At a debate last night, two Auckland mayoral candidates revealed more about their vision for the city’s transport systems.
Efeso Collins says that he would create an active transport commissioner role to work across Auckland Council and the Council controlled organisations if elected in the Auckland 2022 elections. Speaking at a transport forum hosted by cycling advocacy group Bike Auckland last night, Auckland mayoral candidates Collins and Viv Beck laid out their transport policies at length, repeatedly emphasising that they needed to take communities with them.
Charmain Vaughan, the communications manager for Bike Auckland said that these two candidates were selected to represent a right-leaning and a left-leaning candidate, and only two candidates were invited in order to allow the time for more in-depth discussion.
Collins emphasised his flagship universal free fares policy, which new research from his campaign says will save up to $27 a week for Aucklanders who use public transport regularly. “We know that the people who use public transport frequently are more likely to be Māori, Pasifika, LGBTQIA+, disabled, or children,” Collins said, noting that his policy would improve equity.
Collins also said he would initiate a 12-month trial of freeing a lane of the Harbour Bridge for walking and cycling. At a debate at Whammy Bar last week, he had been challenged on a lack of a specific campaign biking strategy; he said that his team was working on costing the policy, and it would be available early next week.
Beck, who is currently facing controversy over unpaid debts owed by her campaign, said that her priorities for public transport would be to enhance the speed, efficiency and reach of services. She said that while she supports free fares for students, children, over-65s and Community Services Card holders, research shows that free public transport means more trips by people who already use these services, but don’t get people out of cars.
Discussing light rail, Beck said that as mayor, she would scrap plans for light rail, as it is “expensive and disruptive”. Instead, she would create more high speed bus routes like the Northern Busway, including dedicating a separated bus lane to the northwest of Auckland and creating a route from Botany to the airport. If these busways were successful, Beck said she would then consider light rail on some of the routes.
Both candidates professed an aversion to driving, with Beck saying that she had driven more in the previous three months of campaigning than in the past ten years of her life. “I couldn’t get to the meetings I need to get to with public transport,” she said.
She emphasised the possibility of hydrogen and other low-emission fuels, as well as an electrified bus fleet, to meet Auckland’s climate change targets. Still, she said that in the meantime cars were important to many Aucklanders, and road improvements would be needed. “There’s too many potholes,” she said.
“We have a car dependent psyche,” said Collins, adding that Auckland had to “deconstruct 70 years of car reliance”. Driving takes a toll on him too, he said. “Apparently I’m a nice person except when I’m behind a wheel.”
On bike policy, both candidates tried to play to the crowd. Beck emphasised her Dutch heritage and upbringing, saying she had experience with intensified living and cycling, and that on “greenfields developments”, like new motorways or roads to new development, cycle infrastructure could automatically be included.
However, she added that cycle lanes should only be included if they will be well used, saying that the Franklin Road and Quay Street lanes always seemed empty. Multiple audience members spoke up to say that they used these lanes regularly. Host Russell Brown posted a thread on Twitter after the event, suggesting that Beck has prevaricated on her position on cycling lanes to stay on-side with right aligned voters and Mike Hosking.
Collins said that making cycling safer, and having infrastructure for accessing services within communities and not just for commuting between suburbs would be important. He said examples from South Auckland, including Mangere’s Future Streets project and e-bike schemes in Ōtara were good examples for the rest of Auckland.
In response to a question about safety for children cycling, Collins mentioned his daughters, a frequent occurrence throughout the evening. If his nine-year-old daughter were to bike to school, Collins said, he felt that he would have to run along beside her to keep her safe, and painted bike lanes weren’t adequate to protect children and other vulnerable cyclists.
When asked by Brown why it would not be possible to build 80km of bike lanes in one term, as the city of Seville in Spain had done, both Beck and Collins equivocated. “We have to take people with us,” said Collins, to agreement from Beck, noting that Council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) and Parking Strategy had been met by some community “vitriol”, demonstrating that community buy-in was not yet present.
A quickfire round hosted by students from the urban planning and architecture school at Auckland University asked candidates if they would support a congestion tax. Both candidates said they would, and that it could be a replacement for Auckland’s regional fuel tax.
Another quickfire question asked candidates if they’d be willing to increase rates to pay for their ambitious transport goals. “Rates are quite a hot topic – I’d rather reduce transport costs,” said Beck. Collins said that there was support in Auckland for a climate targeted rate, and some of this money could be used for low-emission transport.
After the event The Spinoff asked both candidates how their public transport policy would help to deal with Auckland’s population growth. “We have to develop housing and infrastructure along with transport,” said Beck. Collins said that if implemented now, his free public transport campaign will cost $235 million per year if implemented now. “We’ll see real benefit in making sure people get on the bus and train for free at this stage, and we can confirm other sources of revenue to meet increased cost as the city grows.”
The Spinoff asked people attending the event what their hopes for Auckland’s public transport were. Gordon Ikin, an avid cyclist, said he was skeptical of Beck’s claims to create infrastructure for low-emission fuels and electric vehicles. “Changing the fuel isn’t enough, we need a cultural shift,” he said.
Celia Stokman, who lives on the North Shore and commutes to the the CBD for work, said that she appreciated how well-connected the buses on the Shore are. “I’d eventually like to be able to take a train to the city,” she said. She’s keen to start cycling, but wants infrastructure improvements, since it currently doesn’t feel safe.
A group from climate action organisation Generation Zero were present at the event. Member Joshua Bickler told The Spinoff that transport policy from any mayoral candidate had to prioritise climate targets. “We need an equitable transition to a system that reduces carbon emissions and sees TERP fully implemented. We need to decarbonise Auckland’s transport by 2030,” he said.