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Wellingtonians are not totally convinced about Greens transport spend

Sep 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Editor's Picks, Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

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WELLINGTON decision-makers were surprised to hear the Green’s plan to invest $500 million to upgrade Wellington’s public transport system.

The Wellington City Council was not consulted about the party’s plans for this week’s announcement.

Councillor Andy Foster is wary of election politicking and wants well-planned policy.

The chair of the council’s urban transport and development committee, says while the Greens’ call is a welcome counter-balance to the current political focus on Roads of National Significance (RoNS), New Zealand is not going to benefit from arbitrary political decisions.

Cr Foster says the city needs long term evidence developed by the Government following comprehensive engagement, something that will stand the test of time and changes in Government.

“The right answer will inevitably be one somewhere between the positions of the two parties [Greens and National],” he says.

The Greens announced the $500 million investment over five years and the Fast Tracking Wellington plan this week.

Dr Russel Norman, Green Party Co-leader, says they will upgrade Wellington’s transport fleet to become all-electric.

The plans include affordable and modern light rail network down the city spine by 2020, upgrading, rather than scraping, the trolley buses and replacing diesel buses with electric buses over time.

Wellington Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, welcomed the focus, but says while light rail is attractive, bus rapid transit may be a more immediate and pragmatic step.

However, she says a significant boost in government funding could change the timing for introducing new technology.

“We all know that health imperatives for people of all ages, especially school children, mean that the investment in better transport choices is wise,” she says

Youth climate change group Generation Zero spokesperson Paul Young says the Green Party’s Wellington transport plan is a smart blueprint for a prosperous low carbon city, and shows that there is now cross-party support for a light rail solution for Wellington.

“With three political parties [Greens, United Future, NZ First] now backing light rail for Wellington city, it needs to be reconsidered by local councils in the wake of the Basin Flyover being rejected,” Mr Young says.
Chris Finlayson, National’s Rongotai candidate, says he supported the Wellington Regional Council’s decision to invest in a new bus fleet rather than light rail because light rail represents extremely poor value for money.

“National has already spent more on public transport in Wellington than any other government, including $480 million on extending electrification of the rail network, and backing KiwiRail’s purchase of the modern Matangi fleet of electric locomotives,” he says.

Grant Robertson, Labour’s Wellington Central candidate, says Labour believes there needs to be a major investment in public transport in Wellington, and they will make that a priority.

However, they are concerned about how the $500 million figure came about as previous costings for light rail have been significantly higher.

“We would want to look closely at that,” he says.

What the public say:

A local street poll found a majority in favour of the Green’s Fast Tracking Wellington Plan, but many are still convinced that trolley busses have had their day.

Of the 20 people spoken to most were positive about the Greens investment in public transport.

However, over half of those in favour of the plan say they want the trolley buses scrapped, as they are sick of them breaking down all the time.

One person said: “I’m all for any rejuvenation of the transport system and I think light rail is great, but trolley buses are unreliable so they need to go.”

Trolley buses weren’t the only let-down in the plan for locals, an overwhelming majority of people were also wary that $500 million could be better spent on health and education.

“It’s a great idea and I’m not against it, but my priority is health and my children’s education,” said.

A majority of those in favour of the Green’s plan intend to vote for either Labour or the Greens and 75% of those against the plan are national supporters.

In response to the apprehension over trolley buses and the amount of money being invested, Dr Norman gave assurances that this concern was not needed.

“It’s all about building a system that is all electric and trolley buses need to be utilised until they can be phased out,’ he told NewsWire after a candidates meeting in Miramar on Thursday night

Dr Norman also notes that the money being invested stems from a cut down in money spent on building motorways and new roads.

“National spending on new motorways and highways is about $14 billion and we have cut that down to about $3 billion. That leaves $11 billion to invest in public transport and cycleways,” he says.

Notable comments in the streetpoll from those in favour of the plan:

• It’s a great idea to move away from diesel buses and into the future with an electric transport system.
• It will be good to have a public transport system that is going to last, not one that we have to keep changing. We need to be ahead of the game.
• I’m not from Wellington but that sounds like a pretty good idea. As long as the top priority is health and education.
• Sounds good as long as it’s going to be cheaper, more reliable and better for the environment.

Notable comments in the streetpoll from those against the plan:

• I really think that money could be better spent somewhere else. I’m voting Labour because of their Kiwisaver scheme and their policy on buying homes, that’s more important to me.
• Well I won’t be voting for the Greens and I think trolley buses have passed their used by date.

• We’ve heard enough about all these changes to public transport and they still can’t make up their minds. I just want to afford my power and my health and see my grandchildren get a good education.

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