6 Aug 2017

Labour's Ardern pledges Ak light rail link in 10 years

5:21 pm on 6 August 2017

Jacinda Ardern has pledged Labour would build light rail from downtown Auckland to the airport within a decade if it wins the September general election.

In her first policy announcement and campaign rally as party leader, Ms Ardern unveiled the party's plan to tackle Auckland's transport woes at a rally on the city's waterfront this afternoon.

Labour already planned to build light rail to Mt Roskill and Ms Ardern said it would be complete in four years, plus a link to the airport and West Auckland within a decade, followed by a line connecting the North Shore to the CBD.

She said Labour would invest a net $2.1bn extra in Auckland transport infrastructure.

"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 policy also includes a new Bus Rapid Transit line from Howick to the Airport, starting with a bus service which will connect Puhinui train station to the Airport in one year, and build a third main trunk line urgently between Wiri and Papakura.

In April, public transport advocates presented a plan for a $14bn rapid transit network.

The party said it would impose a Regional Fuel Tax to raise up to $160 million a year at 10 cents a litre. Labour would also give Auckland Council the ability to use new methods of funding infrastructure, like infrastructure bonds and targeted rates.

Costs would also be avoided by building the North Western and airport routes to as light rail from the start instead of starting with bus improvements, the party said.

Some lower-value projects would be also delayed and the cost of the East-West Link would be reduced by adopting an option with a better benefit-to-cost ratio, saving $1.2bn.

Jacinda Ardern announces Labour's Auckland transport policy.

Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Ms Ardern told TVNZ's Q+A the party also wanted to create a quick bus link between the Airport and south Auckland within two years.

"That's a quick win for us, that's a down payment on some of the bigger plans that we have.

"And it connects to some existing infrastructure that we've already got there. We think we can deliver that pretty much straightaway but with the rapid transit arm taking a couple of years."

Ms Ardern said it would be up to Auckland Council to set the level of any regional fuel tax.

Such a tax was pushed by Auckland mayor Phil Goff to plug a $400 million gap in funding projects in the city's plans.

However that was ruled out by the government in February with Minister of Finance Steven Joyce saying it was not part of their plans and any eventual road charges would only replace existing taxes and charges.

Ms Ardern said proposing the tax showed Labour was prepared to make tough decisions.

Labour's announcement followed the government's election pledge this week with funding to speed up road and rail work.

The investment would accelerate about $3 billion worth of projects, including the $800 million North-Western Busway and the approximately $600m AMETI highway and busway in the next decade, according to mayor Phil Goff.

Criticising the government's announcement on Friday, Labour also called it a "reheated set of transport projects" and said its policies would be "more ambitious".

"We need a game-changer to fix Auckland's congestion woes. Auckland needs to be a world-class city with a world-class transport network to support its growing population and economy," its Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford said.

Light rail, one of Mr Goff's big pushes to get elected late last year, was also expected to be included.

A former Labour MP, Mr Goff had promised in his mayoral election campaign to bring forward the plan for light rail.

In March, the government and Auckland Council agreed for the first time that the long-sought light rail would eventually be built between the city centre and the airport.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce said Labour's policy to speed up implementation of the city's transport plan was exactly what Auckland needs.

The chamber's chief executive, Michael Barnett, said while he was not convinced light rail was the best option, he was encouraged by Labour's commitment to deliver on transport urgently.

Mr Barnett said he supported Labour's plan for a regional fuel tax and Aucklanders should pay for some of the new transport infrastructure.

Green Party transport spokesperson, Julie Anne Genter, has welcomed Labour's commitment to light rail lines from downtown Auckland to the airport and west Auckland saying it made sense to build light rail out west.

But National said Labour's plan for a regional fuel tax to help fund Auckland transport projects showed it was the 'same old tax-and-spend Labour Party'.

The Finance Minister, Steven Joyce, said it was a decades-old policy that had been rejected by voters many times and making Auckland motorists pay an extra 10 cents a litre for petrol would have a real impact on the cost of living.

Mr Joyce said it was telling that the first move of the new Labour leader was to propose another new tax.

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