams ( and Los Angeles is putting in place an electric freight truck highway ( so I don’t think we can say that there were no alternatives to the ICE.

  6. Thanks to the organisers for their hard work and managing to get the Minister of Transport along. Also, thanks to everyone who tweeted from the event for those of us who couldn’t make it.

  7. Not surprising about the good impression that Denis O’Rourke made. You have to remember that he was on Chch City Council for 15 years and was Chair of their Sustainable Transport Committee. A lot of good work was undertaken (or at least planned) during his time there.

  8. My 2cents: Julie great as expected and always makes sense. Phil also very good and made it clear Gerry wasn’t going to be able to perptuate all the usual myths about how much they’d invested in PT and reminded everyone our new trains are effectively two years late because of the current govt’s vacillation on the project. Yes Gerry you didn’t cancel the EMU contract only because you knew there’d be hell to pay for National all over the Akl isthmus if you did as basically the project was far enough along that it was risky politically to cancel it. Gerry and David Seymour were pretty much as expected.

    Back up other comments on here about Denis O’Rourke. I hadn’t heard him speak before and I thought he started off not that charismatically but I warmed to him and by the end I was definitely impressed. To find out his background afterwards it heartened me that he had a background in local govt politics and related to transport and has done quite a bit of travel around the world and seen for himself what is the A grade overseas when it comes to PT. He came across to me as an experienced, and character-wise, well-balanced individual.

    As others have said, Damian Light was the most disappointing speaker. He seemed to be just incredibly ignorant about the CRL (has he even taken the time to read an overview of the project I wonder?), especially since apparently he comes from the transport sector, though he never elaborated on excatly what that meant. I work for a certain airline so I guess I could be said to work in the transport sector as well! Really Damien should’ve gone to the CRL open day near K Rd and he might’ve just been a touch more enlightened! Damien if you read this, can I give you a piece of advice. This is Auckland 2014, not Auckland 1960s-70s when we had 30 odd boroughs and the ARA in Auckland, and North Shore mayors like Takapuna’s Fred Thomas only looked at their own patch and helped to scuttle the last rapid transport plan by the late Sir Dove-Myer Robinson (BTW Damien that one included rapid rail to the Shore so if your visionless North Shore mayors hadn’t stuffed that one today you would indeed have rapid rail on your side of the harbour). My point is Damien, if you want to be succesful in Auckland, and if Auckland itslef is to develop and progress, you need to see the big picture boy, and not just your little patch. Parochial politics does no one, including yourself, any good.

    Slight disappointment of the evening apart from little Q&A (Was that Gerry’s price for attending I wonder?), was the fact that Gerry was still able to slip in the fact that PT is heavily subsidised without any of the other candidates pouring scorn that somehow he forgot roads are too.

    1. “As others have said, Damian Light was the most disappointing speaker” – I wasn’t at the meeting, however I’m disappointed that he wasn’t better prepared. Also, I know Damian personally – He works for a large multimodal transport company and definitely understands rail… Perhaps he need’s to brush up on the passenger side though.

  9. One other disappointing thing. Despite a NZ Herald reporter attending, nothing at all on the NZH website about the debate. Editor (and John Key Bio book writer) John Roughan probably saw to that.

  10. The Herald’s coverage of the meeting was published in the second of its daily print editions but unfortunately over-looked by its hard-working online content loaders. The oversight was rectified once I became aware of it this afternoon and brought it to their attention. John Roughan is an assistant editor of the Herald who is not generally involved in overseeing daily news reporting but in any case would not suppress coverage of such a lively and newsworthy meeting.

  11. Hi Mathew thanks for that clarification.

    I notice that you reported Brownlee’s claim that ‘$2 billion the Government had invested in Auckland and Wellington rail electrification projects’. It was interesting to note that Phil Tywford from Labour went into some detail about how a large proportion of that sum claimed as the current government’s spending was actually funded by the previous Labour led government. Perhaps those are claims you could look into? Cos someone is telling a porky there.

    I know that the cost of Auckland’s new trains are being met by a loan to Auckland Transport, with interest, which is being serviced by AT and NZTA. Which is considerably different say from the recently announced additional motorway projects which have been funded as taxpayer gifts, or loans, without interest, to the central funded NZTA. Quite a difference.

  12. On behalf of NZ First, l just want to say thanks to all the organisers, and to the CBT team working there on the night. Excellent attendance as well. Denis O’Rourke, our transport spokesperson, really enjoyed the evening.

  13. Thanks for the comments – delighted with the great turnout, enhanced no doubt once people found out Brownlee would be attending (in place of Maggie Barry). Great presentation from Denis O’Rourke who flew up from Christchurch for the event. Not sure we got much change from permitting The Climate Change spokesperson to present – I think the time would have better gone to Q & A.
    See Dearnaley’s account of 3 tubes I note that while Brownlee clearly implied rail might be in the third tube, Dearnaley’s article says this has been corrected by his (Brownlee’s) spokesperson that he was expressing a personal opinion. The meeting was intended to provide party policies.

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