We are now only around 3 months away from the next local body elections and given how much it tends to feature in local elections, that means we’re going to start to see more and more discussion about transport policy.
With Phil Goff stepping down, the election for Mayor is probably the most uncertain it’s been since Auckland was amalgamated in 2010 and Mayoral hopefuls are starting to release policy.
On Sunday, centre-right candidate Viv Beck released her transport policy and there’s a lot to like. In previous elections, right-wing candidates seemed to focus their transport policy on igniting a mode-based culture war. Policy seemed little more than the ramblings of someone’s petrolhead uncle at the last family barbeque with public transport and cycling projects relegated to being cancelled, scaled back or replaced with unproven fantasies.
In contrast, Beck’s transport policy seems largely sensible. There are some missing elements and the cancellation of a major public transport project is included, however it is done so in order to focus on improving public transport across a greater part of Auckland.
Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck wants to scrap the Government’s $14.6 billion light rail project for now and replace it with practical, cheaper and quicker solutions across the city.
If elected mayor on October 8, Beck would push for a city-wide rapid transit network, including a fully separated busway alongside the Northwestern Motorway, rapid transit from the airport to Botany, $110 million in upgrades to the Northern Busway and ramping up bus lanes on the light rail route from the CBD to the airport.
Auckland’s rapid transit network – high-speed public transport separated from traffic – is currently limited to trains and the Northern Busway.
Beck said light rail is a bold project but it’s impossible to see how it could be feasible now, particularly given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. If it was built sometime in the future, it would probably just run from the CBD to Mt Roskill at street level rather than tunnelling.
With people telling her congestion and transport are the number one issue and raising the cost of light rail, Beck said there has to be another way to unlock the city faster at far less cost.
Beck’s top priority is a $2.5b busway from the city centre to Westgate that could be expanded to Kumeu.
“The Northwest is one of the most poorly served parts of the city when it comes to public transport,” said Beck, adding before light rail was promised in 2017, rapid transit to the Northwest was top of the list.
She said plans for a $2b airport-to-Botany rapid bus transit line must also be fast-tracked, saying it is at least 15 years away under current plans.
Immediate work could begin on $110m of station upgrades on the Northern Busway, including platform extensions, pedestrian overpasses, bus turn-around facilities – and be completed within three to four years, she said.
Ramping up bus lanes to connect the isthmus to the central city would serve the city for the next decade when light rail, rapid buses or other solutions could be considered, Beck said.
“Together with the City Rail Link coming on line in 2025 and the full Eastern Busway soon after that, these projects will bring about a massive improvement in the quality of Auckland’s public transport before the end of the decade,” she said.
If we really want to get people out of their cars to reduce emissions and congestion, it is critical that we make public transport viable across the region. What I like about the policy is that it seeks to achieve just that and does so by taking existing projects that have been in Auckland Transport’s plans for years and just brings them forward.
As for light rail, yes we will need it eventually but as regular readers will know, we’re not huge fans of the current plan and delaying it might mean there’s a better opportunity for it to shift back to a more sensible design. For the isthmus, improvements to bus lanes, as well as perhaps options like through-routing buses might be enough for a few years while the other rapid transit projects are prioritised. There should however be some focus given to improving connections between Mangere and the isthmus/city.
This isn’t a complete list but here are few quick thoughts on what’s missing from the policy described above that we’d like to see.
- Walking and Cycling
The most notable absence I think is any discussion on cycling. Maybe that’s still to come but I think it’s critical that any serious candidate includes what they’ll do to improve walking and cycling across the region. Even something as simple as ensuring that Auckland Transport actually deliver their current plans would be welcome.
- Other Rapid Transit lines
Given the strong focus that Beck seems to be putting on getting rapid transit to more places across the region, it would be useful to include looking at options for at least interim solutions for other parts of the planned rapid transit network, such as the proposed upper harbour and lower isthmus crosstown routes.
Like with the cycling comment, it’s unclear if the policy released so far is just for one part of a larger overall policy. It would be good to make this clear. It would also be good to have some focus on ensuring that improving road safety is a focus.
Beck has said in the past that she’s supportive of planting more trees and what better way to do that and improve the existing urban environment than by planting thousands of street trees
At least when it comes to public transport, Viv Beck has laid down a solid marker in the transport policy stakes. It will be interesting to see what other candidates produce, and we shouldn’t have to wait too long with Labour and Greens endorsed candidate, and current councillor, Efeso Collins announcing his ‘Vision for a Better-Connected City‘ tonight.