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PoliticsOctober 10, 2023

Election 2023: The transport policies in two minutes


Trains, trams, buses and bikes vs roads, roads, and roads: voters are deciding between starkly different visions for the future of transport in New Zealand. has the full version, and here’s ours in two minutes.

See more from our policy in two minutes series here.

How we get around is one of the most important fundamental things governments can influence. 

Good transport is vital to a functioning economy and society: people can access more jobs and connect with others, it means businesses can move their goods around, and our society can more effectively work together to combine resources and ideas. 

Transport decisions have immensely negative consequences too: the Great South Road was built to invade Waikato, big projects like spaghetti junction in Auckland and the inner city bypass in Wellington bulldozed entire communities, and decades of car-dependent transport has led to high emissions. 

New roads and railways aren’t just ways to get around, they determine where people want to build houses and businesses. Transport decisions shape our cities for decades and centuries; they influence where and how we live, whether we sprawl out or densify, and which areas will grow.

Labour and National have each put out a full 10-year plan for the transport projects they want to build, at a total cost of $20 billion and $24.8 billion respectively. The smaller parties traditionally don’t put out fully detailed transport budgets the way the major two do, but they make it clear what specific projects are important to them and the more general policies they support. 

Some of the bigger questions in transport are not about specifically what should be built, but who should pay for it and how. Act in particular is more focused on proposing new funding methods than particular projects. 

TL;DR: National generally wants more roads, and Labour generally wants more rail (though both are proposing plenty of both). NZ First loves rail but hates light rail. The Greens love all kinds of rail, want fewer new roads, and cheaper public transport. Te Pāti Maori and TOP also want cheaper public transport. Act wants lots more toll roads. 


Auckland rail is high on the agenda for Labour. They’re promising a third and fourth main line from Wiri to Westfield, doubling the capacity of the country’s busiest stretch of rail. They’re also promising a new line from Avondale to Onehunga focused on freight, aiming to get heavy trucks out of the city centre. 

National supports a rail upgrade from Palmerston North to Wellington and Masterton to Wellington, with new stations and maintenance depots. The Labour government has also committed to the upgrade.

The Greens broadly want to expand the rail network and modernise trains wherever possible, working towards an electric and high-speed network. Specifically, they’ve called for more inter-regional passenger rail passenger rail, including an overnight Auckland-Wellington service. 

NZ First hates light rail but is proposing lots of new stuff for heavy rail. They want rail from from Puhinui Station to Auckland Airport, from Northport to the Northland rail line, reopened rail from Wairoa to Gisborne, and a full rebuild of the Christchurch-Picton rail corridor,

TOP has pledged to reinstate the Southerner train service between Christchurch and Invercargill, and commuter rail from Rolleston and Rangiora.

Light rail for Auckland and Wellington is a contentious issue this election.

Light rail and mass transit

While heavy rail still gets mostly bipartisan support, light rail is highly controversial. Labour wants light rail in Auckland from the city centre to Māngere, and light rail (or some other kind of mass rapid transit) from the Wellington CBD to Island Bay

The Greens support building light rail in major cities, though they want it to be surface-level not underground. They’re pushing for light rail in Christchurch. TOP is also keen on light rail for the Garden City.

National wants to cancel both light rail plans, but does want to build an Auckland Rapid Transit System (probably busways) from the CBD to Massey, Pakuranga to Huntington Park, and the airport to Botany. In Wellington, they want bus rapid transit to the airport and eastern suburbs rather than light rail to the south. 

NZ First’s policy says they will “ensure not one more cent is spent on light rail or new cycle lanes while we have potholes and traffic going ever slower”, which seems hard to define.


Cycling is predictably big on the Green Party agenda: they want to introduce community hire schemes to give e-bikes to people on low incomes, safe walking and biking routes for every school, and would require street upgrades to include cycling and active transport improvements. TOP wants to get bums on seats with a $1500 credit for e-bikes and e-scooters. 

