There are few areas of government policy in which the gap between National and Labour was as stark as in transport. We republish Greater Auckland’s Matt Lowrie on the likely priorities of the incoming government.
When Winston Peters announced he’d chosen a coalition with Labour to form a new government on Thursday much of the conversation was non-specific. So far, all the talk from the various parities is that this new government will represent a significant change for New Zealand. While there haven’t any details mentioned about just what’s been agreed, here are some quick thoughts on what it likely means for transport.
I think I can summarise it as this changes everything.
We know from the election policies that transport was one area with a lot of common ground with each of the parties of this new government and a gulf between them and National. As such, we can probably expect significant change in this area compared to what we’ve seen in the last nine years.
All three parties expressed a desire to significantly improve urban public transport, in both Auckland and elsewhere around the country. Early in the campaign Labour and the Greens adopted Greater Auckland’s Congestion Free Network and I imagine that NZ First would support most of it. This new government gives us hope we can get some significant and quick progress on many aspects of the CFN and I imagine debates like Light Rail on the Isthmus – that National would only commit to decades in the future – will quickly be resolved. My expectation is that we’ll see contracts for the first stage of Light Rail signed over the next three years. In addition to infrastructure, I suspect we could see more money made available for increased services and things like the SuperGold card.
For Mayor Phil Goff, I imagine this will make his role a lot easier.
In addition to urban transport, the parties have been keen on improving the rail network, particularly for freight. This includes through policies such as retaining and extending electrification on main trunk though the central North Island. Both Labour and the Greens quickly backed our proposal for Regional Rapid Rail and it’s hard to see NZ First opposing that.
The three parties also had many similarities in their polices around roads too. As such I think it’s pretty clear we’ll see none of new Roads of National Significance progressed, with the exception of the Manawatu Gorge replacement. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Warkworth to Te Hana project, which has a terrible economic case, canned. In Auckland that also likely means the end to the current, obscene proposal for the East-West Link. We definitely need some transport improvement in the area though so a new government will hopefully allow some sanity to return by starting with some more targeted upgrades of existing roads.
All of this change doesn’t mean we’ll see no investment in new roads though, and in her press briefing, Jacinda Ardern highlighted that one of the areas of focus for the discussions was on regional development and the infrastructure needed to support that. We don’t know what that involves but it could include some more specific road upgrades, but perhaps not to a full motorway standard that National proposed.
I would also expect that as part of this new government that we’ll see a renewed focus on road safety with more money put towards improving that. A greater number of smaller projects could well form part of that regional development policy as they’re often able to be completed by smaller, local contractors.
All three parties supported more investment in cycling and so at the very least I think we can expect a continuation of the urban cycleway fund and likely funding for Skypath. This will definitely help towards implementing Auckland Transport’s excellent plan for improving cycling over the next decade.
To enable a big change in priorities it’s going to start with a significant change to the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which has strict funding bands and which the now former National government had used to put an increasing share of transport funding towards State Highways (for the RoNS). Given the GPS needs to be in place by the middle of next year I’d expect this will need to be one of the first priorities for the incoming government. We’ll also be watching closely to see issues such as whether Auckland will have a Regional Fuel Tax to help pay for projects.
In addition to the GPS, I think we will see another re-working of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), one that strips out some former governments ideology that was embeded in it, such as the position on Light Rail.
I think it’s going to be an exciting time ahead for transport and there’s the opportunity for Auckland to make some significant headway towards a getting a better, more balanced transport system.
This post originally ran on Greater Auckland.
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