Traffic congestion is always in the top two or three issues raised by locals in our regular surveys and at our public meetings.
Why? Because it fundamentally effects our quality of life. We’ve all got places to go. We want to get around. Maybe pick up kids from sports practice on the way home from work, go to the beach on the weekend, get to meetings confident of arriving on time.
So, for me, as National’s Transport spokesperson, it’s relatively simple. The purpose of transport policy should be to enable Kiwis to get around – quickly, efficiently and safely.
That requires investment in roads – because most people still like to use cars – and in public transport, so that people have choices.
Which is what we did in government, such as through the Waterview Tunnel, which has been transformative, and through the electrification of the rail network and the City Rail Link, which will be transformative for those who live along the rail routes.
The shocking thing, however, is that the current Labour/Green priorities are very different.
Reducing travel times and congestion has been explicitly removed from the Government Priority Statement (GPS), which directs and drives government investment.
The priorities now are safety and what is called ‘mode-shift’, which is getting people out of their cars and on to public transport.
They are both important things, but if they are the total focus, it leads to very different outcomes.
Michael Stiassney, the chair of the New Zealand Transport Agency, put it disarmingly frankly in a select committee discussion we had. He told us, “There is no doubt that the way the GPS has been written is more about safety and the time spent from A to B is no longer a priority for us. The outcome of that will be, I think we could all agree, that it will take longer to get from A to B in a lot of places and there will be more congestion.”
Taken to its absurdity, Phil Twyford and Julie-Ann Genter in theory should not be worried about people sitting for hours on the Southern Motorway, or crawling to get through the Greenlane roundabout, or up Ayr Street, because (A) they’re safe, and (B) they will be highly motivated to get out of their cars and into public transport.
This explains the very strange decisions being made.
Instead of expanding the road network’s capacity in areas where there is massive growth, such as south and north of the city, the proposal is that the largest and most expensive transport project should be Light Rail down Dominion Road. That is a road already well served by public transport.
Even Jon Reeves of the Public Transport Users Association has concluded “basically the tram is going to be a very slow, very costly project and it is seriously going to be a waste of taxpayers’ money”.
Auckland Transport, meantime, is deliberately frustrating motorists at every turn, such as through the narrowing of the critical arterial on Quay Street, without practical alternatives, and by its proposed 30 kph speed limits also on arterial roads.
Good government is about make people’s lives easier, not deliberately frustrating them.
Auckland is not a huge city; it’s relatively small in global terms. We can continue to enjoy the freedom that comes with having access to all transport options if we focus on the right things.