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Transport’s not a left/right political issue

As I discussed yesterday the debate on big urban issues of housing and transport far too frequently descends into left/right debates and today I’m looking at transport.

One of the reasons this has come up is that we’ve had some interesting conversations on Twitter in the last few days with a couple of Nationals MPs, which apart from highlighting a scary lack of understanding about transport, inevitably touched on the issue about whether the transport policy that we generally advocate on this blog fits into the traditional “left-right” political spectrum. Here’s what the fairly new National MP Paul Foster-Bell said on Twitter:

We have a fairly diverse range of bloggers on this site: a couple of economists, a transport planner, an urban designer, an architectural photographer, a planning student etc and of course myself who most recently working in banking and from our discussions I think we have some reasonably broad political viewpoints.

Furthermore, many of the key changes to transport and planning policy that we have advocated for strongest over the past few years hardly align with any traditional definition of a “left worldview”. Let’s take a look a few of our most common arguments:

  1. Cut back or cancel some of the Roads of National Significance that do not provide value for money. This seems to me like basic fiscal conservatism – as some of the RoNS projects are simply a huge amount of money being spent on a problem that really doesn’t warrant such high investment. Puhoi-Wellsford could be replaced by Operation Lifesaver, Transmission Gully is just overkill for a city that’s hardly growing in population, the Kapiti Expressway has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.2, the Hamilton bypass will carry fewer vehicles in 20 years time than the Kopu bridge did when it was a single lane… and so on. This seems like cutting wasteful spending, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they want to do?
  2. Built the Congestion Free Network instead of the Integrated Transport Programme. Ultimately the CFN proposal is at least $10 billion cheaper than the current transport programme for Auckland. It probably has a much higher chance of achieving the many targets that Auckland has set for its future transport outcomes than the ITP is able to meet (although that’s not hard as the ITP failed to achieve just about any of its targets). Similarly to above, this is achieved through chopping out an enormous amount of wasteful spending on unnecessary projects (both road and rail) – yet again, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they support?
  3. Built complete Streets. Democracy equality and choice are meant to be good things aren’t they? Most of our roads focus solely on the task of moving as many vehicles as possible and give scant regard for anyone not in a car. Building complete streets that treat each user equally and allow people to have a real choice in how they get around is the ultimate form of transport democracy.
  4. Improve walkability. We’ve seen both locally and internationally that when there is a focus on improving the walkability and the pedestrian environment (that includes wheeled pedestrians) a couple of significant things happen. One is that people shop more boosting local retail, perhaps the best example of this is the upgrade of Fort St to a shared space which has seen the hospitality retailers revenue increase by a staggering 400%. The second thing is that people walking (and cycling) more is good for them, improving health and therefore reducing long term costs to the health system. This is further enhanced as often these improvements also see a reduction in traffic crashes. So once again we see a case where we can lower costs while also increasing revenue and therefore tax at the same time.
  5. Get rid of Minimum Parking RequirementsThis key proposal is to get rid of a current regulation that causes more harm than good, that adds significant cost onto developers (thereby discouraging development and growth) and often just adds regulatory churn cost for no gain (as it seems most applications for parking waivers appear to be granted). I would have thought this aligns quite well with a “right of centre” political ideology where reducing regulation (especially regulation that harms economic activity and growth) is a very very good thing.
  6. Relax Planning Rules to give people more Housing Choice. This was covered yesterday but worth repeating again. Most planning rules limit development potential in existing urban areas: whether that’s through height limits, yard setbacks, density controls, parking requirements, minimum unit sizes or whatever. Through the Unitary Plan process we have advocated for (and will continue to do so) the relaxation of planning controls – particularly in areas where it makes good sense to allow high density developments to make best use of existing infrastructure. Similarly to parking controls, this is a relaxation of current regulation that significantly limits development potential and the prospects of economic growth through making better use of inner parts of the city. The relaxation/elimination of economically damaging regulation should be music to a right-wingers ears you’d think.

There are probably many more examples than above, but they give a good overview of why transport policy (and land-use policy) really doesn’t fit well into a traditional “left-right” ideological spectrum. We could easily point out how bizarre it is that our current supposedly centre-right government has significantly increased petrol taxes to spend on a series of very dubious mega-projects in the form of the RoNS. That seems rather more “tax and spend” than fiscal conservatism.

Furthermore, if you look internationally there are many examples of centre-right political parties taking public transport seriously. In Britain, the current Conservative government is making a big contribution to the £15.9 billion Crossrail project in London and is also likely to spend even more money on the High Speed 2 rail project. That government seems to understand the economic importance of having good rail infrastructure. For example, Crossrail massively increases the residential catchment of the Canary Wharf employment area – somewhat similar to how the CRL vastly increases the residential catchment of the city centre. London Mayor Boris Johnson is a big champion of not only Crossrail but also getting more people to ride a bike and is planning to invest huge amounts of money in cycle infrastructure. In Australia, the centre-right New South Wales government is championing and making a massive funding contribution to the North West Rail Link project. Even in Auckland we have business groups who politically are considered “right of centre” supporting projects like the City Rail Link and improved cycling infrastructure.

