Today we’re just 75 days away from the next election and the parties are about to start pumping our their various transport policies. With that in mind, I thought I’d lay out our thoughts on what a good transport policy might be. Sadly, much of this is is similar to what we said in 2020.
In order to meet ambitious, but very much needed, emission reduction goals it is imperative that we help give people better options for how they get around. The places it will be the easiest to do that is in our cities and rapid transit networks are likely to be one of most effective ways to achieve that change.
As such, there is an urgent need to provide rapid transit options in cities all across Aotearoa. However, full rapid transit lines like rail improvements, busways or light rail has been slow and expensive to deliver.
While certainly not perfect and no substitute for a proper rapid transit line, the idea behind the Northwest Bus improvements in Auckland does provide a useful template for the delivery of interim rapid transit lines would be useful to replicate.
Auckland Transport have already indicated they’re interested in the idea for between Manukau and Botany. We think it would also be useful for routes in Auckland, such as Upper Harbour, as well as other cities across Aotearoa.
These routes and networks would help to build ridership and encourage housing development around the stations, helping to justify further investment and upgrades over time towards fully separated rapid transit routes in the future.
There is still a need for larger rapid transit investments though.
As well as delivering on rapid transit, the next government should be looking to provide funding for towns and cities to improve the quality of normal bus services.
In Auckland this would mean something such as:
- upping the headway all frequent routes from a minimum of every 15 minutes to every 10 minutes
- extending the hours of frequent service to earlier in the morning and later at night
- increasing the number of frequent routes
- faster conversion to electric buses
- improvements to the quality of bus stops and bus lanes
These kinds of improvements can have big impacts on PT use even outside our biggest cities, as Whanganui and Queenstown have shown recently.
Light Rail has been a source of huge frustration over the past six years. At present, it appears that Labour have turned it from a shovel ready project to a shovel never project. Had they not let themselves be distracted by metro fantasies, at the very least a line from the City Centre to Mt Roskill would be operating by now.
There may well be a case for tunnels in the future but in the short term we need quick to deliver, realistic options that can help improve access, help reduce emissions and build the case for those more expensive, longer-term investments.
With that in mind, we would revert light rail to a cheaper, faster to deliver surface option along Dominion Rd like was originally proposed. This would provide a substantial improvement in quality and capacity over the existing bus routes and deliver much needed town centre upgrades.
PT improvements and town centre upgrades are needed regardless of whether we tunnel light rail so even if we built a tunnel in the future, this would not be a wasted investment.
A base network we should consider before we get to talking about tunnels or metro style services would be something like this.
It’s not just Auckland that has been interested in Light Rail either, with both Wellington and Christchurch wanting light rail lines too. With that in mind, we would establish a national light rail delivery team – this could either be an independent agency or team within Waka Kotahi.
They would be tasked with developing and delivering a pipeline of light rail projects across Aotearoa, starting with our major cities. This would also help in building local knowledge and capacity in the design and delivery of light rail, helping to make future lines or extensions faster and easier and could make it easier to roll out to other NZ cities in the future.
The delivery of the City Rail Link will be transformational for the Auckland rail network, however, it’s full potential will be limited due to the historic underinvestment in our rail network. The most urgent issues to address are Auckland’s numerous level crossings and the need to share limited tracks space with freight trains.
The next government should provide the bulk of funding needed for a programme to remove level crossings on the Southern and Western lines – Auckland Transport are currently working on a business case for this. This should see level crossings systematically removed and help to enable more frequent, more reliable and faster train services.
In addition, a third main is currently under construction between Westfield and Wiri. This will help in providing much needed capacity to support more freight and metro services. Planning and design work is now needed to extend that line at least as far as Papakura, ideally so that the deliver of it can start as soon as the Westfield to Wiri section is completed.
Wellington has already completed a business case for future improvements to its rail network. This includes both infrastructure and service enhancements. The next government should look to start funding this.
Despite initially being written off, ridership on Te Huia, the rail service between Hamilton and Auckland, was steadily increasing and was exceeding its targets. We think here’s a huge opportunity for the next government to expand on the order of new regional trains in Wellington to provide trains for other regional/inter-regional services like Te Huia as well as between Auckland to Wellington.
To support this, as well as expand the ability to use electric freight locomotives, the next government should provide funding for an ongoing programme of rail electrification. Like with other programmes mentioned already, establishing this as an ongoing programme helps to build the knowledge, capability and supply chains needed within NZ and will lead to more efficient delivery. The initial task should be to ‘close the gap’ between Pukekohe and Te Rapa, with the next target being to get to Tauranga.
We’ve written many times about the need to invest in our walking and cycling networks. While more funding is absolutely needed, the biggest barrier right now is political, with Auckland Transport and many local councils too scared to change our streets. The next government need to unblock active mode delivery.
One option for this could be replicate what was done with housing but for our streets e.g. a National Policy Statement on Streets. This could require councils to deliver cycling infrastructure on some streets by prioritising it ahead of on-street parking
We’d also like to see something similar to the cycling policy introduced in the UK a few years ago. As well as higher standards, this introduced an independent review of projects and even potentially delayed or cancelled government funding of other projects if local authorities don’t deliver on cycling.
Expand the clean car discount to e-bikes
We believe the efforts to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles should also include providing e-bikes. This is especially the case as drivers switching to e-bikes both reduce congestion and overall have better health outcomes.
There is a growing need for the next government to address transport funding. Increasing costs of delivery are putting significant strain on the National Land Transport Fund and that will only get worse as more people shift to electric vehicles (currently exempt from Road User Charges) or to other modes of transport. These aren’t the only things needed but a couple of key things they need to incorporate into the mix include:
- Road Pricing – The discussion around road pricing has been going on for many years and the idea has the potential to help significantly ease congestion and reduce emissions in our cities. Yet, even though Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee unanimously supported the idea, it’s still waiting for approval.
The next government should pass the legislation needed for cities to start the process of designing and establishing road pricing schemes.
- Parking Fines – While they’re at it, hopefully the next government can update parking fines, which have been unchanged for nearly a quarter of a century.
Much of the discussion/focus for new roads over the last decade or more has been on large motorway/expressway scale projects, often costing billions of dollars each. We’ll undoubtedly see many more proposed this election cycle. Despite them encouraging more driving, the opposite of what we need to be doing to reduce emissions, most of these projects simply don’t stack up.
But that doesn’t mean all roads are bad and the government should focus on a programme to deliver some good ones. This should include things like a programme to add additional passing lanes, supported by much longer stretches of median barriers. There are also a lot of towns around NZ that could potentially be bypassed with fairly simply roads, helping to get traffic out which will improve safety and air quality. Examples could include towns like Wellsford – addressing most of the justification for a multi-billion motorway, SH2 around Maramarua, KatiKati, Tirau and Putāruru. I’m sure there are many more out there.
These programmes could help in providing road and safety improvements all over Aotearoa and could easily cost less than a single mega-motorway project.
Combined these policies would help towards transforming out New Zealanders get around and in doing so have significant benefits across multiple policy areas, for example: It would benefit our economy, not least of which by getting cars out of the way of trucks. It would improve our overall health, reducing strain on the health system. Happier and healthier kids learn better, improving education outcomes. Better transport choices will help those on lower incomes. And of course, it will help meet our commitments towards climate change.