Speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce


Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

Transport is going to be one of the big issues of the election. What I intend to do today is three things. First, I want to look back over the last two and a bit years of chaotic mismanagement of the transport portfolio by Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter.

Second, I want to outline where National is going in transport, drawing on some of the ideas released in our discussion document late last year.

Third, I want to spend some time concentrating specifically on Wellington and the Hutt Valley. Let me tell you now that transport is going to be a major area of attack for the National team in Wellington.

Our record

Before I get to all that though, I just want to quickly look at National’s record in government.

National is the party of infrastructure and we are proud of our record on transport investment. The last National government invested more in transport than any other government in New Zealand history.

We spent $12 billion on the first seven Roads of National Significance: transformational projects to connect our regions and unlock the potential of our cities, towns and provinces.

Phil Twyford likes to say we’ve overinvested in roads and motorways for decades.

But does anyone seriously think Auckland is not better off for the Waterview Tunnel, Puhoi to Wellsford, the Western Ring Route, and Victoria Park Tunnel? Those are National’s transport legacies to Auckland.

Down the road, the Waikato Expressway has created a much better and more efficient connection between our largest city and Hamilton. In three days, the Prime Minister, who has apparently had a Damascene-esque conversion to roads, will be opening the Huntly bypass. The Expressway has had a transformational effect on the entire region, and again, would anyone seriously go back to how it was before?

In Wellington, after fifty years of talk, National got on with the job of building Transmission Gully as part of the Wellington Road of National Significance. My prediction is that when it opens next year, everyone will wonder why it wasn’t done 50 years ago.

Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway are just one part of the original Wellington RON: four lanes to the planes, to borrow a popular Mayoral slogan, and I’ll come back to that later.

Our opponents say – or used to say - that National is just the party of roads.

That rhetoric belies the reality.

A record $2 billion was invested in public transport under National from 2015 to 2017 and now public transport use is at record levels.

In the year to December 2019 Aucklanders made 103 million public transport trips, an increase of 7.5% in the year. It was biggest year for buses, trains and ferries in the city since 1951.

It was National, in fact Simon Bridges as Transport Minister, that got the City Rail Link in Auckland underway.

The CRL will be a transformational project for Auckland; and will spur further increase in train patronage alongside urban regeneration. It will double rail capacity; and double the number of Auckanders living within 30 minutes of the CBD.

Here in Wellington I’m intensely proud of our rail network. My colleagues around the country are jealous.

1/10 people from the Hutt, where I live, get on a train in the morning to get to work – including frequently me! Around the region, in the year to December 2019, 14.5 million train journeys were taken – a record high.

It was under National that the new Matangi trains were brought into service for the Wellington commuter network, and we extended electrification of the line to Waikanae, bringing it into the Wellington commuter network.


Our 2017 agenda

National, again in fact Simon Bridges, took an ambitious transport plan to the 2017 election.

We promised to complete the original Roads of National Significance and invest $10.5 billion to build ten more.

We committed to important projects like four lanes from Auckland to Whangarei, the East West Link in Auckland, extending the Waikato Expressway from Piarere to the Kaimai Ranges and from Cambridge to Tirau, Tauranga to Katikati including the Tauranga Northern Link, Christchurch to Ashburton and Napier to Hastings.

We promised $267 million further for the Auckland & Wellington commuter networks, including electrifying the southern line to Pukekohe, building the third main line in Auckland, and double tracking the line from Trentham to Upper Hutt.

It was an ambitious agenda but one I am confident we would have delivered. Our track record speaks for itself.


Labour’s record

Labour spent years criticising National’s Roads of National Significance and when they came to office they set about stopping them.

Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter published a new Government Policy Statement on Transport that radically reshaped the country’s transport priorities.

Twyford said New Zealand has “overinvested in roads for decades” while his Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter made disparaging comments about “car fascists” on twitter.

$5 billion was cut from the state highway budget and 12 projects were immediately “re-evaluated”, code for “delayed” or “cancelled”. Included in this list were important projects like Melling, Petone to Grenada, the East West Link, and the Tauranga Northern Link.

