Labour’s resounding election win on Saturday means it can govern alone and without the ‘hand brake’ of NZ First. The result also means they now have no excuses for not delivering and gives the opportunity for some transformational change, but the fear is they won’t make the most of that.

Once the new government is officially formed in the next few weeks, one of the first things we’ll be looking to see is who holds the various transport and housing portfolios that exist. Phil Twyford has received quite a bit of criticism over the past few years for failing to deliver some of Labour’s flagship policies. While some of that criticism was clearly warranted, I think not all of it is and where he’s done a good job is around implementing some of the lower-profile, sometimes boring, but significant policy changes. The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) and changes to the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) are some examples of that.

Thinking forward to the next three years, here are some of the areas we think the government will need to deliver on, especially if they’re going to live up to their rhetoric on climate change. And they’ll need to live up to that if they also want to deliver long term on other stated priorities, such as child wellbeing. After all, many of the changes that are needed so that we don’t cook the planet also have more immediately tangible benefits for children, like being able to freely and safely walk and bike around local streets, like we experienced during the first lockdown.

To start with, as noted in our election policy roundup last week, Labour went into the election with almost no defined transport policy other than implementing their GPS, as well as the projects in the NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP) and their post-COVID shovel ready projects. The only real new policy is to require all buses be zero emissions by 2025 and to reform the RMA. But even within that there is a heap that they can do.

Follow their own GPS

One of the big things the government could do would just be to ensure that all transport decisions follow the GPS. The GPS has four overarching strategic priorities and some of these have overlaps, shown below.

The issue is that while the GPS represents a solid policy for the country, it is often simply ignored or at best, elements of it are cherry picked to support something that doesn’t deliver on many of the priorities and outcomes being sought. For example the government’s NZUP appears to sit completely outside of the GPS and many of the large motorway projects included in it don’t deliver on priorities like providing better travel options, and will encourage more driving, thereby contributing more to climate change.

Within the Better Travel Options priority, one thing that stands out is this:

Implement mode shift plans for Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. The NZTA will take a more proactive role in accelerating mode shift by partnering with local government and other agencies to shape urban form, make shared and active modes more attractive, and influence travel demand and transport choice. This includes progressing work that is already well underway on developing a public transport system in Christchurch.

Having mode shift plans will be good but like the wider GPS, they will need to be adhered to. The Auckland mode shift plan was delivered late last year but like the wider GPS, seems to be being ignored by the likes of AT, NZTA and the government when it comes to decision making.

All of this suggests that an important step over the coming three years would be for the government to:

  1. adhere to those plans in any decision making
  2. start holding the various central and local government agencies to account for delivering on the myriad plans that already exist. Currently there seems to be no consequence for these agencies ignoring plans and doing their own thing.

Light Rail Metro

At this stage it looks like the preference for a more metro style solution is now going to go ahead. The outcome of the competition between Waka Kotahi NZTA and NZ Infra, the joint venture between Superfund and their Canadian partners, ended with the NZ Infra proposal being preferred but NZ First blocking it. What was agreed was that the Ministry of Transport would come up with a public sector delivery model. At this stage that appears to involve the MoT buying some of the IP from the bidders and coming up with a way to deliver it. One risk here is that with NZF out of the way, they just choose to go back to the NZ Infra proposal and push that through.

Light metro is going to be a massive project so If the government are as serious as they claim about delivering this project then over the course of the coming term we’re going to need to see at least the planning and design/consenting works completed for it.

Montreal’s REM project which is understood to be the basis for NZ Infra’s Light Metro bid

RTN Progress

As well as mode shift plans, we also need rapid transit plans for not just Auckland but other major centres too. We need for the government to start deliver these plans and to start the more detailed work around the planning and design on them over this term. These networks are going to be increasingly important in delivering the levels of mode shift that will be needed in our response to climate change.

Furthermore, one of the big factors in why we keep seeing the government pulling out big road projects to build is that those are often the only ones where planning/design work has previously been progressed – sometimes this is also tied to the issue above of agencies ignoring policy and progressing these things behind the scenes. Having these RTN plans more progressed will mean than when governments suddenly look for more projects to deliver, they’ll have these options.

