Talking Transport: North, West and Centre

Transport makes or breaks cities. For the last 40 years Wellington’s has been largely breaking us (or at best braking us). Local councillors’ transport policies and nous really matter. Talking Transport puts them on the spot so you can hear what they’ve got!

The Traffic Jam’s Bryan Crump and Mark Johnston from Cycle Wellington had a dream: Wellington’s city and and regional council candidates all in the hot seat talking transport, at the same time in the same place.

With support from the Automobile Association’s Wellington Council, Cycle Wellington, Rubber Monkey (sound gear), Bicycle Junction, Save the Basin, and Living Streets Aotearoa, we’re doing it! These are the highlights from the Talking Transport Wellington events so far.

The other event is this week.

Meeting one: Robes and baubles at the Loaves and Fishes

Meeting one heard from candidates standing in the city’s Wharangi/Onslow-Western, Takapu/Northern and Pukehinau/Lambton Wards. Mayoral and regional council hopefuls were there too.

In the hall with the biblical name next to St Paul’s Cathedral, we began with the would-be Mayors, including the incumbent. You can hear highlights of the debate here.

Mayoral candidates take the floor

Each had 90 seconds to make their pitch. 

Andy Foster (sitting Onslow-Western Ward councillor) was first, arguing his track record pushing for what cycle and bus lanes Wellington already has, is reason enough to vote for him.  Foster is also a supporter of adding another road tunnel between the city and its eastern suburbs to the top-priority list of public works in the Let’s Get Welly Moving programme.

Conor Hill began his pitch by stating he’s never owned a car and can empathise with the victims of the city’s bus crisis. He wants more trains too. He says his time living in Amsterdam showed him how a city could be. Transport is about moving people, not cars, he told the crowd.

A more pedestrian friendly environment anyone?

Jenny Condie mentioned her Treasury background, and experience in accountancy and entrepreneurship, although she’s primarily running for mayor because of her kids. She doesn’t want them to inherit a fried planet. Her transport priority is to get people out of fossil fueled cars.

Norbert Hausberg wants Wellington to be carbon neutral by 2022. “If we don’t aim at the stars we aim at a hole in the ground”. However, he also wants the city to begin a “managed retreat” from the current coastline.

Diane Calvert reminded the meeting she was a sitting Onslow-Western ward councillor; a very big ward which she “pretty much needs a car to drive around” in.  She also used her ninety seconds to mention the “shocking bus service” and the vague nature of the “Let’s Get Welly Moving” plan. She argues a second road tunnel through Mt Victoria should get a higher priority, not just for the benefit of cars but for buses as well.

Incumbent Justin Lester recalled his childhood and those halcyon days when kids walked and biked to school.  His kids don’t – at least not on their own. Like Foster, he argued his track record on cycle-ways was reason to re-elect him. He talked about balance, and not looking  “a gift horse in the mouth” when it comes to the central government money on offer through Let’s Get Welly Moving.

Questions from the voters for mayoral hopefuls

That second Mt Vic road tunnel was the subject of the first question from the floor, from the AA’s Geordie Cassin. It’s been delayed. Its delay will have a negative impact on other modes in the city, he said. “Are you worried?” He asked.

“Yes” said Calvert. “It’s been cherry picked out of the Let’s Get Welly Moving list of priorities for political reasons”, she claimed.

Lester told the crowd he’s actually been in all the discussions. The priorities, he claimed, are “what Wellingtonians asked for: Mass Transit, Basin Reserve and the Mt Vic Tunnel”.  Everyone in the city and regional councils voted for it. Save the Basin’s on board as is the Chamber of Commerce, he said. “Now we’re seeking to deliver it”.

Jennie Condie
Dr Jenny Condie

Hausberg described LGWM as a plan from the past for the past. He supports a second Mt Vic tunnel “but not for cars”, rather walkers and cyclists. As for a new rapid transit mode – too expensive – stick with buses.

Condie argued mass transit has to come before roads.

Hill isn’t worried about a Mt Vic road tunnel being taken out of the mix. He says when a second tunnel is built, it will be for walking, cycling and public transport.

Foster worries about the rates bill involved with LGWM, and says the delay in another road tunnel for at least ten years will “trap more traffic inside the city.”