It’s interesting to try to understand this political divide through other lenses than a traditional “left-right” spectrum. Pro-urban and suburban/anti-urban is perhaps a better lens in my opinion – particularly because it seems to explain better why some right-wing parties (like the Republicans in the USA, the current Liberal Government in Australia and the National government here in NZ) appear to be sceptical at best about public transport, while others (e.g. NSW government and UK government) seem to really understand the importance of public transport.

Perhaps this “pro-urban” and “suburban/anti-urban” divide even exists within the current National Party. It was interesting that John Key (an Aucklander who has lived in big overseas cities for much of his life) was the person who changed the government’s position on City Rail Link while Steven Joyce (grew up in New Plymouth and now lives on a lifestyle block in Auckland) and Gerry Brownlee (from Christchurch) were apparently the biggest opponents of that change. Or how we get current Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse saying this on auto-dependency:

From Dunedin, in case you were wondering.

91 comments to Transport’s not a left/right political issue

  • Nick R

    [sarcasm]Damn pinko lefities, always harping on with their freedom, personal choice, fiscal conservatism and deregulation agendas. Bloody communist that![/sarcasm]

  • Phil

    Nick – the problem with pinko lefties is they often wrap their own agenda up as ‘freedoms’ but I remain unconvinced that people wanting to steal from the rich to feather their own nests represents freedom.

    • George D

      This ^ is the problem. (I mean that quite sincerely).

      The problem is a psychological one. The first part of the problem arises from mistrust. When Michael Woodhouse states that cars are freedom, he appears to be suggesting that the alternative being proposed is that all people are shepherded towards trains, and other transport modes that might not be appropriate for them. Rather than seeing a CRL and Congestion Free Network as ends-in-themselves, they see them as means towards the effective restriction of free movement of motor-vehicles.

      This leads them towards a conclusion that seems nightmarish – the strong restriction of personal freedom. The second part of the problem is a definitional one. Woodhouse, Foster-Bell, David Farrar and others appear to identify the car with freedom, because they identify the autonomy of the automobile as a strong one, as compared to the train or the bus, which are fixed to certain lines and locations. Where myself and others differ is in expressing the human, rather than the vehicle as the autonomous agent. A person is fixed to a vehicle between two points, and then they leave that vehicle and have absolute freedom of movement.

      This is true, except where that movement is impaired; mostly by motor vehicles, which leads the authors of this blog to claim that the motor vehicle is often an agent against freedom. Similarly, a persons finances are theirs to spend as they choose. However, when a person is effectively forced to use a motor-vehicle and spend the considerable sums required to purchase and operate it, and subsidise the use of motor-vehicles through taxation and government-guaranteed for-profit roading schemes, that freedom is restricted. If I or Patrick Reynolds want to buy the latest issue of Architecture NZ magazine, or a new camera, but our income is instead directed towards transport that is more expensive to use, our freedom has been restricted.

    • How is advocating a reduction in government spending and avoiding tax increases stealing from the rich? Sounds like the complete opposite to me.

      • Phil

        Nick – my comments were a generalisation of left politics insistence of the re-distribution of wealth. I think we have all seen this social experiment attempted in lots of different countries and it simply does not work. Over taxing the rich and rewarding the lower income earners via hand outs doesn’t make one person better off – it makes two people poor.

        • You’d be hard pressed to convince me (and many other ‘lefties’) that the rich are over taxed in NZ.
          33% is not a lot as far as income tax is concerned (historically, anyway) and we don’t have any stamp duty or capital gains tax.
          Unless you’re comparing rates with the US, a country that was founded by people who didn’t want to pay tax, clearly a totally different foundation than NZ.
          Anyway, I think about ‘redistribution of wealth’ as more about ‘compassion’. There’s poor folks in this country, and we should be proud of our social safety net.
          Yay, politics.
          :)

        • “I think we have all seen this social experiment attempted in lots of different countries and it simply does not work. ” – Like where? Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland? All the countries with the lowest unemployment rates and debt in Europe.

          Or are you still obsessed with talking about Communist countries that collapsed 24 years ago? From your “pinko leftie” comment it does appear you are still living in the Cold War era. Reds (or Greens) under your bed?

          • Phil

            Have you been to Switzerland? I dont think the taxation regime (3% in Zug) is consistent with the leftist fiscal policy of France (top tax rate of 75%) or the UK under Labour (top rate of 50% +11% NI).
            I am talking about the policy of over taxing the workers just so a large lazy percentage of the community can have subsidised housing, Sky TV, and access to public funds to support alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Productivity makes a country wealthy – socialism doesnt.

          • Nick R

            Is 4.4% really a large lazy percentage?

