5 Dec 2022

Government splurge on climate-friendly transport projects welcomed by mayors

9:54 am on 5 December 2022
Cycleway generic.

Minister of Transport Michael Wood said the money would fund 397 new or upgraded bus stops, 242 kilometres of cycleway and 11 new bus lanes around the country. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

New bus stops, routes and cycleways are on the cards for local councils around the country, as the government announces $350 million in funding for transport projects.

Forty-six local councils have been selected for funding for their transport projects, intended to encourage people out of private cars and onto buses, bikes and footpaths.

The Transport Choices package was first promised in Budget 2022, and Minister of Transport Michael Wood said at the announcement on Sunday it was all about creating alternatives to cars.

Wood said the money would fund 397 new or upgraded bus stops, 242 kilometres of cycleway and 11 new bus lanes around the country, from the major city of Auckland to the rural town of Stratford in the central North Island.

Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate said their share of the money would go towards new bus routes and finishing cycling connections on the western side of the city.

"If you're cycling, of course, you want safe connectivity, so that you can get your whole journey in the safest way possible."

The funding was an opportunity to push their changes further and faster, she said, and their current transport network was the product of an ageing city.

"It's in good shape, but our city is changing so fast," she said.

"The need to transition from private vehicles to other modes of transport is of course greater given our obligation to [the] climate, and we just don't have the money to change overnight."

People would choose to leave the car at home, so long as the alternatives were safe, reliable and convenient, Southgate said.

Wood said emissions were not just an urban issue - local jurisdictions would have to work together.

"What's really important is that these aren't projects that have been imposed from on high. These are community-level projects that have been advocated to central government by local government, and by local communities."

The funding would help to make cities more people-friendly places, and safer for young people to get around independently, Wood said.

In New Plymouth, Mayor Neil Holdom said the funding would help school students get around by bike.

"It's really about creating safer, more inviting cycle infrastructure," he said. Their project would link the central city to the suburbs via the major schools.

The Taranaki region was heavily reliant on cars, but it needed to adapt and evolve, Holdom said.

"We know that separating bikes from cars and trucks, particularly in Taranaki where the volume of heavy vehicles on our road is really high, is critical to growing the number of people choosing to cycle," he said.

Tauranga City Council commissioner chairperson Anne Tolley said while the exact amount of funding they would receive was yet to be confirmed, their portion would go towards a bi-directional cycleway, walking path and bus lane through the suburb of Arataki, which connected Papamoa Beach to Mount Maunganui.

The city's bus service had been badly affected, with criminal activity and youth violence leaving drivers feeling unsafe, on top of the nationwide driver shortage causing irregular services.

Council would be looking for innovative ways to make buses and cycling safer, Tolley said.

The infrastructure had to come first, as people would not change their habits without safe, reliable alternatives, she said.

"Sometimes you feel like you're putting the cart before the horse, but if you haven't got those good alternatives for people, then you can't really have that conversation with them about getting out of their cars."

Government support for projects like this was essential - rates alone could not fund the changes, she said.

"Even a big city like Tauranga, which is the fifth largest city in New Zealand but the fastest growing at the moment, we just can't do it on our own."

The government said construction could begin on some projects by June.

Driver shortages

National Party transport spokesperson Simeon Brown told Morning Report the $350m funding would help local councils bring forward planned projects but the package did not address bigger issues of a shortage of bus drivers and train operators. National would look at immigration settings as part of the solution.

The main factor in getting people back to public transport was reliability of services, he said.

"If you've got 10 percent of bus trips being cancelled that's a real huge inhibitor of people turning up and going on the bus."

Transport Minister Michael Wood told Morning Report a lot of work was under way to address driver shortages.

He would confirm "relatively soon" how the government would respond to requests from councils for immigration changes.

"There are opportunities within the immigration system to recruit as it is, and we've got some of those that we're talking about right now," he said.

The government had also put $61m towards lifting driver pay and councils were working on recruitment.

"We have to provide more and better public transport services to people. That'll take drivers but it'll also take investment like this to give people the routes and the bus priority lanes that will make public transport efficient."

Brown said fare subsidies should be targeted to those who needed them most such as community services card holders or students, rather than the blanket half-price fare scheme in place until January. "Public transport is already heavily subsidised in New Zealand."

Wood said when the half-price subsidy ended on 31 January, the government had committed to the Community Connect system for permanent half-price fares for lowest income, households covering about a million people.

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