On Monday it was announced that Michael Wood would be our new Minister of Transport. From what I know of Michael he’ll be a great fit for the role.
Before getting into his appointment, just a few quick comments on his predecessor, Phil Twyford. Twyford has faced substantial criticism of his handling of his portfolios over the last term, most notably with Light Rail and Kiwibuild. While there have clearly been issues with those, I do think he has a better job of delivering on other, less high-profile but more wonky and possibly more important policies that will shape our cities for years to come. A couple of those that spring to mind are the revisions of the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS), the amended Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), including actually funding it, and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development which supercharges urban development around rapid transit stations.
Back to Wood, there was quite a bit of excitement in urbanist social media on Monday following his announcement. To start with it’s great that he’s an urban MP from Auckland, and prior to becoming an MP he was on the Puketapapa local board so has a good understanding of transport issues at local levels. Positively, he (and his family) are also regular users of public transport and he’s not afraid to get around on a bike (including in a suit). He has also long supported projects like Light Rail and Skypath, for example light rail was a key feature of his platform in the 2016 by-election to replace Phil Goff and he was Labour’s transport spokesman in 2017 to announce they would fund Skypath. His profile on Labour’s website even says:
He also has a particular interest in Auckland’s urban development and is a keen supporter of more high-quality affordable housing, and rapid public transport in his electorate and across the city.
Bang on. Dom Rd Light Rail busts congestion by providing frequent, reliable high-capacity public transport to one of Auckland's busiest & fastest growing non-motorway roads. We locals use heaps of buses along here, but they are getting to the limits of their capacity. https://t.co/nFCfb8VCuH
— Michael Wood (@michaelwoodnz) October 22, 2019
Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has written a piece about him.
He’s also a believer in induced demand, the idea that building more roads doesn’t always relieve congestion as it often encourages people to drive more.
The other big ticket item on Wood’s list is what to do with Auckland’s light rail system. Labour promised to have the rail line between Britomart and the Airport partly built by now. Instead, the Government hasn’t even selected what it wants to build let alone who is going to build it.
Twyford kicked the project back to the Ministry of Transport earlier this year for more work, promising the Government would get more advice after the election.
Light rail is personal for Wood. Labour first announced its commitment to light rail during the 2016 Mt Roskill by-election in which Wood won his seat. And, when completed, it will run right through the middle of his Mt Roskill electorate.
Despite the pressure, Wood says he’s not going to rush a decision on light rail.
“Light rail is a multi-billion dollar decision. It will be a 50-100 year piece of infrastructure in our biggest city, so we’re not going to be rushed into making a decision,” Wood said.
You can also see he understands many of the issues with tweets like this one.
The most effective emissions & congestion buster in our cities is public transport. National's EVs in bus lanes policy undermines this; again showing that they hate PT & don't understand modern cities. Confused & contradictory policy.
— Michael Wood (@michaelwoodnz) September 11, 2020
And then there’s this, it sounds like that child is being raised well.
Anyone concerned about the new Minister of Transport may (or may not) be reassured that his 5 yo child just told me about how the dairy is within "walkable distance" while we went to get an ice cream.
— Julie Fairey (@juliefairey) November 2, 2020
And we’re not going to see change with the GPS
Wood said he’d be making no changes to one of Twyford’s last big actions as Transport Minister – the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS).
“I’ve gone through the GPS in great detail and I think it’s a great piece of work that embeds the progress we’ve had in transport over the last three years,” Woods said.
As we’ve increasingly seen, the challenge is now not the policy but getting that policy delivered. That challenge is going to be added to by the fact that costs in the transport sector are increasing, especially on public transport in a post-covid world, but also that traditional transport revenue is down as fewer people travel.
On the other side of the coin, he’ll also be the Transport Minister that gets to open projects like the Puhinui Interchange, the Eastern Busway and the Northern Busway Extension.
We’re looking forward to seeing what he does with the portfolio.