          • Dan C

            Phil. In UK under Labour, it is wrong to suggest people paying 50% income tax pay 11% NI on top of that.

            50% (now 45%) kicks in when your income is above 150K, aka NZ$300,000.

            National Insurance meanwhile drops to 2% long before that, once you are earning above 45K. So if you are on say NZ$350K then your marginal combined rate was 52%, but nowdays is 47%

            And don’t forget if you are earning under a mere 100K (NZ$200K) that you first deduct the 10K tax free allowance before calculating your tax bill.

            Back to the topic, how are ‘lefties’ stealing from the rich to provide PT, yet national aren’t stealing from the rich to provide roading? It all comes from taxes.

          • Dan C

            Can you advise who the Tories are stealing from to spend 1 billion pounds on cycle infrastructure in London, plus billions more on cross-rail, and HS2?

          • Ah classic Phil, ignore the examples he cant defend and focus on the one that may have some vague contradiction.

            I have spent quite a lot of time in Switzerland. However, I never mentioned taxation – Switzerland has no need to have high income tax as it lives very well off all the financial transactions going through its system.

            However, you talked about “rewarding the lower income earners via hand outs” and it does have a very robust and generous welfare system. The state also supplied very good quality education and health systems (as does NZ) which really a form of social welfare as the low income eraners benefit disporportionately from good public systems (as the rich just go private). It also invests heavily in public transport and cycling with quite high cycling levels, even in some of its hilly cities.

        • Sailor Boy

          Doesn’t seem to have made Sweden poor

    • James B

      The problem with right wing nutcases is that they believe in an absolute meritocracy. That is the idea that if you are poor you somehow deserve it because you haven’t worked hard enough, aren’t smart enough, or have made poor decisions. I wonder what would happen if all the police, teachers, nurses, taxi drivers, retail workers, hospo workers, defence force personnel, and all the others who work relativity low paid jobs decided to become investment bankers, foreign exchange traders etc… I think we’d miss them a lot more than an elite group who spent the better part of two decades making money by slowly burning down the economy. The fact that rich people stay rich is thanks to a lot of poor people doing necessary jobs. The fact that they want to get paid a wage they can live on does not mean that they are ‘stealing’ from the rich. Think of it as payment for services rendered.

  • Quoting: Perhaps this “pro-urban” and “suburban/anti-urban” divide even exists within the current National Party.

    It does exist and they are there. The only problem is that the urbanists (as you put it) are not the dominant voice within the Party at the moment. None the less those urbanists (usually the (true) liberal faction rather than the conservative faction) you will find around chipping away quietly and quite happy to work those from the other side of the political coin in wanting and trying to progress a more 21st Century Auckland (for lack of better of an idiom). That said you should expect disagreements as well but that is part of a living and breathing democracy – the catch is who is the most mature in the debate rather than bogging it down in point scoring (hint both sides are equally as guilty)

    Furthermore the Left/Right split is inadequate in explaining the situation especially for the Right Wing.

    The political compass and its four points is more adequate in explaining. Within the Right Wing you have Neo Liberals and Neo Conservatives (the Left have Social Conservatives and Social Liberals). True Neo Liberals will happily back points 1-6 made above although a couple with difficulty as Neo Libs might not recognise “public goods” or the “common good.” That said there are Social Liberals that occupy National that will recognise public goods and the common good. It is your Neo Conservative area where you will run into difficulty (and the very area that deeply annoys me) and the ones who spearhead sentiments in the current debate.

    I’ll leave it at that as this gets into a political philosophy argument that has the tendency to drag on and on

  • Harvey Specter

    A line could be stolen from Kim Dotcom who described his party as not Left or right but UP.

    Public transport should be seen as a left or right issue, it should be seen as a forward or backwards issue.

  • Harvey Specter

    I think one issue is that Politically, the Greens have aligned themselves with (far) left wing economics. This has caused a knee jerk reaction that since public transport is Green, then it must be left.

    There needs to be a new “Green’ party which either just sticks to its knitting (ie. no economic policies, and just supports the major party provided they get a green policy supported in return) or is aligned with Right economics.

    • John Polkinghorne

      I’ve been something a bit similar myself Harvey – and the current situation makes it hard for National to contemplate the Greens as a coalition partner, which I think is disappointing. Perhaps even tending to steer National away from green-friendly policies.

      • Harvey Specter

        When the Greens first got elected in, they got some good policy wins with National such as the Home insulation scheme. Similarly, the Maori party have had some good wins for their key cause (ie. Maori) by siding with National (though have potentially damaged their brand in the process – they should have stuck to the cross benches but supported when required).

        Once Russell Norman took over the Greens, his near communist views seem to have taken over there green policies though they try to present them as one in the same.

        green (deliberate little ‘g’) policies and right wing economics can go hand in hand. The Green Party and National cannot unfortunately.

