Poll: Public transport beats better roads

00:14, Jul 21 2014

Auckland has sent a clear message to the Government over its transport priorities: Give us better public transport rather than better roads.

The latest Stuff.co.nz-Ipsos poll found that nationally people wanted a government focus on better public transport over roads by a margin of 30 per cent to 24 per cent.

Another 40 per cent wanted a focus on both.

In Auckland there was much stronger backing for public transport spending, which got the nod by a four to one margin over roads among those who had a preference.

Almost 43 per cent said the focus should be on both.

There was a similar, but less pronounced, division between Auckland and the rest of the country when it came to traffic congestion.

Across the nation 57 per cent felt the Government was doing enough to ease traffic jams in their region.

Even in urban areas there was still a majority at 51 per cent backing the Government's efforts with 42 per cent saying it was not doing enough.

But in Auckland a clear majority - 54 per cent - said the Government was falling short against 43 per cent who thought it was doing enough.

The poll will be a blow to the Government's transport policy which has emphasised road building, and in particular its flagship Roads of National Significance, and has rebuffed calls from Auckland Mayor Len Brown for an early start to the city rail link.

National also made its roading policy the centrepiece of Prime Minister John Key's speech to National's annual conference, with a promise to spend $212 million from the sale of state-owned assets to upgrade 14 roads across the country.

"Team Key has always been very focused on roads," Key said at the time.

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the numbers reflected a worldwide trend in cities that people wanted more choice.

'They recognise the best way to reduce congestion or help economic development isn't just to widen a road or duplicate another motorway, it's actually to put in place alternatives."

People wanted frequency, reliability and affordability, which was why the rail link was needed, she said.

Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford said building more roads and lanes encouraged people to use cars while a modern public transport system would see more people leave their cars at home.

"Of course we need good roads, but with this Government it's roads at the expense of everything else."

But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee called the result a "confused" message, saying Aucklanders did not use public transport to an extent that made it truly economic.

The subsidy for a train ride from Pukekohe to Britomart in the central city was almost $25 each way, while the subsidy for the shortest trips was around $7.

"So every trip that's taken on the rail at the moment, the subsidy for the taxpayer ... for a return trip [is] somewhere between $15 and $50 and that will only come down is usage improves."

Brownlee also pointed out that the number of new vehicle purchases was at the highest level since 1981.

Aucklanders spoken to by Fairfax Media identified reliability and a lack of direct routes as well as parks at transport hubs as major barriers to the use of public transport but Brownlee said these were the responsibility of local government.

Brown said he was not surprised by the findings, saying there had been a sea change in the priorities of Aucklanders.

"They really want choice in their transport options, they know we've underinvested for decades in public transport and now they want to see the investment from the Government and ourselves as Aucklanders in public transport."

Brown, who said the Government had shown some support for Auckland public transport initiatives, said they needed to focus on the transport network as a whole, ensuring it was connected, rather than favouring one mode over another.