In addition to these longer term plans, it would be useful if the government could pick up the Greens policy of looking to use proposed improvements to the Northwest as a template for delivering the rest of the RTN in Auckland within the span of this electoral cycle.

Let’s get at least an interim implementation of this network in place by 2023

Build for bikes

We need commuting routes that let people bike to work, local streets that are safe for kids to walk and ride and scoot on and arterial roads that allow people to make the low-carbon travel choices. We also desperately need to ramp these up now, not in a decade’s time.

One major issue that we really need the government to help address is how we get local authorities to prioritise street space and consult on projects. For example, perhaps we need something like the NPS-UD to require local authorities to prioritise walking, cycling and safety over on-street parking on arterials.

Bring forward PT fleet electrification

Labour’s plans to require only electric buses be bought from 2025 needs to be brought forward and there is not really anything stopping that from being next year. An ambitious government would also look to push to electrify other parts of the PT fleet, such as ferries and longer distance trains.

Simplify Transport Planning

We have way too many, often duplicative plans – it’s no wonder that even most staff at transport agencies don’t know what’s going on.

AT’s “Strategic Planning Architecture” – though even this seems to miss several plans and strategies

Labour’s plans to reform the Resource Management Act will likely also require changes to the Land Transport Management Act. This provides a good opportunity to look at the LTMA in more detail and consider some changes that could simplify planning, such as:

  • Find a way of integrating things like ATAP and removing the duplication between it as well as Regional and National Land Transport Programmes – just have a single plan.
  • Properly integrating rail, something I understand NZ First prevented in the changes last year

They should also change the purpose of LTMA to include stuff like emissions reductions.

Simplify Transport Funding

As well as simplifying planning, we also really need to simplify our funding/financing models. The issues aren’t easy to quickly express in this post – thought we did see some of them expressed here.

Simplifying funding is going to be even more important in the wake of COVID where councils don’t now have the revenue to fund their share of projects, especially for PT and active mode projects. This will mean improvements to those modes will struggle to get or maintain any momentum, further locking us in to higher emissions along with worse safety outcomes and travel choices.

Coordinated Urban Renewal

We’d started to see some elements of this under over the last 3-years but over the coming three we really need to see the government step up further to deliver coordinated urban renewal in our major cities. This needs to include both planning and financing

There is obviously much more that will need to be delivered but this will do for now.

Share this


  1. ATAP is a program of projects. RLTP is also a program of projects.

    The Auckland Plan (land use) and Future Connect (transport) are the vision for what should happen. They consolidate the different types of information and provide a framework for decisions about the program of works/projects.

  2. Tying the RTN and the Light Rail program is a huge priority. If the plan is to roll out a new type of network, we have to know what it’s replacing, where it will go, how and when. Otherwise we could end up with gaping holes in the RTN on the vague promise something better is coming along.

    I also think once they do commit to the Metro or Tram style light rail, they really, really need to come up with whatever funding or legislation required to get whole branches completed in two years at most. We can’t afford for the lead, construction, testing and delivery times to blow out like other NZ projects.

    1. I agree they need a more comprehensive network plan. Especially if they are going with light metro, they need to get more out of it than just to Mangere, they should plan for it now. Are there plans to extend it in other directions? For example there is land available to go the other way along SH20 towards Avondale, being above ground that shouldn’t cost much. It would also tie in with a lot of housing they are already building and could give a much more direct airport route to west Aucklanders (wouldn’t it be cool if it could go all the way to the Western Line heavy rail and the North Western light rail!). Or maybe extend it towards blockhouse/green bay and encourage some intensification there.
      If they going to spend 10 billion on a metro they need to make sure Auckland gets the most possible out of it, even if not all of it gets built now.

      1. Just looking at the map, taking ‘Airport’ light rail the other direction to Unitec and potentially to meet up with the North Western line looks possible and affordable. I think the Avondale Southdown designation runs all the way to pak-n-save Mt Albert, from there it is a fairly short run to the new Unitec development. At least change the designation to light rail before NZF make their comeback!