        • George D

          Harvey, the Greens were always a left wing party. The six Greens that got elected included Rod Donald, Keith Locke, Nandor Tanzcos and Sue Bradford. They’ve got better at communicating with the media and the electorate, and this is why you hear them talking economics so often – because it is important to people. You can and should make your own conclusions about what they stand for, but they haven’t shifted along the spectrum much (if anything towards the centre).

          If you want a right-wing pro-environment party, you’re going to have to either convince National or another party, or wait for the emergence of a new one.

          • Harvey Specter

            True but their Green policies use to take precedence. I no longer think that is the case though it could just be their way to get into the media. Should they get into Govt with Labour, it will be interesting to see how far left they may Labour swing.

            A right wing Green party would fail, IMHO, so it is a shame that greens have taken this stance. A lot of younger business people, especially in tech, do see a future in a greener world.

      • There was a “blue-green” party at one point – the Progressive Greens led by that fellow from Forest & Bird. It got nowhere. I think you’re confusing cause with effect – the Greens tend to the left because big business and the Right continuously promote high-carbon use and global warming denial, because that’s where the profit is.

  • Matt I think you got it with the pro-urban/anti-urban thing.

    I think that the problem is most (current) Nat MPs are from small towns where cars do work (I’m not saying other designs don’t work). The problem they can’t wrap their heads around is that car-dominant planning does not scale up very well to cities the size of Auckland and arguably also Wellington. The land that must be dedicated to moving and storing cars scales up heavily, and the benefits taper off then go into decline.

    • This is a little pedantic but cars work everywhere. I think you mean small towns where cars-only can work.

      It’s a simple but important distinction (and one I’m sure you get already). Over on another page we have Phil rabbiting on about an anti-car agenda. There is no anti-car agenda, just an anti-only-cars agenda, and a pro-alternatives, pro-choice agenda.

      I certainly wouldn’t advocate people eat McDonalds for every single meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year. Does it mean I hate McDonalds and have an anti McDonalds agenda? Of course not, I actually eat their relatively often and find it very useful for accessible convenience.

    • This is of course the point. Driving is the best of options in places and at times when the numbers choosing it don’t render it inefficient and less desirable. This is a function of space. In areas of low population and dispersed habitation it is an unrivalled mode. For getting from the farm to the small provincial town what could be better? This will not change.

      Cities the world over all function better with a mix of systems and especially a core reliance on modes that are much much more spatially efficient than the private car, especially for periods of peak travel demand. New Zealand is a country that is mostly made up of sparse population concentrations outside of Auckland and Wellington. People from other parts of the country just don’t get how different Auckland’s needs are. This is especially compounded by the relatively recent growth of our one city of scale to a critical mass.

      This change appears sudden because of an active attempt to prolong the provincial model in Auckland through a multi-decade and massive investment in cutting motorways through the urbs in order to serve more people in ever more distant locations. This programme has simply delayed the obviousness of the need for urban solutions. People whose entire experience and whose deep values were formed in the rest of the country ‘just know’ that driving is the only mode ever needed. Furthermore there is a cultural memory of Auckland as a smaller provincial town, especially among older people, so there are plenty even here who can be sold the lie that just one more motorway is all that is needed to make Auckland function as well as Napier or Nelson as a driving only place. It can’t and it won’t. It’s a power story with many interested advocates: ‘we are the people who can build the right roads.’

      Cities require city-shaped thinking and city-shaped solutions just as the country-side needs its own particular programmes. To argue against this you need to argue against the idea that Auckland is a city. Plenty try, usually using coded language because it is a plainly silly idea. They use phrases like ‘Auckland is too spread out’, ‘Auckland doesn’t have a centre’, ‘Auckland’s geography is unsuited to it being a city’. All delusions.

      We are seeing a change in the politicisation of this divided view. The consensus that the Council has found for the CRL for example shows that this is the case, with groups traditionally aligned with the country party, National, like the Employers and Manufacturers Association breaking ranks and and forcefully backing it. A new consensus is in the process of emerging around the politics of both transport and housing but will take the next electoral cycle to work it’s way through. Left/right is just not a very useful lens to look through at the forces at work in this process. Fascinating.

  • I do wonder how the National Party preselects what become their MPs as they do seem to throw up people who are completely unaware. Evidenced by “anti-roading pro-rail/cycle bias which suggests left worldview” which is just dumb. Whenever I’ve met them in person I don’t come away thinking “gee s/he’s really smart”, which I have done meeting Labour members (but not always) and Greens members (almost always). It’s not just transport, but environmental, media and economic policy too.

  • Waspman

    This should be about common sense not left right but it just so happens to fall into those categories.

    Freedom is a gridlocked road and if you come to Auckland sometime you can see it, but its not pretty. This has long been the problem in Auckland (not Dunedin!) but God knows everybody in this government has missed that point. And the proven failed cure is apparently to put tax payer money into carving up another few hundred hectares (that could be put to far better use) to build more of these self fulfilling gridlock roads adinfinitum?

