13 Mar 2023

Transport Minister Michael Wood says transport cuts are 'right thing to do'

8:00 pm on 13 March 2023
Chris Hipkins (left) and Michael Wood (right).

Chris Hipkins and Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The minister who lost the most in the government's second policy bonfire in just over a month insists it will not harm efforts to lower emissions.

That was despite the reason for much of the reprioritisation - the devastation wrought by Cyclone Gabrielle - being likely made worse by climate change.

More than half the estimated $1 billion in savings - $586 million - will come from scrapping the clean car upgrade scheme. Unveiled in May last year by Transport Minister Michael Wood and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, the scheme would have provided "targeted assistance to lower- and middle- income households to shift to low-emission alternatives in exchange for scrapping their old vehicle".

Waka Kotahi's efforts to improve public transport will now be focused only on the main centres - Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch.

Also gone is most of the speed reduction plan, which will now only affect where the highest numbers of deaths and injuries occur - despite higher speeds causing greater emissions.

A new social leasing car scheme, which Hipkins said provided "leasing arrangements to low-income families for clean cars but was proving difficult to implement", has also been also scrapped.

And Auckland's public transport overhaul, including the linchpin light rail project, will now be rolled out in stages.

Labour MP Michael Wood

Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Wood told Checkpoint on Monday the government needed to be "laser-focused" in the wake of the cyclone, the most devastating to hit New Zealand in living memory.

"This is about doing fewer things better, instead of a lot of different things and not doing them so well. The cyclone and the recovery does just add an edge to that.

"We need to be doing everything we can for these communities across transport, across housing, across welfare, other aspects of the rebuild - slimming down our programme somewhat to enable our agencies to focus on that, I think, is the right thing to do."

That meant sticking to policies with the "biggest impact", he said.

"We've had a look right across the programme and said, what do we get the most value from? What are programmes that we can move on and deliver results with? And a part of this calculation has been whether a programme's been proving more difficult, or more time-consuming to get results from - then they have been deprioritised."

The social car leasing policy was "good" and would have had "good outcomes", Wood said, but " it was going to take longer to get stood up - and in the current environment, we need Waka Kotahi, who was overseeing the scheme, to be as focused as possible on the needs of communities that have been so disrupted by Cyclone Gabrielle".

That and others, like the clean car upgrade scheme, were likely to have "relatively limited" impacts on emissions.

"They had other benefits that could come from them, but we have to make sure that we're really focused now. We still have an emissions reduction plan that we're committed to, we still have targets that come from that in transport and every other area...

"This week for example, I'll be introducing legislation to parliament to improve the public transport system and support more people on public transport. We have a Budget coming up in which we'll continue to invest in emissions reduction in transport and other areas. That remains a priority, but we do have to focus on the things that have the biggest impact."

Three weeks ago, Wood said light was "absolutely" going ahead, and the government "cannot continue to kick the can down the road". On Monday he said the staged rollout would still see the light rail project completed in the early 2030s, just in "manageable chunks", starting in 2025.

"This is something we've been working on for some time. We're building not just light rail, but a connection across the Waitematā, mass rapid transport to the northwest - it's a big programme and the logical way is to break that down into stages and deliver it over time."

Other work delayed for now included plans to introduce legislation to lower the voting age in general elections to 16, alcohol reforms relating to pricing, sponsorship and advertising, a container return scheme and public consultation on a new test to determine who is a contractor and who is an employee.

In February, not long after becoming prime minister, Hipkins canned the TVNZ-RNZ merger and slowed progress on a planned social insurance scheme and changes to hate speech laws.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Monday it was part of his continued focus on "bread and butter issues", after ditching the RNZ-TVNZ merger and biofuels mandate on becoming Prime Minister earlier this year, and slowing down progress on a planned social insurance scheme and changes to hate speech laws.

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