Almost two years in, the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council wrote to her to tell her infrastructure was at “crisis point” and urged the government to get on with building the 12 re-evaluated projects.

Phil Twyford said the projects were of low economic value and refused.

Having been told by the Reserve Bank, Treasury, the PM’s Business Advisory Council and the National Party to actually get on and build something, the government has finally blinked.

We are proud of this public policy victory.

But we are deeply disappointed about the more than two years of faffing about to get here.

We could and should have been getting on with these projects right now. The Tauranga Northern Link for example, one of the most dangerous roads in the country, was out for tender when the government changed and cancelled the project. It’ll re-start again, but two years has been wasted.

National has won the political argument over roads. We need them; and we need more high quality four lane expressways. Julie Anne Genter says safety is her number on priority. Just one person has died on a National government four-lane expressway.

The key question for New Zealanders this year is: who do you trust to actually get on and build these roads?

The Party that believes in them, campaigned on them, and has a history of building them?

Or the Party that said they weren’t necessary, cancelled them, and has a history of failure in important projects?

On that note, let me talk briefly about light rail in Auckland, which is a slow moving public policy train-wreck.

Light rail in Auckland was the flagship promise of Labour on the campaign trail in 2017.

They said it would be built from the CBD to Mt Roskill by 2021, and then onto the airport by 2027.

Two years in, nothing has happened. There is no business case, no route, no costings, and no consents. In fact the government was still being advised last year that they had to clarify what the objectives of the project are!

Astonishingly, it seems that Phil Twyford can’t figure out if light rail is a mass transit project, if it is an urban regeneration project, and whether it should go to the airport.

Light rail in Auckland has actually managed to go backwards in the last two years. Here’s the timeline. Auckland Transport had a plan they were working on. The government changed and Phil Twyford put NZTA in charge of delivering it, as a central government priority. There was confusion about what the point of the project was.

Then “NZ Infra” turned up with an unsolicited proposal which seems to have seduced Ministers so completely the whole process has been turned on its head. Having put NZTA in charge of light rail, the government then got NZTA to assess the NZ Infra proposal, which dismissed it. There is debate about exactly what methodology they applied but there is no doubt they panned it.

The government pressed ahead anyway.

“NZ Infra” is now in a competitive process against NZTA, the government’s own agency, to design and build a light rail system. Just recently discovered Cabinet won’t be deciding on particular proposals – only who the delivery “partner” will be. Everything else is up for negotiation and discussion.

And allegedly the NZ Infra bid is totally different to the original light rail proposal – it has been reported in the media they are proposing grade separated driver-less trams (so above and/or below ground), with fewer stops, and faster journeys.

How can a proper comparison be made, particularly when the government is so unclear about its objectives?

Given we’re now apparently entertaining international interest in building rail in Auckland, why is NZ Infra the only bidder in the mix?

No proper answer to these questions has ever been given by the government.  

If this sounds farcical to you – you’d be right.

Where we’re heading

So that brings me to where we’re heading in transport.

Transport is going to be a major focus area for us this year.

We will take a significant, credible and costed transport package to the election. We intend to release it soon.

That package will be marked by three characteristics.

First, it will be a pipeline of projects. We want to set out a vision of what transport in our cities and regions could and should look like.

Industry has told us that they need a pipeline for forward planning and for certainty. Under National that pipeline existed, and it will do so again if we win government.

We should be talking about the big transformational projects of the future right now, and we will.

Second, it will be multi-modal.

The great modern cities of the world all have integrated multi-modal transport systems where public transport, walking, cycling, and increasingly scootering are valued parts of everyday life. Technology holds huge potential for transforming the way we get around our cities and interact with transport networks.

So expect to hear more from us about how to improve our buses, our rail networks, alongside our roads – and how we can use technology to decongest our cities and make it easier to get around.

Third, the package will be significant. No numbers here today, but I can assure you it will be bigger and better than the government’s package.

We are the party of infrastructure, and we intend to campaign on that message.


Last year we released a transport and infrastructure discussion document and I’d like to run briefly through what we’re proposing.

There’s lots in there, but I want to mention four things in particular.