    Ironically when some of us tried to get free on our gridlocked roads by using motorcycles as our PT was not up to it Mr Woodhouse’s party fleeced us with a whacking big ACC levy rises to commend our free spirits. Good one dude. Christ no wonder we are where we are,

  • Ran Derson

    Freedom is being able to choose how I travel. Forcing me to take a car because public transport is broken is not freedom.

  • Phil

    Forcing 90% of Aucklanders to pay for PT they have no desire to use is not freedom either.
    The reality is of course that we do need to invest and encourage PT but at the same time accept that in our society the majority of voters want money spent on roads as the priority. You may not like it but it is true.

    • The problem is not that they pay for it, but what they pay for is not useful to them. If it is useful to them and they ignore it, then that’s their problem. Having some libertarian minded “I’m not paying for a community good” is not constructive. Ie there is a level of community good that does need to be there and as much as they view themselves as individuals they are part of the community too whether they like or not. So philosophically such libertarianism ( i.e.this overly simpleton definition of freedom) is broken. That’s why when a libertarian speaks I always think of saying, “shoosh until you’re a grown up”

    • Poor phil and his ‘forcing’ we are all ‘forced’ to pay for roads and parking and traffic accidents too. But of course that’s called being a member of society, a thing no doubt you don’t believe in and feel you are above…

    • If 90% of Aucklanders (which is more than actually commute to work by car every day in Auckland) want to drive their car, how do you explain the surveys that consistently show about 60% would like more PT options? And how do you explain the success of Britomart and the Northern Busway? Which have both exceeded all projections by a long way.

      You can keep saying what you think Aucklanders want but there is a lot of evidence that it is not true. And unlike Whale Oil and other blogs this one depends on evidence and facts – not anecdotes or what is “common sense”.

      • Phil

        I am not arguing the success of the Northern Busway or Britomart. I think both are a great investment for Auckland and I look forward to Britomart being enhanced with the CRL. What I am saying is that the majority of Aucklanders want priority on road spending. I read recently that a survey in Auckland said the second harbour crossing was the top priority of people questioned and that improved PT was a distant 4th choice. What ever the merits of PT no Government can ignore the peoples voice and that voice seems to want more roads. IS anyone on this blog actually going to argue more Aucklanders travel on PT than in private cars – really?

        • No of course not Phil – more people drive than take PT or active modes. That is a fact but it is a fact about now and assumes nothing would/should change. The question is, is that the best result for Auckland? Would Auckland be better off if more people used PT/active modes. I, and many other people, believe that Auckland would be better off with more use of PT and active modes. That isnt some crazy theory, there are lots of very well respected people with lots of commercial experience who believe that.

          60 years ago it was the reverse and Auckland was predominantly a PT city. That was changed with very little consultation or discussion with the general public despite the large amount of infrastructure in place for PT – there was nowhere near the level of civil society we have now. Auckland changed, perhaps not for the better, and can change again.

          Yes the government should spend more money on roads than PT/cycling – just as it does in the Netherlands and pretty much every country in the world – at least partly because it is so much more expensive to build. But the current funding balance is not correct if we want to change Auckland. I think we do need to change it.

        • Dan C

          “What I am saying is that the majority of Aucklanders want priority on road spending.”

          Nonsense, polls have shown for years that Aucklanders want public transport spending prioritised over roading improvements.

          “Public transport improvements have been nominated by 54.6 per cent of participants in the latest poll, taken” in Oct 2013

          http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11143807

          What is the source you are alluding to?

        • “no Government can ignore the peoples voice ”
          Do you really believe this? Honestly? The country recently held a referendum about asset sales and the government essentially said, “we don’t give a shit about what you think!”

          Social progress in NZ has occurred largely not from legislating the wishes of the people, but from embracing what seems right -the vote for women and equal pay come to mind.

          A progressive government would see, just as large cities around the world have seen, that effective public transport is a vital part of moving people around with freedom. That freedom is the ability to move on trains without traffic congestion and the freedom to choose this system if you wish.

          Does public transport have to be a financial noose around our neck? A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the much vaunted public bus ways in Curitiba, Brazil. My initial impression was how quiet the roads were. And then low and behold a three part bus turns up loaded to the gunnels. (I will post pictures at a later date.) And then another, similarly packed. It seems that the public of that city have embraced buses. That apparently was the aim of the city fathers when they introduced the system (refer Wikipedia) and the first step was to make it very affordable. (My recollection is the fare was 80 cents).

          This system has become so successful that the city has found it necessary to start building rail (google). And the expectation is that this new line will open and from day one be making a profit – in a city of 1.5 million people.

          Travelling through the under developed South America made me cringe at what they have achieved in the way of public transport compared to the little we have.

          • I think Phil will see the massive hole in your argument – Curitibans speak Portuguese, so obviously they are completely different from people in Auckland.

            Aucklanders speak English (mostly) and so will refuse to use such a useful and effective transport system. They will prefer to sit in their cars in congestion – it is just a fact of nature.