        1. Thanks John. That all would have been a fairly easy add on with the original light rail plans. But if they going underground they need to consider these options in advance. Retrofitting an underground junction at SH20/Dominion would be tricky especially if they intend to allow for the likes of Avondale -> City via underground Dominion for example. In fact I have to wonder if it would be a lot cheaper to make that the Northwest route. A bit more distance but probably not much extra travel time, with no need to do all the expensive work at the city end.

        2. The designation is owned by Kiwirail and will be required if the Marsden Point line is ever built

        3. It will also destroy Onehunga. The number of street crossings means it’s a completely impractical above ground route.

          The Avondale Southdown route needs a rethink.

        4. Avondale Southdown won’t be needed just because a branch line to Marsden Point is built. It would only be needed if Ports of Auckland were moved to Marsden Point, which is looking increasingly unlikely.

  3. I think Labour need to take a good hard look at their top ranks and realize they don’t have any transport experts amongst themselves, and instead promote Julie Anne Genter to Minister of Transport.

      1. There’s a bit of a problem with the feebate bit, and that’s getting a steady supply of new EVs into NZ. As a RHD market we don’t have much access to new models and have to wait for other markets to get their fill. There’s a lot of new vehicles coming *at some point* but very few commitments from manufacturers about if/when we’ll see them in local markets.

        1. Important, too, is making sure we don’t miss out on e-bikes for the same reason. E-bikes, E-cargo trikes, small E-delivery vans, etc, are up there with E-buses as critical parts of the electrification side of transport change.

          The government needs to think this through with good, equitable incentives. And soon, so that orders can be big and steady, so manufacturers see us as a consistent and loyal market, even if we’re small.

        2. Yeah RHD is niggly, shame we can’t get hold of some of those cheap Chinese models. They are also making lots of small E-delivery vans etc

    1. I am a fan of Genter and used to think that too but have since changed my mind. Labour don’t need the Greens to govern so won’t give away a major portfolio like transport. I also think it would be unwise of the Greens to take it if offered, since that could make them a scapegoat next election.

      Being Minister of Transport does not require policy expertise in that domain as much of the policy is already written. What is required is the ability to execute that policy and get things done. What makes Transport hard is trying to get good results out of an underperforming ministry and dysfunctional agency below that.

      1. I disagree – having a Minister that actually knows and understands what the Ministry is doing is vitally important, and screw-ups happen when this is not done. Hence, the reason why the NZTA is taking a different course from how it used to function, is precisely because Genter and Twyford have been forcing them to change their dinosaur brain “more roads” mantra. That’s what happens when the Ministers are clued up. As a contrast, compare with Construction, where the Minister honestly hasn’t got a clue. Nothing much happening there. Or take Health, with the Minister taking bike holidays instead of running the Ministry and leading by example. We urgently need Ministers with brains, and with relevant experience in their fields.

        1. I agree too. If you want change then active Ministers will be required. But it could be a bumpy road as the civil service is likely to kick back. Also agree Clark was hopeless in Health too.

      2. The thing that took a while to sink in for me watching the election is that even with the Greens success Labour has too much majority for the Greens to have any real negotiating power if they go into a coalition or whatever agreement. Longer term consensus type stuff maybe but that’s about it.

        Ironically with National’s outcome so low we could have issues of not enough “green” as I suspected might happen but the polls were all over the place. The more cynical thinking is that the very traditionally strong National Party areas (esp South Island rural etc) may have strategically voted Labour to keep Green power out?

        1. To add with NZ First out of the way though, some anti-green policy vibe could be off-set and we end up with pretty much what we already had.

        2. Don’t over think it. People were revolted by what National had to offer. Many were too conservative to go to a small party.

        3. Grant if the big effect was traditional National voters switching to Labour to keep out the Greens then why did National lose so many electorate seats? Rangitata, Ilam etc.

        4. The strategic voting would likely only explain the last few %. Some National supporters might have decided to vote that way once it was clear National wasn’t going to win.

