The local body elections feel like they’ve been dragging on all year but they finally to an end on Saturday. To me this election feels like there’s been a lot more heat than light and I guess I’m not the only one given that so far, we’re tracking for the lowest number of votes since Auckland was amalgamated in 2010 with as of last Friday just 15.1% of people (162k) having voted. The last day to post voting papers is tomorrow, although you can still physically take them to a ballot box until noon on Saturday.
One thing that’s noticeable about this election is that there hasn’t been a big transport project to focus on. In the first two elections the City Rail Link was the key focus of Len Brown and at the last election it was Light Rail. With all of those projects, and more, underway, there just hasn’t been that big single issue to latch on to and debate.
So in a case of better late than never, I thought I’d give a quick summary of the transport policies of main contestants. Before I get into it, I also want to highlight great work done by our friends over at Generation Zero with their election scorecards. If you’re stuck on who to vote for, especially at ward or local board level, then these may help.
Phil’s first term as Mayor can probably be summed up as securing the next big steps towards improving transport in Auckland, much of it an extension of the work started under his predecessor. This progress came in the form of the updated Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) with the current government and importantly finding a way to fund Auckland’s share of that through the regional fuel tax. Those improvements include delivering on a significant expansion to our Rapid Transit network over the next nine years and some of those projects, such as the Puhinui Interchange, are already underway.
As such, Phil was never going to come out and say we needed to do something different and that’s reflected in his policies which can perhaps all be described as ‘tinkering around the edges’. There are only two policies directly associated with transport and a couple of others loosely so.
Perhaps the most significant of Goff’s transport policies is his one on clean transport. He is promising for the council to only buy electric vehicles from next year and to accelerate the roll-out of electric buses. The latter is something we’ve definitely wanted to see as Auckland Transport’s current approach is simply not ambitious enough.
Cheaper PT for kids
Making public transport free for kids on weekends has already been claimed as a success by the council and Auckland Transport and Goff’s policy is to extend that further by making child fares even cheaper on weekdays. Currently child fares vary from 40-47% of adult fares depending on how many zones are travelled. Goff wants this increased to a flat 50%, which he says would mean savings for parents of about $114 per year for two zone trips or $171 per year on three zone trips. These figures add up quickly though with the number of kids already using PT and he says the annual estimated cost would be $4.13 million. He also claims this would result in an extra 355k trips which doesn’t seem like a great return on investment.
Trees and reviews
The two other policies which remotely tough on transport are:
- Planting 1.5 million trees – a 50% increase on his 2016 promise which was achieved earlier this year. As with last time, it would be good if that meant planting some street trees but there is no mention of that in the policy.
- Reviewing the Council Controlled Organisation (CCO) structure – this would include Auckland Transport but any changes would require the government to change legislation.
Gen zero scored him an A- with 87% for transport
Tamihere started his campaign by attacking Auckland Transport and has claimed it is waging a war on cars and promising to sack the AT board. He also came out early opposing the changes of speed limits, the regional fuel tax and plans to make Queen St car-free.
His more substantive policy is broken down into two main categories, roads and rail.
Tamihere claims that he will get on with building roads and specifically mentions as priorities:
- Mill Rd
- Puhoi to Wellsford Motorway
- The Kumeu bypass
- Port Access Upgrade – I assume he’s referring to the tunnel to the ports and not the new Grafton Gully Boulevard plans.
- East-West Link – a different version from what the NZTA have proposed
He says they will be financed by Public Private Partnerships but given these are just a more expensive way of debt financing, it’s not clear how he’ll cover the costs of those repayments, especially without the fuel tax.
He also claims he will get external investment to build up to 30 large park and rides around the region, saying feeder buses are “not the answer”. The problem with this thinking is there’s nothing now stopping private investors from building P&R, other than the fact they can’t make any money on it, especially when it can cost $60,000 or more per space.
When I look at Tamihere’s rail plan it reminds me of something from a movie where people have been taken over by some alien entity. On the surface they look completely normal but it’s only once you look closely you realise not is all as it seems.
The plan is to build 33km of new rail lines, including some down streets, operated by tram-trains that also share our existing tracks. This would include laying tracks along Quay St and over Te Wero island to Wynyard with platforms on the street the same height as on our rail network.
The tram-trains they say will run on this network will be some quite mythical machines. It is claimed they will be the same size and capacity as our existing trains yet have 100% level boarding, so no steps like the current train. and yet they’ll also be able to climb grades of 5%, turn tighter corners, run at up to 150km/h in a regional variant and also run on town streets. Each one of these things may be possible on their own but is unlikely to be feasible all together e.g. with our platform heights AT were not able to get trains that have 100% level boarding due to the need to accommodate the bogies, running gear, aircon etc.
While there are some not terrible things about this, in my view it doesn’t do enough to address having too many buses in the city, it doesn’t address Isthmus, it doesn’t address the Northwest, which is more than just serving Kumeu but the whole Northwest corridor and it seems to ignore projects that are already underway. More importantly it requires changing ATAP, which I’ll discuss further below.
There’s a regional map too, the core of which almost identical to our Regional Rapid Rail plan.
I can’t help but think that had all of this been 10-15 years ago, it would have looked good but it simply isn’t as compelling or as useful as what’s currently planned.
Harbour Bridge Replacement
On top of his road and rail plans, one of the biggest headlines was Tamihere’s plan to replace the structure of Harbour Bridge with a new double decked version carrying both more car lanes and also these tram-trains and walking/cycling paths.
I discussed the idea in more detail at the time and to be fair it’s probably less crazy than some of the NZTA’s plans for another road crossing.
The key problem for Tamihere is that both his plans require the government to come on-board, re-negotiate ATAP and also provide a lot more funding to Auckland. There are two main problems with this.
- The government have already indicated they won’t do this which means even if Tamihere was ultimately successful, it likely means years of more delays.
- ATAP is evidence based and so even in the earlier versions under the National government agreed that building a bunch of roads wouldn’t solve the problem.
Not mentioned in his policies is anything to do with cycling, although he has said it isn’t a priority and can come later, after we’ve built more roads.
Gen zero scored him a C- with just 46% for transport.
Lord has been making a bit more of a name for himself recently, particularly in constituencies that typically vote for a more traditional right-wing candidate. From what little I’ve seen, he wants to focus on building a lot of roads, such as Penlink and getting ride of cycleways. More recently he has come out saying his plan for public transport is elevated monorails.
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t score well with Gen Zero, achieving a D- and just 39% for transport
Phil Goff might not be the most exciting candidate but in our view he’s the only one with a sensible plan.
The mayor is important but is only just one vote and so it’s important we get a supportive council too and there are a number of wards where it could be a close race. I won’t go into detail on them so check those Gen Zero scorecards.
Finally, the voting returns by local board (including by LB subdivision where it exists).