    • Harvey Specter

      Those who dont use public transport do get something useful from public transport – clear roads.

    • James

      We should stop pandering to and subsidising 19th century technology, i.e. the filthy, primitive, obscenely inefficient ICE-based vehicles which dominate our transport patterns.

  • Pete g

    Having visited Dunedin for the first time over the Christmas period, and SH1 running through the city centre you can just about see why Michael Woodhouse would hold those views. Driving through felt more like a race track than city centre with. I would hate to see the clash when the students arrive back into town and walk everywhere around the campus place.

    • Luke C

      Dunedin actually quite an urban centre for its size, especially compared to Hamilton and Tauranga. The 20,000 University students live a very walkable lifestyle, with most housing, shops, Uni and the centre of town within a 10 to 15 minute walk. Those that do have cars either just presume they will need one because they did at home, or those who who do a lot of active recreation. However still a small minority. As for the rest of town does have a strong centre, with no suburban mall or suburban big box areas. PT variable, a few of the bus routes run (old tram routes of course) great frequency all day, but many of the others dreadful and on weekend multiple bus routes are joined together into awful windy one-way loops. Another low for Dunedins bus system was one operator for weekday, and a different one for evenings and weekends, which also meant different fares (!!!!) and no ability to use 10 trip tickets. Truly awful, though may have been fixed now.

  • Riccardo

    Agree with Harry.

    The left must avoid yesterdays economic debates and arguments, and stick to the here and now. Cities are a source of hypocrisy for the righ because they want their cake ie agglomeration but they can’t eat it too in the sense of preserving car mobility like they say they want.

    The other thing i dont understand is where the ‘muscular’ left has gone. The rightists learnt under the likes of Karl Rove, the current Repugnant Party strategists etc how to really fire their bases, how to agreesively push their ideas into the public domain, have media hard hitters etc. We seem to have a left dependent on mild mannered scientists, academics, grassroots types who think everything is resolves by consensus at village level.

    The left should be constantly firing their middle class, urban base to ask:

    Where’s my future gone?
    Where’s my clean air?
    Why are oligopolists ripping me off and getting away with it?
    Why can’t i buy a high rise apartment within walking distance of my work if i want?
    And always desribe social issues as freedom ie why cant i sleep with whoever i want? Celebrate my minority culture or worship whatever religion i want? Take away the right’s believe they have a monopoly on freedom issues

    • nonsense

      Yes yes yes. And righters must be aware that cities are typically sources of votes for the left (in europe at least, don.t know about nz) therefore they try to cut them down. Auckland is a big village and wellington is dieing kind of stuff

    • Sailor Boy

      Agreed completely don’t know how the right have managed to convince the media that they are freedom lovers

  • conan

    “anti-roading pro-rail/cycle bias”

    Why does he frame it like that? We have roads, large amounts of them. Does advocating spending less money on *new* roads and more money on alternative infrastructure because you believe it is a better investment make you ‘anti-roads’?

    “as some of the RoNS projects are simply a huge amount of money being spent on a problem that really doesn’t warrant such high investment.”

    As you say, the ‘right’ should be looking for the best/lowest spend for each project, but the current government which is nominally right wing is acting like the socialist governments in France in the 80s and 90s who built massive motorways all across the country (though usually with a TGV close by).

  • Actually in that survey 26% replied that the motorway tunnel was their first priority, while the other 74% picked one of the public transport projects instead. So of the four it rated highest by a few percent, but only picked by a quarter of respondents. Some for of improved PT was favoured 3:1. That is perhaps the more revealing way to present the numbers.

    However if you told them the harbour motorway would require a $6 toll on both the existing g and new crossings, I wonder what the response rate would be.

      • Patrick R

        2010 survey.

        And I agree, next harbour crossing: Skypath, Next next harbour crossing: Rail tunnel.

        Done.

      • Dan C

        the 2nd harbour crossing by tunnel includes rail. So you can hardly count it as people wanting roading and not PT.

        The other 3 options are exclusively rail/PT. So 89% want us to focus on exclusively on PT. The other 38% want a road/rail harbour crossing.

        And if you add up all the options you come to 127%

      • Nick R

        Yep thats the one, sorry I got my figures too low. Apparently it’s 89% that picked a passenger transit only project as top priority. Sorry, should have rechecked the source rather than relying on memory.

        • Phil

          Stop trying to be disingenuous.

          I do not disagree with PT spending. I am just saying that in a city where so many people prefer to use their private cars, it is not unexpected that any Govt will prioritise road spending. It is of no surprise that many Aucklanders want a road tunnel under the harbour and just like your build it and they will come analogy of Britomart and The North Shore Busway – when we build the tunnel it will be used.

          I am all in favour of including rail in the tunnel design – it future proofs our options because one day Auckland’s population will justify putting rail to the Shore. However building a train set to Takapuna and Albany is not a urgent priority now, that transport requirement is covered by bus routes. Building a tunnel under the harbour to add resilience to our road (which includes buses) options between the two fastest growing populations of Auckland (CBD and Shore) is the top priority.