There were more questions from the floor.

In answer to one on active transport, Condie argued for walker friendly policies in the suburbs. Calvert is worried about e-scooters cluttering the footpath, and the time pedestrians often have to wait at traffic lights for the crossing signal.

Do they all support a 30 kilometre an hour speed limit in the central city? Yes.

What about the Let’s Get Welly Riding vision of cycle-lanes – little roads/rori iti for all the slower modes of wheeled traffic, including scooters and e-bikes? Did candidates support it? Yes, except Calvert, who endorses the idea, but thinks it’s too ambitious in terms of how quickly its visionaries Oliver Bruce and Brett Skinner want it introduced.

Are we living in a climate emergency? All but one agreed. Calvert describes our time as one of “Climate Crisis”.

I attempted to put an either/or question to the panel. If they had to choose between rapid public transit to the eastern suburbs, or a four lane road – which one?

Hill, Condie, Hausberg, and Lester put their hands up for rapid public transit.

“Silly question” said Foster. State highways are funded 100 percent by the Government, Mass Transit won’t get 100 percent funding from the central government.

“Why not?” yelled a voice from the crowd.

“Well good luck” replied Foster.

Calvert put her hand up for the road.

When it came to levying a congestion charge for busy roads, Calvert was the one voice opposing the idea.

Calvert was also alone in supporting a ban on e-scooters on footpaths.

Hey kid, Diane Calvert says get on the road

In answer to a question about the buses, a Wellington Regional Council issue, Condie made the point the City Council could still do a lot to improve the reliability of the bus service by setting aside more space on the roads for buses only – bus priority.

On the issue of what rapid transit system each candidate supported, Foster wanted more done on the buses, Hill supports light rail, Condie would like to take a business case, for light rail or a “gold plated” bus rapid transit system, to a citizens assembly “and let 50 of our fellow Wellingtonions learn all about the expert opinions, and make their own judgement”.

Hausberg wants to get the buses “rolling”.

Lester will defer to his transport engineers for advice on light rail or trackless trams.

Calvert supports more resources going into the buses, especially the Airport Flyer.

Going west: Onslow-Western ward candidates take the stage

At this point our mayoral candidates had to leave for another meeting. Not a moment too soon for Onslow-Western candidate Michelle Rush, who, despite having worked as a facilitator for many years, was running out of patience.

You can hear what she, and other Onslow-Western candidates had to say here.

Rush referred to recent reports of the NZTA casting doubts on the transport benefits of the current Let’s Get Welly Moving plan (because it had more to do with enabling denser urban living than getting people around town).

Those reports  “miss the point”, she told the meeting.

“Transport…and the livability of our cities are inextricably linked. It’s been our failure to recognise that, since the car lobby stared down mass transit and won…mid last century, that’s left us in our current mess”.

Rush wants to see action on congestion by doubling the number of occupants per car. “We can all do that”, and she wants LGWM implemented in its entirety, although if there were to be a second Mt Vic tunnel, it would be either for rapid public transport, or walkers and cyclists, not cars. She’d like to see the staged removal of on-street parking on some arterial roads (Karori Road for example) beginning with clear-ways for peak hour traffic, leading to the eventual phasing out of parking altogether. Getting children to walk, bike and scooter to school, rather than being driven, was another priority.

Onslow/Western ward Candidate Michelle Rush wants more of this.

Ray Chung put in a good word for the buses in his part of the city; Broadmeadows, which now has a decent service during the weekends and evenings.

Rebecca Matthews has never driven a car. She’s against contracting out public transport to the lowest bidder, and as a trade unionist wants drivers paid a fair wage. She’s not worried about a delay in another road tunnel under Mt Victoria.

Richard McIntosh, the Green candidate for Onslow-Western wants to get Wellington riding. He’s still lamenting the digging up of the Bolton Street cemetery for the Thorndon Motorway in the 1970s.

Rohan Biggs told the meeting he stood for fiscal conservatism. Light rail doesn’t stand up, but he’s a huge fan of the buses, and wants more safe space for cyclists. He wants a second Mt Victoria road tunnel sooner.