          I think the Greens – Labour discussions will be interesting. Labour think they could give ground to the Greens on areas like climate change and transport without risking scaring the centrist horses too much.

        5. @ Brendon Harre. I think a lot people tend to vote two ticks for whatever party they are supporting unless they have an outstanding local candidate that looks out for their local issues.

  4. Could be time to strike up a deal with one of the bigger construction firms to turn them into a SOE and get some semblance of the MoW. Costs and times and lack of training etc have all been negatively affected since the MoW was sold off.

    1. Like getting Fletchers to manage the earthquake house repairs in Christchurch for the EQC? That turned out well, not.

    2. Costs and times used to go massively over budget in the old days too. ie Clyde Dam, Mangere Bridge etc etc. The CRL Link Alliance seems to be functioning well.

      1. When they built Benmore they had to order the reinforcing steel years in advance. The steel arrived at the site, but the designers had opted for an earth dam instead. That meant there was a heap of steel sitting rusting off the one side of the construction site.

      2. Sometimes projects went over but that was often due to them having a very short planning and construction period to begin with. Compare that to now where it took how many years to design the CRL and then how many years to build it? Yes it’s a huge project, but it was supposed to be up and running by 2021 originally and now 2024 if we’re lucky.

        As for Chch, that wasn’t a SOE, that was another alliance project where the construction companies got to cream it.

        1. The CRL never had a completion date of 2021, that was just an unfunded pipe-dream of Len Brown’s. When National agreed to fund it, it was initially due to be completed in 2025 and then was bought forward to 2023. Delays saw that pushed out to 2024.

          Years of planning went into the Clyde Dam and yet it’s completion was years overdue with a huge cost blowout. Generally hydro projects in NZ are a story of cock-ups, delays and cost-overruns. The only reason they look good in retrospect are the rose tinted glasses.

  5. The real issue with funding PT isn’t likely to be at the local government end of things; the NLTF is severely depleted as a result of COVID and NZTA have indicated that there will be limited additional funds available for PT improvements.
    Central government needs to either allocate additional funding for services or allow for some redistribution of NLTF funds from other areas to meet the ambitions of local councils

  6. I think I might draw a picture of a motorway from Auckland to Wellington and then claim I own the IP to it each time a future government wants to build more motorways. Seriously though, where did this rort come from? You draw some diagrams of something and if the government decides to do something vaguely similar you stick your hand out for money?

      1. I figured that is the same as me paying myself to bury some rubbish in the back yard. The money cancels out, but the rubbish remains. My real beef is every chancer drawing something pretty and trying to convince the public we need it and then demanding cash for their ‘idea’. Think Skypath and Canadian shysters.

        1. Skypath had design, consenting, consultation work that had been done so it’s fair to buy that. Likewise, there will have been some design and planning work on LM including stuff like route alignment and station location analysis, possibly some early station design work etc. Some of that it would be useful not to have to start again from scratch.

        2. If the idea was to transplant the REM Montreal to Auckland as much as possible, there would be valuable IP from that source.

  7. Jacindas post election speech included “100% renewable”. To make the most of this I’d like to know how much effort will be put into EV subsidy / guzzler tax.
    Clearly their mandate is to get on with Dom Rd light metro, but how about also building light metro to the NW?
    And how much better can they make the regional passenger train proposal?

    1. They hardly mention light rail / light metro during the campaign so it can’t be considered that they have a strong mandate for any particular mode. Though they certainly have a mandate to do something.

      If they select as transport minister someone with a better grasp of the issues then we might see a reversion to something more like the AT light rail concept. Fingers crossed.

    2. And a “rebalancing” of fringe benefit taxes between employer provided car parking and employer funded PT tickets. See also utes.

    3. I think they will follow through on what they’ve promised (Clean Car Standard, increasing the LEV fund, and new funding for electric buses). But these will have very little impact on emissions in the next five years and they will likely be under pressure (e.g. from the Climate Change Commission) to do more.

      I didn’t see the National Party’s FBT exemption for EVs costed, it could be both expensive and highly effective. It would cost around $4000 a year per vehicle – a much bigger change than the feebate. But if the ute exemption was ditched then the net cost would be almost nothing.

