Labour, National go head-to head with transport plans

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, with volunteers outside her Mt Albert electorate office, says the party's transport plan ...
DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, with volunteers outside her Mt Albert electorate office, says the party's transport plan for Auckland is a "game-changer".

Labour and National showcased their competing election transport packages in Auckland on Sunday. 

Labour is promising to build a light rail link from Auckland's CBD to the airport as a priority as the first step in a 10-year plan that will eventually extend to West Auckland.

The airport link would be paid for partly from a regional fuel tax, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced from Auckland's waterfront on Sunday. "A world-class city needs a rail connection from the CBD to its international airport," she said.

National's $2.6b election transport package, unveiled on Friday and talked up by Bill English and Simon Bridges on Sunday, did not mention plans for light rail to the airport, but it is known ministers are looking at the options. 

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LABOUR THROW DOWN GAUNTLET

Bill English joined Simon Bridges to talk about National's policies on Auckland transport on Sunday.
VERNON SMALL/STUFF

Bill English joined Simon Bridges to talk about National's policies on Auckland transport on Sunday.

The announcement is the first major policy to be unveiled since Ardern took the leadership on Tuesday and throws down the gauntlet to National to make rail to the airport a key election issue in the vote-rich city.

She said the plan was a "game-changer" which would cut congestion that costs Auckland $2 billion a year.

"Let's get Auckland moving by building a light rail network and accelerating investment in heavy rail and bus rapid transit. This is crucial to Auckland's future growth," she said.

The first step would be a light rail link to Mt Roskill in four years and then to West Auckland within a decade.

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That would be followed by a line connecting the North Shore to the CBD.

"Light rail provides us numerous options that aren't just about the airport. It provides us with the ability to connect the CBD and airport with other communities, it provides us the ability to extend the network and has the ability to carry about the same capacity and roughly a similar time to heavy rail," Ardern told media following her announcement.

She also pledged Labour would build a Bus Rapid Transit service between the airport and East Auckland, and a third main trunk rail line to serve the commuter and freight rail traffic.

"We'll free up funding by getting better value for money from the East-West Link, and give Auckland the ability to fund its share of the investments through a regional fuel tax, infrastructure bonds, and targeted rates." 

The fuel tax is estimated to raise $160 million a year at 10c a litre, and Labour's full plan is costed at $3.3 billion, comprising new and accelerated projects over 20 years.

"Essentially what we're doing is finally giving Auckland Council a mechanism to help pay for some of the key infrastructure we're announcing today. Aucklanders, I'm sure, realise we've got to do our bit to try and get this city moving."

While she acknowledged any additional cost on households, such as a fuel tax, would have an effect, Ardern said Auckland's transport problems were already costing people an "enormous amount".

 "There's lost productivity, lost time with friends and families. I think there's a willingness now to do what we can to crowd-source together the funds needed to solve this problem," she said.

While the Waterview Tunnel had given "breath reprieve" to some of the congestion problems, Ardern said it wasn't the "golden egg".

NATIONAL PLEDGE RAIL INVESTMENT IN AUCKLAND, WELLINGTON

National's $2.6b election transport package includes included a new highway alongside the southern motorway between Drury and Manukau, improvements to the Northwestern Busway, and extra support for the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

Prime Minister Bill English highlighted the plan at a public event at Papakura Railway Station in Auckland on Sunday, a couple of hours after Ardern hit the stage.

He said the Government would be investing $267m into commuter rail including extending electrified rail from Papakura to Pukekohe, and a third track on the busy freight and passenger rail line between Westfield and Wiri.

In Wellington, a $37m "Commuter Package" would see the line from Trentham to Upper Hutt double tracked and there would be improvements on the Kapiti line.

He said Labour was reheating its policy from the last three elections.

For National it was a matter of priorities and the recently-opened Waterview tunnel had taken the pressure off the route to the airport.

"Light rail is a good idea. At the moment it's not the priority, but it will be further down the track."

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said cancelling the East-West link would be "a disaster for congestion".

The ministers ruled out a regional tax, which they said would hit Aucklanders hard and would have to be set at 10c a litre. 

KEY POINTS OF LABOUR'S PLAN

* Build light rail from the CBD to Auckland Airport as part of network that would, over the next decade, include routes to the central suburbs and West Auckland, with later extensions to the North Shore.

* Build a new Bus Rapid Transit line from Howick to the airport, starting with a bus service which would connect Puhinui train station to the airport in one year.

* More electric trains and a third main trunk line between Wiri and Papakura,

* Allow Auckland Council to collect a regional fuel tax along with infrastructure bonds and targeted rates.

* Scale back the East-West Link to a "reasonable cost" with better value for money.

* Cross-town priority bus routes.

The extra cost would be $2.1b after accounting for $1.2b in savings from scaling back the East-West link.

The rail link would start at Wynyard Quarter, where Ardern announced the plan, and run down Dominion Rd and beside the south-western motorway through Onehunga, across a new Manukau harbour bridge, and through Mangere south.

Labour associate transport spokesman Phil Twyford said Auckland needed a modern, fit-for-purpose transit system.

"Decades of under-investment in public transport have given us a motorway system plagued by peak-hour congestion," he said. 

"It's time to retrofit the city with a 21st-century rapid transit network."

A call was put out to the public to attend a rally ahead of Ardern's first big infrastructure announcement. 

While 300 people indicated they would attend that number was well and truly exceeded with approximately 500 turning up with placards supporting Labour and Ardern and chanting the new tagline, "Let's do this".

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