New cycleways are mostly built by councils, but the government typically does assign a small portion of the transport budget to supporting new cycling projects. The Labour government has steadily increased that share, National says it will prioritise the road network and reduce cycleway funding.  

NZ First want councils to entirely fund cycleways with no support from central government, and Act is also generally critical of cycling spending. 

an Auckland bus and a hop card against a green background with dollar signs
National wants to scrap Labour’s public transport discounts (Image: Tina Tiller)

Public transport 

Labour introduced free public transport for under-13s, half price for people under 25 and community service card holders. National plans to cancel the discounts. 

The Greens want more off-peak public transport services, more regular services, and support making urban public transport fare-free. They also want to subsidise inter-regional public transport. 

Te Pāti Māori wants free public transport starting with all students, children and CSC card holders, and TOP is proposing free public transport for under-30s.

NZ First doesn’t list specifics but vaguely says it supports quality affordable public transport in urban and rural areas.

New roads

Labour’s priority list for roads includes:

  • Warkworth to Whangārei 
  • Cambridge to Piarere
  • Tauranga to Tauriko
  • Wellington CBD to airport – second Mount Victoria Tunnel and upgrades to Basin Reserve/Arras Tunnel
  • Hope Bypass (Nelson)
  • Napier to Hastings – four-laning State Highway 2
  • Christchurch Northern Link – State Highway 1
  • Ashburton Bridge – State Highway 1

National’s priority list for new roads is: 

  • A long-term plan to have a continuous four lane highway from Whangārei to Tauranga
  • Whangārei to Marsden Point 
  • Warkworth to Wellsford 
  • Cambridge to Piarere 
  • Tauranga to Tauriko
  • Wellington CBD to airport – second Mount Victoria Tunnel and upgrades to Basin Reserve/Arras Tunnel
  • Hope Bypass (Nelson)
  • Mill Road Stage 1
  • East West Link from Onehunga to Mount Wellington
  • Hamilton Southern Links
  • Petone to Grenada Link Road (Wellington)
  • Kumeū bypass (Eat Auckland)
  • Tākitimu Northern Link Te Puna to Ōmokoroa (Northland)
  • Belfast to Pegasus Motorway and Woodend Bypass (Canterbury).

The Greens’ policy is to avoid building new roads or widening existing roads except where necessary for climate change adaptation, repair after natural disasters, or enhancing safety. 

NZ First doesn’t list any specific roading projects, but it does specify it supports a new road tunnel through Mount Victoria in Wellington and funding to connect the airport to SH1 as “four lanes to the planes”.

Waka Kotahi reduced the speed limits on some high-risk highways and city streets as part of the Labour government’s Road to Zero campaign to reduce road deaths. National, ACT, and NZ First all want to increase the speed limit back to 100kmh for these roads and up to 110kmh on newer expressways. 

Funding new projects

Act wants to encourage more toll roads by fast-tracking roads that can be tolled and adding tolls to some existing roads, and wants to encourage more public-private partnerships – basically encouraging big investment funds to build projects upfront in exchange for long-term payouts from the government. 

National is also keen to embrace more private financing for roads and rapid transit. They want to start a National Infrastructure Agency to attract overseas investment, with some certain bonuses, like developers getting subsidies or a cut of fares for public transport, or priority rights for buildings next to the route. 

NZ First is dead set against this, they want to ensure no roads are privatised or corporatised. Instead, they want to start a New Zealand Infrastructure Bank as a way to fund long term publicly owned assets.

(Image: Getty Images; additional design: Archi Banal)

Transition to electric  

Labour and National are both promising big investment in electric car chargers to encourage the switch to EVs, though National has committed to spending more money and pledged to deliver 10,000 chargers. 

Labour and the Greens introduced the Clear Car Discount, a rebate that charges fees on higher-emission vehicles and offers a discount on electric cars. National wants to scrap the discount, which it labelled a “ute tax”.

The Greens want to ban the import of new and used fossil-fuel vehicles to New Zealand at or before 2030 with limited exceptions. TOP wants a fully electric bus fleet by 2030, the Greens have a target of 2035. 

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