  1. Switch from fuel tax to RUC
  2. Congestion pricing
  3. Integrated ticketing
  4. Governance reform

Fuel tax for RUC

First, we’re proposing quite a big change in the way we fund transport. Essentially we are proposing a switch from fuel tax towards road user charges.

Our current system is a mix of fuel tax, which is levied on petrol, road user charges, charged on diesel vehicles on a per-kilometre travelled basis, and vehicle licensing fees.

But fuel use is becoming a poor estimate of road use as vehicles become more modern and fuel-efficient, as this graph shows.

Since 2000, fuel consumption has slowly trended up. But there’s been a massive increase in fuel tax revenue – we’ve had to keep increasing fuel tax to pay for roading investment. In 1998, as little as 9.4 cents from every litre of petrol purchased went into the transport fund. This has now increased to 66 cents.

That will soon be unsustainable. Of course we welcome more fuel efficient vehicles and the move towards hybrids and electric vehicles. But roads still have to be paid for and we have big aspirations in this area.

Our proposal is to over time shift all vehicle users onto road user charges. Instead of fuel usage being a proxy for road usage, actual kilometres travelled would be measured and paid for. This means everyone on our roads would make a contribution to their upkeep.

This is also a progressive move. At the moment, owners of electric vehicles, who tend to be wealthy people like me, pay no road user charges at all. Meanwhile poorer people, who tend to own older and less fuel efficient cars, pay through the nose.

Congestion pricing

Our second big idea is congestion pricing, of which there’s been a bit of debate recently in Wellington.

Forecasts show New Zealand’s total vehicle kilometres travelled might increase by as much as 66 per cent by 2040, but New Zealand is already heavily congested.

The Tom Tom Traffic Index ranks Auckland as Australasia’s second most congested city, behind only Sydney. Wellington is Australasia’s fourth most congested city and Hamilton is tenth. Congestion costs our economy hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

The answer, as it is with so many fundamentally economic questions, it to put a price on road usage. At the moment it costs the same to drive on SH2 at midnight, when nobody wants to use the road, as it does at 7am, when everyone wants to be on it. Congestion is the result. By putting a price on congestion we encourage people to travel at different times of the day, or take a different route, and use public transport.

People are pretty familiar with the concept of paying more when demand is higher. It generally costs more to fly at 5pm if you book the day before than it does if you fly at midday and book three months out. Public transport has off peak and peak fares. Roads are one of the few things in life that cost the same, regardless of time or demand.

Congestion pricing isn’t a radical new idea. It is standard practice in many cities around the world and has been consistently recommended by experts here in New Zealand. Mayor Foster is in favour as is Phil Goff. It’s time to get on with it.

Integrated ticketing

Thirdly, I’m keen to get started on integrated ticketing. London’s Tube has accepted contactless cards since September 2014, allowing people to pay for their travel with a simple swipe of their credit card or even phone. The same system is integrated with the bus network, encouraging multi-modal use of the network and discounts for doing so. It is simple as possible to pay.

By comparison, people still pay for the train in Wellington the same way they did thirty years ago – with cardboard monthly passes or cash and coins. We can and must do better.

I’m aware that this is a complicated field and there have been years of arguments between Councils, government and NZTA over the issue. But we have to do better than now and that’s something we’ll do in government.

Governance Reform

Finally, just briefly on how transport is managed and governed in Wellington. The bustastrophe last year, aka as the “lasagne of failure”, demonstrated neatly the problem with public transport governance in Wellington. Both the Regional Council and City Councils at various times blamed each other, often not unfairly. There is no clear delineation about who is responsible for that. Accountability is opaque.

We’re proposing introducing new regional transport authorities in Wellington and Canterbury that would run the public transport systems (buses and trains) as well as manage cycling, parking and roading.

We’re interested in your feedback here. I’m pretty sceptical about organisational change as a vehicle for improvement. Too often I think politicians reorganise things for the sake of it and spend years treading water. So the case for change has to be a strong one and I’m interested in whether or not you think it’s been met.


Let me finish by talking about Wellington.

When National came to power in 2008 we had a great vision for the region – a four lane highway from Levin in the north, all the way through to the airport.