The incumbent Simon Woolf says LGWM “didn’t go far enough”. Petone/Ngauranga to the Port is equally as important. He’d also like to see a “switch lane” for public transport on State Highway Two. A “switch lane” involves dedicating one lane of the motorway to a particular type of traffic for part of the day.

All candidates in the Onslow/Western ward supported a 30 km/hr speed limit in the central city.  They were almost unanimously in support of the Let’s Get Welly Riding vision with the exception of Biggs. There was strong support for a ban on e-scooters on the footpaths, apart from Rush. On the issue of a congestion charge, Chung was against. Rush said any charge had to take into account the financial position of poorer people who relied on their cars to get around the city.

Northern exposure: Takapu-Northern Ward candidates take the stage

The deputy mayor Jill Day kicked things off for the Takapu/Northern Ward contenders.

You can hear her views, and the views of other Takapu/Northern and Pukehinau/Lambton ward candidates here.

Day made a pitch for active transport and a “step change” in the use of public transport. One of the key problems for voters in her ward is having to switch modes if they travel by public transport to Wellington Hospital. She hopes a light rail system would make switching modes easier. On-street parking is increasingly an issue in the suburbs, which could be solved if there was more car-sharing.

John Apanowicz is standing in the Northern Ward for the Wellington Party. He wants a second Mt Vic road tunnel, but supports trackless trams “but not all the way to the airport”.  His party supports a pedestrian only Golden Mile, with more parking facilities built on the edge of the central city.

Malcolm Sparrow is another sitting councillor. He wants a four lane Terrace tunnel and second Mt Vic tunnel, sooner rather than later.  He also supports more bus lanes, especially at peak times – along Newlands road for example.

Fellow sitting Northern councillor Peter Gilberd is a supporter of Let’s Get Welly Moving and  thinks trackless trams could be a viable rapid mass transit option. He thinks a second Mt Vic tunnel is needed and the sooner it comes on stream the better.

Heading Downtown: Pukehinau/Lambton ward candidates speak

Finally, the Pukehinau/Lambton ward, where sitting councillor Brian Dawson was the first to speak. He wants cars out of the Golden Mile and bus priority lanes as soon as possible. Like Ray Chung, he’s very happy with the new bus service in his part of the city – the Aro Valley.  He wants to see Karo Drive underground so there is no longer a busy road splitting Te Aro in two. He says locals are struggling with non-residents parking in the Aro Valley, then walking to work in the central city, but also says no issue is more vexed than parking – apart from cats.

The only thing in Aro Valley more controversial than street parking?

Iona Pannett is another incumbent and a Green Party councillor. “We need to put climate action and livability of our city right at the centre of every single thing that we do”. Urban planning and transport planning must be integrated. She wants a “full” light rail system right out to the Hutt and out to Johnsonville, and doesn’t support any more tunnels. “I tried to stop the by-pass and we did stop the flyover”. She supports “intelligent” removal of on-street parking. “Instead of parking your vehicle for 90 percent of the time…..we should be able to have a fleet of cars that take people when they need to go somewhere”.

Lee Orchard, wearing lycra, stood before the meeting “exasperated” and in solidarity with his fellow cyclists. He nominated the median strip between Kent and Cambridge Terrace as a potential cycle and walkway from the city to the Basin Reserve.

The other sitting councillor and Te Aro resident, Nicola Young, talked up her credentials as a “very good” pedestrian, and an advocate for cheaper bus fares and bike racks. She says footpaths are for feet. She thinks it’s hypocritical of the Wellington City Council to declare a climate emergency while supporting a longer runway for the city’s airport. She describes herself as a light rail skeptic. She has doubts about the a 30 km/hr speed limit in the central city. She questions whether a blanket speed limit for the CBD is practical.  She would like to see the removal of some parking from one side of Tory Street to make it more cycle and pedestrian friendly.

Tamatha Paul is currently the Victoria University Students Association president. She based part of her pitch on better street lighting. She argued for better located bus stops (on Wallace Road waiting passengers spill out onto the street during the rush hour peak) and wants the council to recognise micromobility (e-bikes and e-scooters) will play a big part in the city’s future.

What did I learn from the meeting?