          You dont have to like this – I get that you want to live in a city where travel is mostly done by cycle and rail – but the sooner you accept that is not a vision shared by the majority of the community or our elected officials the happier you will be. Some of you will learn to accept and others will emigrate to Copenhagen or the Nederlands.

          • Dan C

            Phil,

            You are getting a few concepts mixed up. You are confusing what we have with what we need, and you are confusing what people do with what people want to do.

            By developed world standards we have invested very heavily in roading infrastructure at the expense of public transport. As a result for most Aucklanders the only realistic option for getting to work is to drive, so what they do is they drive. We have some of the highest car ownership rates in the world.[1]

            If we followed your logic, most people drive so we should mostly build roads, we never would have roads in the first place. Most people ride horses or walk, so we should just build walking tracks… but things change.

            Transport planning isn’t about looking at what we have, it’s about looking at what we need.

            Auckland has (long ago) got to the point where roading solutions don’t scale. There are too many people in auckland now needing to get to work at the same time, to afford the space for each of them to be driving their own vehicle.

            Aucklanders recognise this on the whole, and thus the polls show that most aucklanders want public transport projects prioritised over roading projects, even though most of them drive to work.

            Our elected officials would do well to note that the majority of our community wants PT spending prioritised.

            I do not disagree with road spending, i am just saying that in a city where so many people are stuck in congestion and have no realistic alternatives[2], it is not unexpected that we should focus on public transport spending, because public transport scales well as the population increases, avoiding the congestion we see all over Auckland.

            [1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita
            [2] My commute for instance, between the shore and kingsland, 25-45 mins by car for $2 return, or 55mins and $16 return by bus. Is PT a realistic option? The dynamics will change massively once the CRL is built. The CRL will give me a realistic PT choice, and that’s what aucklanders want.

          • Just because there is an adequate public transport to the Shore is absolutely no reason why there should NOT be a better one. The bus way has inadequacies and they are where buses have to share congested roads. This occurs largely in the city and this will get worse.
            While the bus way is adequate in delivering people to the city and back it is (totally) inadequate in most other functions e.g it doesn’t deliver people to the Shore’s largest mall, the North Shore Events Centre and the Stadium. It is inadequate because it does not yet reach the Albany park and ride.
            What if there was a train set? Would it remove the need for motorway widening around Albany? It would certainly remove the need for a full second harbour crossing and some North Shore councillors are starting to realise this.
            Overseas figures show exactly what is achievable using rail. Some of these results are outstanding. e.g I visited Santiago recently and apparently in excess of 2 million trips are made daily on their metro from a population of only 6 million. If we achieved the same proportion in Auckland we would be looking at about 400,000 per day or a staggering 146 million/year. And we are aiming for 20 million prior to building the CRL.
            Successful public transport has huge benefits for the population. It reduces our expense of imported oil and vehicles; reduces roading costs; arguably makes housing more affordable as apartments are built on train routes and reduces transport costs.
            For the thirty odd years that I have lived in Auckland we have been building roads and congestion gets worse. Why would the answer be to build yet more roads when this hasn’t worked over such a long period?

      • That article claims Aucklanders want a second harbour crossing? Wasn’t that completed in the late ’70s and massively upgraded in 2007?

  • Great post.

    Freedom is an interesting word, and often misused. I enjoy the freedom to email, browse the internet or read something when commuting by train, and the freedom to choose to take my car if circumstances mean that is a more convenient option.

  • Sanctuary

    Since the political right these days is really just a bolshevik project with a religious belief in the singular benefits of authoritarian capitalism and free markets it follows that PT is a left right issue, for at least the right.

    The idea of planning offends the principle of the magical corrective power of the free market, which the right don’t like – but since most of the right are much more authoritarian than they are libertarian, rules and regulations are acceptable to the right if you can convince them it keeps the proles away from their suburb, or whatever.

    But public transport is much worse. Much, much worse. Promoting efficient public transport as an absolute good implies the planet has but finite resources, which strikes at the core religious tenet of the right wing economic belief system – that infinite growth is always going to be possible and is always going to be an unalloyed good. This irrational belief in the possibility of infinite growth is also why the right prefer delusion to accepting that climate change is happening. Public transport, like climate change, is a heresy that must be resisted at all costs by the right’s true acolytes of capitalism.

    Unfortunately, the local political right takes many of its tonal cues from hard right US media outlets like Fox News or from any number of local repeater websites. Their Tea Party like rhetoric and political paranoia means public transport is for them a left/right issue, because these people see everything through a radicalised capitalist ideological lens. Adherents of public transport have to accept that the radicalised right will not attack them on the merits of their arguments in a free democratic society, but rather as illegitimate thought-criminals who need to be ideologically purged from the public sphere. The modern tabloid press loves the loons, not the learned so PT proponents should not dismiss this vocal section of the right as vulgar crazies, but rather needs to understand that they have to constantly, tirelessly, patiently and repetitively re-state their case in the face of zombie facts, and build genuine public support, to get transport reform.

