It’s conceivable – though, on the multitude of poll results, improbable – that the Green Party will be part of the new government formed after the 20 September elections, so it’s prudent to pay some attention to the party’s view on the national transport network.
On the other hand, assuming National stays in power, the Green mix will be ignored and the road-dominant programme will continue.
The Greens proposed a big transport programme last week that would swing more money into public transport networks, especially in Auckland, and also into less grand improvements to roading, including highways, around the country.
National’s transport minister, Gerry Brownlee, seized on the Greens’ desire to end big-motorway thinking, saying: “The Green Party owes it to New Zealanders to identify which state highway projects would not proceed under its just-released transport policy. With $11 billion removed from planned state highway projects, it’s hard not to conclude it’s all of them.”
He said 97% of New Zealand’s passenger travel and 91% of freight movement was done on the roads.
And there you have it. One supposes that because the bulk of travel is by road, that’s the way it ought to be. The other supposes that opening up off-road alternatives would ease congestion, enabling better road movement as the alternatives provide cheaper transport.
What you are being given is a political option – the one in charge after 20 September does it their way. What you want is a better system, which may be more of a combination than National is offering both now & for the long-term future, and may be a different mix on closer investigation from that proposed by the Greens.
When Green MP Julie Anne Genter supports a transport proposal it might not just be because she’s green, the idea’s green. It might be because the idea is considered, practical, and would save the country billions of dollars while improving the overall transport network.
But it’s election time, so those in power feel obliged to mock. From another perspective, that mockery is cementing ignorance in place.
The alliance of alternative thinkers which has begun to lead debate on how people travel – the Congestion Free Network, a collaboration between the TransportBlog, Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport – hasn’t just made an ideological proposal. They’ve said the country should apply the best means to the task, and that adding superhighways to fix congestion isn’t it.
They’ve said improving many other road connections would help, but the primary gains would come from increasing the off-road network. That includes providing off-road corridors for buses, and expanding the rail network in Auckland.
The minister’s response was that 97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – and therefore road is best, not that that proportion might be better reduced.
Mr Brownlee said major roadworks around Auckland had reduced congestion, and completion of the western ring route would reduce it even more. Recent works, such as taking traffic off the Victoria Park viaduct by building the northbound tunnel, have given temporary respite, but congestion quickly resumed growing.
The Auckland peak traffic periods are longer than they’ve ever been because workers know they can’t make the job without leaving home in the dark, and the return is just as slow because all along the way there are exit bottlenecks.
What the transport network needs is considered – and transparent – evaluation, not ideological slagging.
As for ideology, you would have to wonder why travel needs to be ideologically based at all, but it is. Using the private car to drive to work equates to personal freedom. Providing mass transport that is comfortable & provides amenity (such as WiFi) could be even more personally uplifting, especially if it gets you to your destination more quickly & less harassed.
The Greens’ proposal, announced last Tuesday by party co-leader Russel Norman & Ms Genter, had 7 targets for Auckland to be completed by 2020:
- Complete the city rail link, cutting train travel times by up to 28 minutes/trip
- Build a rail extension to Mt Roskill (with further rail extensions to the airport by 2025 and the North Shore planned by 2030)
- Electrify the rail network from Papakura to Pukekohe
- Build a new bus lane on State Highway 16 (north-west)
- Extend the Northern Busway to Albany & Newmarket
- Establish a new high quality bus service across the upper harbour
- Extend the Ameti (Auckland-Manukau, eastern) Busway into Ellerslie & Manukau.
The plan includes a $1.3 billion capital investment in the city rail link (60% of the cost) and $825 million into dedicated busways & city bus centre improvements. The party will follow up with plans for Wellington & Christchurch to be announced.
The Greens have taken their policy from the very independently minded participants in the Congestion Free Network, which they’ve proposed as a blueprint laying out an integrated public transport network in Auckland, staged at 5-yearly intervals through to 2030.
The network group said: “The current council’s $34 billion transport wishlist will not reduce congestion – even under its own analysis. However, the $10 billion congestion-free network will provide real choice. It’s better for people and cheaper to build.”
First, they asked: What makes a congestion-free network? The answers:
- It has high frequency of 5-10 minutes, no timetable required
- Physically separated from congestion, so it’s fast, like electric trains or the Northern Busway
- Works as a complete network, so it’s easy to transfer, like the London tube.
They added: “Quality public transport across Auckland will reduce traffic for when you need to use the road and provide relief from high fuel prices. It’s a real vision for a more liveable, low-carbon Auckland.
“Auckland’s current plan is contained in the integrated transport programme. This is both expensive & ineffectual – a road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme that is currently unfunded.
“The Congestion Free Network will not only lead to a higher quality & better functioning city, but is also more affordable than the ineffective integrated transport programme. Investing in the ‘missing’ public transport network before further expansion of the road network will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper & more efficient for Auckland, as well as being more in sync with the times.
“We think that many of the most expensive roading projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder-to-calculate but vital areas such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form & public health outcomes.”
The Brownlee perspective
Mr Brownlee professed the Government’s support for public transport, said the Greens’ policy would take the country back decades, but lent on market choice to dictate the way forward. Market choice will not see anybody preferring a leap of faith into uncertainty; the status quo will prevail so long as that’s all that is realistically offered.
The minister said last week: “The National Government supports public transport and has provided $2.4 billion over the past 5 years. With the local government contribution, that is $3.5 billion spent on public transport, including commuter rail investment in Auckland & Wellington.
“The Green Party needs to explain which of the following roading projects it would axe first, or if it’s all of them. The Greens also propose to cut local road spending by over half a billion dollars, putting pressure on our communities and compromising safety.
“Since being elected in 2008, the National Government has been rectifying a 30-year deficit in road transport infrastructure. The Green Party proposal would put us back by decades.
“The National Government has a balanced land transport policy which gives commuters choice in the modes they use to travel and helps businesses to choose the most efficient way of getting their goods to domestic & international markets.”
Genter says let regions decide after proper assessment
Ms Genter said transport was the life-blood of the regions, and charged: “They have been starved under National. Over the next 10 years, we plan to increase regional transport funding by $423 million and we will invest $3 billion on state highways that will hugely improve safety.
“The bulk of National’s transport budget has gone on motorways as it pursues its obsession with roads of national significance, while regional transport needs have been ignored.
“Under the Green Party plan, regions will be able to bid for projects that best serve their transport needs, whether road, rail or a port project. That contrasts with National, which has indulged in naked pork-barrel politics. It announced 14 regional projects in June, paid for by the sale of state assets, which were selected on the basis of National’s political needs rather than any objective assessment of requirements.
“We will not direct the funding for the regions, as National has done. Regions will be able to bid to fund projects and they will go through Treasury for a rational assessment of the transport priorities & proper cost:benefit analysis – something completely lacking with National’s roads of national significance programme.”
Attribution: Party releases, Congestion Free Network website.