With a new government we expected to see significant change to transport in New Zealand. Yesterday we got the first glimpse of that with the signing and release of Labour’s agreements with New Zealand First and the Greens. Of the two agreements, the policies outlined in the Greens confidence and supply agreement are most relevant to the issues we talk about the most so I’ll start with that
Under the section of “Sustainable Economy”, one of the listed goals is focused on transport. It states:
Reduce congestion and carbon emissions by substantially increasing investment in safe walking and cycling, frequent and affordable passenger transport, rail, and sea freight.
Sounds good, and there are then a number of specific policies listed to achieve this.
Light Rail is go
We’ve had plenty of debates about light rail over the last few years with National opposing it or only saying it was needed decades in the future. As part of the agreement those debates appear to be over with it stating:
Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland
This is fantastic news and hopefully means that Auckland Transport (ideally now with support of the NZTA) can get on with actually delivering the project instead of having to come up with new angles to again prove the project stacks up. It’s unclear at this stage just how long it will be before we see any diggers on the ground or when the first stage might be able to open. Potentially, by the time the CRL is finsihed we could have both it and Light Rail operating which would also allow for the council to push on with it’s planned urban realm upgrades.
I think that having this confirmed will also make other rapid transit discussions easier. For example, we know that the Northern Busway is going to need to be upgraded in future, the option of extending that light rail route to the North Shore can now be more actively discussed.
East-West Link killed
As part of the agreement, the East-West Link “will not proceed as currently proposed“. This is great news those last two words are crucial. We absolutely need transport improvements in the area so hopefully the NZTA go back and look at the local road upgrades they previously dismissed despite being able to deliver significant benefits. I also wonder if we’ll ever hear the outcome of the Board of Inquiry, it would be fitting if they were planning on rejecting it anyway.
Better walking and cycling
As mentioned yesterday, National’s Urban Cycleway Fund was one of the best urban/transport policies they delivered during their time in government. The Greens agreement will confirm more investment in active modes, listing:
Safe cycling and walking, especially around schools, will be a transport priority
Changing how the National Land Transport Fund works
One of the most bizarre parts of how we fund transport is that the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) has been prohibited from funding some forms of land transport. This includes rail infrastructure and footpaths, even when they have direct and positive impacts on the surrounding road network. As stated below, that is set to change
National Land Transport Fund spending will be reprioritised to increase the investment in rail infrastructure in cities and regions, and cycling and walking.
Unsurprisingly, one of the truck lobby isn’t too happy about this, seeming to think that NLTF stands for National Large Truck Fund.
Looking at travel support for those on low incomes
During the election, the greens campaigned on extending the idea behind the Supergold card to those on low incomes or a benefit. Investigating this has been agreed as part of deal with labour.
For NZ First, the main area of interest for us is a $1 billion Regional Development Fund. Among other things, the agreement notes that that it will include:
- Significant investment in regional rail
- Commissioning a feasibility study on the options for moving the Ports of Auckland, including giving Northport serious consideration.
The rail investment has been rumoured to account for up to half of that fund and would almost certainly include funding the already consented line to Northport. Such a line could have interesting implications for Auckland given that post CRL, the rail network is going to be pretty busy most of the day.
Later today it’s rumoured we’ll hear that Phil Tywford will be the new Transport Minister and that Julie Anne Genter will be the Associate Transport Minister. If true then this is a fantastic outcome and they’ll be a powerful team.