The New Zealand economy - stuck kin traffic

Will Bill and Paula fix Auckland’s transport?

Last week we experienced one of those watershed moments in the tale of Auckland’s transport. The road to the airport became more car park than motorway; as a result dozens of flights were delayed, people missed their flights and had to foot the bill for costly changes.

It’s moments like these when we realise something’s gone very wrong in the way we design our city. In any other major city you would jump on the train or bus to bypass a clogged motorway. Not in Auckland. Our Airport Bus doesn’t even get a temporary bus lane on the motorway. If you’re on the bus you’re stuck like everybody else.

The Government’s solution to congestion has been to add more lanes to roads. It’s the Los Angles-style traffic solution. You build bigger roads, more people find it easier to drive, more people buy cars, and your city slowly turns into a sea of traffic.

I think former PM John Key was beginning to realise building more roads wouldn’t fix Auckland’s transport and that what we need to break through the gridlock is high-capacity, high-quality rapid transit (rail and dedicated busways). Last year Key acknowledged there’s no difference between New Zealanders and Londoners; both would happily use public transport if it was reliable, frequent, and clean.

Key road-over the top of his Transport Minister and committed the government to funding the City Rail Link. But now Key is gone, before committing National to other much need public transport projects, like a rail line between the CBD and airport, and CBD to the North Shore.

With Bill and Paula now at the helm of the National Party, what does this mean for Auckland transport?

The first speedbump to better transport in Auckland may be English’s imminent decision to appoint Steven Joyce as Finance Minister. Joyce is well known for his scepticism of public transport and unblinking belief that motorway expansion is the solution to the nation’s problems.

Joyce was Transport Minister in National’s first term, and under him National began a decade-long, $12 billion-dollar motorway expansion project – the so-called Roads of National Significance. These motorways were picked not by transport experts, but Joyce himself, and they turned out to be notoriously poor value-for-money. Joyce also spent the entirety of his time as Transport Minister derisively dismissing the need for the City Rail Link in Auckland.

Our new Prime Minister’s view of how to fix Auckland’s transport is unclear. As Finance Minister he ticked off significant government investment in the City Rail Link, but also in low-value motorway projects like the East-West Link.

Paula Bennett has said very little on public transport in Auckland despite her electorate of Upper Harbour (which includes Massey and Hobsonville) lacking any quality public transport connection to the North Shore or CBD.

A few National MPs don’t seem to share the dominant National Party transport vison of a 1950s car-centric Auckland. What isn’t clear yet, is the influence these MPs will have in Cabinet.

As Bill English reshuffles his cabinet in the coming fortnight we can only hope that the cards fall kindly on the transport reformists in the National Party. If it doesn’t, you might want to factor in a little more time for your drive to the airport.