Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday 10th - Campaign for Better Transport Debate

This evening, I attended a debate hosted in central Auckland by the Campaign for Better Transport. It wasn't the sort of people who worked for the council and were demanding accountability and economic programs for transport infrastructure; this was one of those 'we want everyone to bike and train everywhere' groups. I have had a lot of experience with these sorts of groups working with the Hastings District Council and studying urban planning. They genuinely believe their way is 100% right and are extremely demanding of expensive infrastructure, often with supporting research from respected academics who have shown it working in Northern Europe and Canada, and think it will work elsewhere. These are the sort of people that already vote Green, and the Green candidate representing the party was Gareth Hughes, who had them all eating out of the palm of his hand.

The Candidates

Shane Jones (Lab-16, Tāmaki Makaurau) + Phil Twyford (Lab-33, Te Atatu)
Colin Craig (Cons-1, Rodney) + Stephen Greenfield (Cons, Auckland Central)
Dr Don Brash (ACT-1, North Shore)
Gareth Hughes (Green-7, Ōhariu)
David Bennett (Nat-48, Hamilton East)

A Bit of Background

The transport debate in Auckland has been contentious for over a century. The left vs right debate rages, the pro-car is still at war the pro-public-transport, and each are symbolized with the Puhoi-Wellsford Motorway on one hand and the CBD Rail Link with the other.


The debate was mostly the candidates each  making a speech based on the topics given to them by the CBT. Dr Don Brash was the first to start, where he said the problem was on the government for subsidizing various uses of transport and not providing direct accountability to what mode is getting what funds. His argument was reasonably powerful on this basis, saying that government is heavily subsidizing road users, which went down well with the crowd. Like a good economist, he advocated a user pays approach to transport, not condemning any transport projects on either side, but advocated a more user-pays system, and responded to criticism by asking why trains are not so blatantly obvious transport choices for their supposed efficiency. Luckily, his position on the rail link was only to review it further, rather than outright go against it.

Gareth Hughes played the game well, brought a very supportive message to the CBT audience and even me, with a very balanced sounding approach with some economic costings to go with. Though his figures were questioned by Dr Brash on where the ratios were determined, though he did explain that the numbers were more political than economic. Would be booed off stage by a right wing crowd, but was applauded by the left-wing audience. The mention he made was that the Greens' yet-to-be-released transport policy will say they'll fund the CBD rail link 60% by government, as opposed to the 50% which Labour has pledged. 

Colin Craig was totally full of himself. He was extremely overconfident about winning Rodney that he mentioned it all the time. He talked mostly about his electorate wanting the Puhoi-Wellsford and defended people who loved their cars too much. Also mentioned bizarre inquiry public transport options, saying we need to be "innovative" and "inventive, came across like a lame teacher trying to get students interested in politics. His far more competent friend, Stephen Greenfield, sat in the back row for support.

Shane Jones represented Labour and brought his dropkick friend Phil Twyford along to watch. He was funny and intelligent as usual, but had little to add on top of other candidates. Given that he supported the rail link, and agreed with the idea of social importance;  he came across less economically focussed, and repeating flash sounding words that held little water with those of us that understand them.

The National Party are currently very deeply unpopular with transport and planning types, most of whom want Steven Joyce's (Nat-13) head! They were represented by David Bennett from Hamilton East, who is already deeply unpopular due to opposing a proposed Auckland-Hamilton commuter railway. He was extremely pressed to defend government policy with it's RONS (Roads of National Significance) and favoring road over railway transport, despite claims of low cost-benefit ratios and alleged links with trucking and roaring companies. He claimed that National was indeed funding more in public transport, many of the unpopular decisions have actually been made at a local level, and that many roads are of great economic benefit. But, this was the wrong crowd - there was literally nothing this guy could say that would please anyone there.

The overall result, Dr Brash didn't do too badly by advocating a user-pays approach to transport, though some claimed that there needed to be a puppet master somewhere with money to do it all. National fared terribly, Colin Craig made quite a dick of himself, and Labour brought very little to the table. The Greens won this without trying whatsoever, playing on home turf. Nothing new to report from the transport people I guess...

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