Auckland mayoral hopefuls clash on transport, climate change

Source: 1News

Six Auckland mayoral hopefuls battled it out to prove they'd be best to run New Zealand's biggest city, at one of the most lively debates of the campaign trail so far.

Auckland mayoral candidates' debate at Auckland University, July 26.

An egging incident aside, most of Tuesday night's event at Auckland University focused on policy, especially around transport.

Many of the candidates - some of whom had attended at least a dozen debates already - stuck to old territory with their already-publicised policies. Still, the candidates were keen to showcase what they had to offer to the younger audience of about 120 in the room and others tuning in online.

Featured in the nearly two-hour debate were Heart of The City chief executive Viv Beck; Hibiscus and Bays Local Board chairperson Gary Brown; Labour and Greens-backed councillor Efeso Collins; New Conservative co-leader Ted Johnston; engineer and media freelancer Craig Lord; and restaurateur Leo Molloy.

It was moderated by Q+A's Jack Tame.

Climate change

Collins made the most noise about climate throughout the evening. He said, given Auckland's large Pasifika population, the threat of climate change to Pacific islands was something the city had to take action on.

Auckland mayoral candidate Efeso Collins.

If he became mayor, Collins said his council would be "completely focused on climate action" through greater housing intensification and by offering free public transport fares.

Meanwhile, Johnston said there was no point "wasting $2 billion on cycleways".

"And you don't waste another billion on global warming - how high has the water risen in the harbour?"

Moderator Tame responded: "Tuvalu may beg to differ."

Johnston said Tuvalu was in a different part of the Pacific and that Auckland should prioritise itself because its funds were tight.

Auckland mayoral candidate Ted Johnston.

An Auckland Council survey found nearly 70% of respondents supported a targeted climate action rate.

The council had declared a climate emergency and wanted to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, some of the city's own transport plans raised concerns about whether enough was being done to move people away from private vehicles and into public transport, cycling or walking.

Transport

All mayoral candidates, bar Johnston, knew what an AT HOP card was.

Molloy, also touching on the topic of climate change, said green hydrogen was the future and "EVs are only a short-term solution".

Auckland mayoral candidate Leo Molloy.

"But, in the short term, what we should do for all of Auckland - we should run a KPI-monitored free public transport trial for a year - there's ample funding sitting in central government… [unused] regional fuel tax money, $300 million."

Molloy referred to figures from National spokesperson Simeon Brown who said that of the $542 million collected through the Auckland fuel tax, $300 million hadn't been used. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff rubbished the claim and said the money had already been committed to projects and couldn't be spent overnight because it took time for infrastructure to be designed.

The second phase of that plan would see congestion charging introduced at peak hours, Molloy said. The funds could then be used to subsidise free public transport.

Beck said she was "all about practical, affordable solutions" that would make a difference as quickly as possible.

Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck.

"I want to see school kids safe walking and cycling. I think we need to have a balance, though, of mode between cycling, walking and roads because I think roads are important."

She said she wanted to see the success of the Northern Busway emulated in the northwest. If elected mayor, she said she wanted a rapid transit network across Auckland that would include a dedicated busway along the Northwestern Motorway, rapid transit from the airport to Botany, and more bus lanes between the CBD and the airport as an alternative to the more expensive light rail.

She questioned Collins' focus on free public transport fares to encourage patronage, arguing that the money needed to be directed to having more reliable public transport instead. She wanted free fares to be targeted to over 65s, community card holders and people on low incomes.

A recent survey by Auckland Transport found 63% of non-public transport users "strongly disagreed" that the Government's 50% discount on fares would encourage them to switch how they travel.

Collins said free fares were about easing cost of living pressures. He pointed to a report from the PSA and FIRST unions that found it was viable.

As for light rail, Collins said he was in favour of it going through Māngere, but would have preferred the whole route be above the ground, rather than partially tunnelled.

A popular punching bag for the candidates was Auckland Transport; the entity had been relegated as an example of a council-controlled organisation gone rogue throughout the campaign trail.

"The cycle lanes [in Greenhithe], unfortunately, have been designed by nimrods at Auckland Transport who are out there launching cyclists into the ground… they're a disaster and overpriced," Lord said.

Auckland mayoral candidate Craig Lord.

Lord wanted the Government's light rail proposal binned and suggested creative alternatives like an overhead pod system. During his first tilt at the mayoralty in 2019, Lord pushed for a monorail to link regions across Auckland.

"You can go overhead… the modern stuff, not Simpson's monorail, don't be silly," Lord said.

The audience asked how he'd pay for the pod system. Lord said other countries had considered the Metrino system, although some transport experts questioned how viable it could be over long routes.

Lord said free public transport was a "lie" because someone would end up paying for it and labelled light rail "a disaster vanity project".

Brown said cycleways were part of the solution because of the injuries cyclists sustained on pathways that weren't separated from cars.

Auckland mayoral candidate Gary Brown.

Footpaths should be widened, so people had enough room to walk and cycle on them, he said.

He suggested rubber-tyre electric trains as a cheaper alternative to light rail. Brown also wanted rail to be extended to the port to take the trucks out of the central city.

Johnston advocated for more rail across the city. He said it didn't make sense that the North Shore was connected via a busway and called for a train.

He believed trains were superior to buses. Most public transport users in Auckland currently travel by bus.

"I want to catch trains. But, if it can't take me where I want to go and it's not efficient, then it's worthless," Johnston said.

"I'll fix everything."

Other tidbits

  • All candidates said something needed to be done to revitalise the central city. Beck responded to criticisms that she may have played a part in its current state as the head of the area's city centre business association. She said city rail link construction and Covid-19 played a part and that she'd consistently advocated for businesses. Other commentators believed Beck had slowed progress in reducing the number of cars in the central city.
  • Molloy swore on his five children's lives that the Prime Minister and Finance Minister were looking at a 2034 Commonwealth Games bid for Auckland. He said that was why a new waterfront stadium was needed and offered some suggestions about how to pay for it. A spokesperson for Grant Robertson said no decisions had been made, but they were "undertaking a preliminary analysis of the feasibility of hosting the Commonwealth Games at some point in the future".
  • At one point, Collins appeared to forget what ATAP stood for. Beck chimed in: it was the Auckland Transport Alignment Project. ATAP sets out a 10-year plan for developing Auckland's transport infrastructure to meet the challenges of a growing population and climate change.
  • In response to an audience member's question, all candidates said they'd attend a pride event as mayor.
  • Johnston said it wasn't fair that he wasn't invited to more candidates' debate events like the others.