      The Clean Car Plan was originally supposed to start with reporting only in 2021 and the new standards phased in from 2022-2025. That still looks achievable now that the emissions of new car sales in Europe are plummeting.

      +1 to aligning FBT on parking vs PT. FBT on parking only would be massive.

  8. I think they should just scrap the light rail or metro and get on with the buses for both the Mangere and North Western. I think that is what they will do because they didn’t campaign for it. So what possible time line could we expect another three years to plan it with completion perhaps by 2026 at the very earliest. Lets just do something that can be done a little bit faster than that. Electric buses probably trolley buses. The time for light rail has passed. According to Heidi we only have 7.5 years left to keep the average world temperature rise at less than 1.5 degree.

    1. That’s the greens plan. Do the buses in the next three years and have them up and running while sorting out the long term solution.

      1. Bus ways can be converted to light rail. Just do it in 200 metre sections with a set of pop up traffic lights controlling the affected section.

        1. We’re not very good at converting busways to light rail, or even coming up with timelines or commitments to converting busways to anything, even as capacity constraints approach rapidly. So whatever the ‘interim’ solution ends up being, chances are we’ll be stuck with it for at least a decade after we actually should have upgraded it.

        2. In fairness we’ve only got one busway so it’s a pretty limited sample, also it hasn’t reached capacity yet so hard to say it’s a failure.

        3. Just build a light rail/ light metro and be done with it. The capacity and energy-efficiency are way a head of buses.

        4. The fact is a metro will take six to eight years to open even if they started today. But it will take them the next three years just to work out the governance and funding arrangements. They’ll still be talking about it at the next election. Just build it and be done with it means nothing for over a decade.

          The should have started three years ago when the allocated the first $1.8b for light rail. Then it would be started this term and finished the next. But Twyford screwed up royally and we’re worse off than we were three years ago.

          It’s a bit of bus upgrade now, or nothing until the 2030s.

      2. Yes even just bus lanes of some sort transitioning to full route length bus lanes makes a world of difference. Changing laws to give buses priority would help as well and doesn’t require any infrastructure changes. Eg right of way when indicating to move out into the traffic flow from a bus stop.

  9. My hope is that any changes to the RMA would prohibit using general traffic level of service (LOS) as a metric of impact when considering the transport impacts of development. They should require an assessment of vehicle-km travelled (VKT) impacts instead, with a requirement to mitigate these impacts. This would favour infill development near PT that does not provide carparking and lead to mitigations that improved PT, walking and cycling.

  10. The most shover ready would be East-West and would deliver outcomes and benefits for fright, productivity gain, less congestion thus a better and realistic sustainable outcome, and more missing link for ped and cycle for the opportunity on the foreshore.

    For those bus fans, BRT is going to give more pain in terms of retrofitting to existing urban environment as the station would need to be 200m plus long to accommodate the operational frequency. Wisdom needed to think about a step by step plan rather any aspirational goal again. Light trail is out of date!

    What would be the execuses for not delivering – politics and maybe PM would soon to announce she would be off duty for another baby… geez . I am keeping on day dreaming.

      1. You just need to look at Neilson St. is that a place you like the city to grow towards? With trucks piling up and delivering all toxic gases. Crazy!

        1. You didnt answer the question.

          When was the last time a motorway delivered less congestion?!

          (Hint: never)

  11. The challenge of electrifying the PT fleet is the Capex cost to the operators.
    It is intolerable to ask these private bus companies to scrap diesel buses that were only recently purchased. It’s not just the cost of the E bus either, using the technology that is currently available, you need a charging station and transformer for every 4 busses. This is very expensive in not just the cost of the equipment, but means that most bus depots will need more land.
    If you speak to the bus companies, or in fact anyone involved in the discussion around zero emissions in PT, a transitional solution is needed.
    We have not even worked out if the Long term solution is BEV or HFC.
    It would be great to bring zero emissions forward, but the commitment is already ambitious.