Mayoral candidates first.

In terms of having the courage of her own convictions, even if it meant going against the prevailing mood in the hall, I’d give Diane Calvert a special commendation. She made no secret of her desire to see a second road tunnel built under Mt Victoria. If more space for private motor vehicles is your priority, even against a roomful of relatively progressive voters, she’s your candidate.

Andy Foster expressed similar sentiments on a second tunnel, but was unwilling to engage in an either/or scenario over road verses public transport to the Eastern Suburbs.

Justin Lester talked up the consensus reached over LGWM. He leaned towards better public transport for the east and south, ahead of catering for more cars, but he remains cautious in terms of what form that public transport might take, deferring to his engineering advisors.

If you want a fresh thinker in the Mayor’s robes, Jennie Condie was the most impressive,  but she too would leave that trackless tram/light rail issue to another group; in her case a special assembly of our peers – a sort of grand transport jury.

Only Norbert Hausberg and Conor Hill were unequivocal in terms of a mass transit choice, the former opting for bus lanes, the latter for light rail.

If active and public transport are your priorities, Hill and Condie are your best bets.

If you think climate adaptation is as important as mitigation, Hausberg is ready to help us beat a retreat from Wellington Harbour.

If you want a change in direction towards active and public transport in Onslow Western, Michelle Rush presented the strongest credentials.

If the current rate of incremental change is good enough, try incumbents Woolf and Foster, although Foster also has your back if you want more motorway space to the airport.

Diane Calvert was most prepared to raise her hand in support of private car driving, although in her ideal world, those driving would be mixing with the people on e-scooters she’s banned from the footpath.

If you think it’s all too expensive, vote Rohan Biggs. Roads and buses make the best dollars and sense to him.

Up the road in Takapu/Northern, Jill Day was the strongest advocate for the public transport user.

Fellow incumbent Peter Gilberd represents the current rate of incremental change.

If you feel nostalgic for the idea of “four lanes to the planes” Malcolm Sparrow’s support of a four lane Terrace Tunnel as well as another Mt Vic Tunnel, will be music to your ears.

Electing John Apanowicz would shift the balance back towards catering for the private car. Under his scenario, the pedestrian friendly Golden Mile would be a sort of giant outdoor mall, with new car-parking buildings at either end.

It’ll be difficult for any of the challengers to dislodge the experienced sitting councilors in Pukehinau/Lambton.

Iona Pannett has been a consistent advocate for a shift away from private motorised travel towards active and public transport. Brian Dawson represents that incremental pragmatism – remember his remarks on how fraught the issue of on-street parking is? Nicola Young walks her talk when it comes to pedestrians. With her business background she’s more cautious about sacrificing on-street parking for other road users.

Lee Orchard
Lee Orchard sans Lycra.

Lee Orchard looked splendid in lycra, and will certainly push a strong cyclist agenda.

Tamatha Paul, along with Jennie Condie, was the freshest new voice in the city council mix. If you want an alternative to the middle aged, middle class Pākehā perspectives which dominate Wellington City, Paul is streets ahead. In terms of political organisation, Paul is close to Lester’s team. Too close for some? Depends on your view of Labour.

tamantha paul
Tamatha Paul: Wants to make the leap from student politics.

Where to next?

Along with the City Council candidates, last Wednesday’s Hui also featured candidates standing for the Wellington ward of the Regional Council.

I’ve decided to save my analysis of their pitches and priorities until after our second gathering, on Wednesday September 25th.

If you live in Wellington’s south or east we want to see you there.

Next meeting this way….

It’s in the Maitairangi Room of the ASB Sports Centre, from 6.30pm.

Stuff writer and Newtown renaissance man Dave Armstrong will chair it.

We’re expecting a good turnout of candidates for the city’s Eastern and Southern Wards, and we’re expecting most of the Regional Council hopefuls to be there as well.

And if you can’t make it, there’s always next week’s Traffic Jam.

Photo Credits

  • Road cone/kids on walking bus: Bryan Crump
  • girl on scooter – peoria martial arts center
  • Mug shots: Wellington City Council
  • Mt Vic Tunnel and Orange Man: Elections NZ/Mark Johnston.

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