We made great progress on that, with the Kapiti Expressway and Transmission Gully. Over the other side of the hills we upgraded the SH2 interchange with SH58 at Haywards, advanced the Melling Interchange project and got the work started on Petone to Grenada.

I’m sure everyone in the room is aware of the debacle that was the Basin Flyover. I’m not going to relitigate the past, but there is no doubt that fighting over that has set the region back years. Hundreds of millions of dollars of central government investment were stymied because of that seemingly endless back and forth.

Let’s Get Wellington Moving was designed as a fresh start. National started the process. The aim was to let bygones be bygones, figure out what Wellingtonians want, get as much consensus as possible amongst key agencies, and design an integrated package that looks at the needs of the city as a whole rather than on a project-by-project basis.

It took too long, but the overall vision and package produced by the working group was a good one. I describe it as the “all of the above” option – a wider Terrace tunnel, undergrounding through Aro, a solution for the Basin, a second Mt Vic tunnel, rapid transit through the city, better public transport, and better walking and cycling connections.

The good news is that that the “all of the above” option is supported by Wellingtonians including the Chamber of Commerce, and my sense is there is a keen desire to get on with it.

Then Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter got involved. The officials presented the government with their recommended programme of investment in October 2018. The government sat on it and in April 2019 announced what they’d actually fund.

No extra Terrace tunnel.

No undergrounding.

A second Mt Vic tunnel pushed to 2030 or later.

Thanks to tireless work, largely by Nicola Willis, we now know that it was Julie Anne Genter’s personal intervention by way of a still-unreleased secret letter to Phil Twyford that pushed the second Mt Vic tunnel to 2030, if at all. The original intention was to have one underway by 2024.

Julie Anne Genter often says that in transport, we have to listen to the officials.

So what do the officials say about the second Mt Vic tunnel?

They say that it is likely to:

  • deliver more reliable travel times between the CBD and Wellington’s eastern suburbs/Airport
  • deliver more reliable travel times between the rest of the region, eastern suburbs and the Airport
  • reduce traffic volumes on Evans Bay Parade and Oriental Parade
  • enable rapid transit to be delivered by reducing traffic in Newtown
  • improve walking/cycling connections to the eastern suburbs.

Critically, they say “delaying or removing the additional Mt Victoria tunnel would remove several benefits associated with pressures arising during the construction of rapid transit through Newtown and between Newtown and the Airport.”

This is not a debate about cars v buses or induced demand moving more cars onto the road.

A second Mt Vic tunnel is critical for Wellington’s future. Not just for people going to the east to drop their kids at Saturday sport, or driving to the airport – but for commuters from the east heading to the city on buses, or cyclists heading out to Weta Workshop, or wherever.

Let me be very clear: we think it is ridiculous that in New Zealand’s capital city, in the 21st century, we are still using a two lane tunnel to the airport built in 1931.

Let me comment briefly on light rail in Wellington.

We do need a rapid transit solution for Wellington. But the obsession some have with light rail as the answer looks like ideology over common sense.

The 2015 Wellington Public Transport Spine study said that light rail had a Benefit Cost Ratio of 0.05 to 0.1. Now I’m not someone who thinks BCRs are the be-all and end-all, but that is absurdly low. The preferred option of the study was bus rapid transit. Light rail is almost five times more expensive.

So we’re pretty sceptical of light rail. Bus priority lanes and bus rapid transit, moving to trackless trams, looks much more promising.


So what will we do?

Well perhaps I would say this as the MP for Hutt South, but we shouldn’t forget about the region outside the city.

The government has just confirmed it will fund the new Melling Interchange, after delaying it for over a decade. That’s really great news, even if it took two years of protest to get them to move. There’s lots more to be done in the Hutt Valley and beyond and you’ll hear more from me about that over the course of the year.

What I am committing to today is that National will have a comprehensive transport package for Wellington city and the region.

Labour takes Wellington for granted and LGWM and last week’s infrastructure announcement proves it.

We intend to rework Let’s Get Wellington Moving, building on what has already been agreed.

Our focus will be on making it easier for people to get around, unlocking new housing opportunities, and reducing congestion.

That package won’t just be about Wellington city, but the wider region. It will be big, it will be bold, and it actually will get Wellington moving.