    1. I would presume that bus companies have very long term contracts and guarantees that their busses will be used right? I dont think we’d be scrapping anything unless central government wrote a new law booting those contracts.

      1. Not very long term, they are usually 8 or 10 years at the most, around the life of a bus in service.

        Which means every year about 10% to 12% of the bus fleet gets replaced under new contracts. In five years from now about half the buses in the country will have been replaced.

        1. The life cycle of a bus in Auckland is 20 years and a lot of the fleet is only 2 years old.
          The other problem with BEV busses is the weight of the batteries. This means that the number of passengers is quite restricted compared to existing fleet. That adds more capex burden to the operators.
          Sure, we could have 100% electric buses in about a year, but are Aucklanders ready to pay twice the price of their bus ticket? Central and regional government is not putting their hands up to cover the price gap.

        2. Not quite, the legal requirement is for buses to be less than 20 years old in the RUB, which is obsolete now and currently being replaced.
          The current guidance is for all new contracts since PTOM is that each operators fleet should average less than ten years. Because of this the operators price a sub-ten year bus lifespan into their contract pricing.

          Indeed about 20% of the Auckland bus fleet is only two years old, because about 10% is replaced every year.
          If auckland starts electrifying now half of the bus fleet will be electric by the time the CRL opens.

        3. I don’t know where you are getting your information from Riccardo, but that is not what AT is saying.
          There is a Low emission bus roadmap that if not publicly available, you could OIR and that will show you the fleet retirement schedule.
          Of the fleet, currently 220 diesel buses will only be retired in 2039. Obviously there is an ambitious target to meet on zero emissions, so AT is looking at options to meet targets sooner. Some of those options include keeping the ICE engines until retirement, but reducing the GHG and Nox they produce.

        4. Daniel – Auckland has roughly 1300 buses. Yes you are right that there is a slug of buses purchased recently that will be with us for a long time but these are the minority.

          In reality by the time these get near the end of their lives they will be doing mostly peak services and school runs so their impact on emissions will be relatively small.

        5. The fleet retirement schedule is as follows (year + number exiting):
          20/1, 21/2, 23/10, 24/96, 25/44, 26/78, 27/1, 28/21, 29/51, 30/14, 31/28, 32/82, 33/38, 34/60, 35/37, 36/31, 37/257, 38/108, 39/220, 20/28. There is a significant challenge and unless the Government is going to pay, we will have plenty of ICE buses in Auckland for the next 20 years. How we fuel those ICE engines is what will make the difference.

    2. There’ll be regional parts of the country with smoke-belching old buses that can’t afford or justify the charging infrastructure for their small ridership yet. The old buses should be regulated out, for starters, and then those places could purchase our newest diesel buses.

        1. Yes, Christopher, these are the questions that we should be discussing. The current regulations and incentives mean we’re doubling down on buying ICE vehicles instead of shifting modes; the cost on society present and future is enormous. So what do we need to change?

  12. AT’s “Strategic Planning Architecture” enables the highly paid senior managers at AT to avoid making any decisions. Instead they abdicate any decision making to expensive external consultants who send recent Uni grads to important meetings, equiped with boxes of post it notes. The consultants then charge $350 an hour to conduct “Innovation Sprints” that result in lots of fancy presentations. However few of the projects have been fully funded. The findings and “innovations” then get vetoed by senior AT staff who have their own agendas.

  13. “Sure, we could have 100% electric buses in about a year, but are Aucklanders ready to pay twice the price of their bus ticket? Central and regional government is not putting their hands up to cover the price gap.”

    SOLUTION: Green Party supporters have to pay three times the normal bus fare, in order to fund the electric buses.

  14. I don’t expect much at all getting done with Labour with all their incompetent ministers. They have too few competent ones to go around. Jacinda didn’t really promise much and I expect Jacinda will blame COVID for not doing anything this time around.

  15. Driverless metro is the way to go and I’ve been banging on about it for years. Glad this light rail nonsense has been kicked to the curbside.

    1. Driverless metro costs four or five times as much as light rail. So we’re not going to get it. Expect another three years talking about it, without dealing with the cost or impacts, then it being dumped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *