Memo to Wayne Mapp: New Zealanders want more rapid transit, fewer new roads

Housing and Transport Minister Phil Twyford responds to Wayne Mapp’s Spinoff column accusing Twyford and Jacinda Ardern of ‘sounding like zealots’ over public transport and affordable housing.

In one of the more baffling attacks on KiwiBuild, former National MP Wayne Mapp this week claimed the government is “telling people how they should live” by building affordable houses and bringing our transport system into the 21st Century.

In his column for The Spinoff, he also attacked the Labour-led government for being part of a new “internationalist urban elite”.

These criticisms say more about Dr Mapp’s antiquated thinking than they do about the government’s plans.

I’m not sure how building affordable homes in Mt Albert for desperate first homebuyers is telling people how they should live. I will do everything I can to ensure young families can afford to buy warm, dry, quality housing. Yes, one of the trade-offs for home affordability is to minimise the cost of land by building on smaller sections. But that doesn’t mean a small or substandard home. Medium density means terraced houses and three-level apartments are easily built on smaller sections.

It is about creating options in housing – options which we know there is strong demand for. The three bedroom, two bathroom quarter-acre standalone house may have been what young families wanted in the 1950s but today many want modern, practical and well-designed homes.

I’m also not sure how wanting to ease Auckland’s congestion makes the government part of an internationalist urban elite.

Last week we released the draft Government Policy Statement on land transport which will guide transport investment for the next 10 years. The main change by this government is to stop National’s handpicked gold-plated expressways. They spent $11.3 billion on just seven motorway projects which only 4% of the country’s driving is done on. By comparison over half of all cars drive on local roads.

These expressways did not stack up. The Spinoff has previously written about a few of them. For example, Simon Wilson criticised National’s East-West Link in his story The most expensive road in New Zealand history is coming to Auckland. Why?. These expressways are expensive and their economic, safety and congestion benefits do not, or barely, outweigh their costs. This compares to local roads, which create $4 to $5 of benefit for every dollar spent. Public transport, meanwhile, generates $3 to $4 of benefit for every dollar spent. In other words, National wanted to waste a lot of money that could be spent on other, more beneficial projects.

It is also worth pointing out that Lincoln Road in my electorate has more than double the traffic of every single one of National’s seven proposed expressways.

So what do you get for this change? First, NZTA estimate that if we spent $800 million (or half of one road of national significance) on safety improvements on local roads we would save 160 lives per year. That is the cost of half of one of the urban motorways in Auckland that National had planned (the East-West Link). Refusing to spend more money on local roads is costing people their lives.

We’ve listened to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch who have all asked us to support rapid transit (rail, light rail and busways) in our cities, rather than building more, or wider, motorways. It is part of our commitment to build liveable cities.

It is not telling people how to live – it is simple economics. Dominion Road is only so wide. Yet, more and more buses go up and down the road every day. Shortly we will see bus congestion, where buses get clogged behind other buses in the bus lane, or drive past unable to pick you up because they are full. The efficient use of space drives light rail. Light rail can carry more people per vehicle than buses. It just makes sense.

We’re still going to increase funding for local road improvements by 43%, and 17% for local road maintenance. We’ve doubled funding for regional roads. The roads you drive on will be better because they will no longer be starved of funding to pay for a few hand-picked highways. It will also be cheaper, more convenient and more comfortable to catch public transport. The more people on public transport, the more our roads are freed from congestion.

Young people today no longer believe they have to own a car. In the near future they will be able to use a car sharing service when they do need one. The world has moved on from the 1950s. It’s time for Wayne Mapp to do the same.


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