  • Riccardo

    I long for a new Left

    One that drops the Socialist shibboleths and accepts the fundamental limitations of the state, but promotes freedom. It tackles the worst the Right directly – the covert desire for Fascism and Control. Patriarchy and Domination. Racism. Militarism.

    A Left that can punch. Look the Teabaggers straight in the eye and fire back. Looks at a biased media and creates its own to replace it. Calls corporate and political corruption for what it is, rather than trying to silently profit from it.

    There is all the evidence that is needed that public transport addresses market failures of congestion and pollution, and that some road advocates and rightwingers are lying about the effectiveness of car-based cities. Get to work people, stop them!

  • jonno1

    Wow, thank goodness this is a politically neutral blog. Imagine the rhetoric if it were partisan! Still, at least the RWNJs allow – no, insist upon – free speech; that’s got to be a plus.

    • The blog is politically neutral and personally I get frustrated with both sides due to this kind of left/right politicisation of everything. Of course that doesn’t mean our readers are politically neutral.

      • Frank McRae

        I get frustrated with the unuseful left / right division of everything too. I think Louis CK summed it up best:

        “Some things I think are very conservative, or very liberal. I think when someone falls into one category for everything, I’m very suspicious. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have the same solution to every issue.”

      • jonno1

        Matt, I accept that you personally strive for political neutrality – that’s why I return here (because you and John P at least, endeavour to present factual information and considered opinion). I also admire your editorial policy in that you seldom block anyone, however outrageous their comments might be.

        However, the blog clearly is actively associated with and endorses Generation Zero. When this first came to light a while back I naively pointed out their political leanings (as a well-intentioned warning, thinking you were unaware of this and not realising that you actually endorsed them!). Gen Zero undoubtedly comprises a group of intelligent young people who are absolutely entitled to express their worldview as a pressure group, but they are far from politically neutral (see their own website and Wikipedia profile). They may well have some good ideas (eg for a CFN), but by their own admission their sole raison d’etre is hard-left political, and formal association with them (without any disclaimer) does your cause no favours at all.

        I would be equally concerned if you actively endorsed some hard-right organisation, such as the Heartland Institute (that’s the only one I can think of right now that might be construed as hard-right!).

        • conan

          Jonno1 what makes Gen Zero ‘hard-left’ and where do they admit that? I’m looking at their about page on their website and this stood out:

          “These solutions will not come from one minority, one political party, or one ideology. These solutions come from real New Zealanders, from all backgrounds joining together under a central vision.

          It is time for New Zealand to step up, act responsibly and secure a safe thriving zero carbon Aotearoa”

          • jonno1

            Fair question conan. Well, you’ve found one example already: “Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation, was founded with the central purpose of creating a generation-wide movement of young Kiwis working together to secure a safe and thriving zero carbon Aotearoa (I assume by “carbon” they’re actually referring to carbon dioxide).

            Their Wikipedia page associates them with 350.org, WWF, and Greenpeace, all hard-left organisations. Also “In April 2013 Generation Zero welcomed the focus on the Electricity Industry by the Green Party and Labour Party and called for a National Party policy response. Generation Zero in May 2013 expressed concern that the Government is acting undemocratically by rushing through legislation that will undermine local council control over housing.” But if Wikipedia has it wrong, then I stand corrected.

          • Jonno you call environmental organisations ‘hard left’ that is just your characterisation and a poor one. The word conservation and conservative have the same root and for good reason. Both are, or at least used to be, about not losing things of value. I think your confusion arises from the takeover of Conservative politics [from conservatives] by neo-liberals. This ideology is all about a radical and wrecking programme wildly distant from conservatism, and conservation..

            The people that saved Vancouver and the main Australian cities from the radical cuts of urban motorways [unlike Auckland] were not pinkos or greenies [in your negative characterisation] but community minded small c conservatives that valued and understood mundane and unfashionable ideas about continuity, community, and built heritage.

            Sadly it is the right that has been subverted and taken over by a radical minority, and so cleverly, as someone like you can’t even see it, but projects your fears outward onto imagined bogeymen….

            Historically the ‘hard left’ was all about a heartless exploitation of both natural and human resources [cf Soviet Russia, North Korea now]. In relation with the environmental movement is violently antagonistic, and very similar to the ‘hard right’ [ie Putin's Russia].

            Or by ‘hard left’ do you just mean stuff you disagree with?If so don’t you think we should try to be more accurate with these terms?.

          • David T

            The WWF of course had that well-known revolutionary Prince Philip as it’s president

          • Sailor Boy

            Gen zero aren’t a hard left group they are a climate advocacy group.

          • Loraxus

            “Gen zero aren’t a hard left group they are a climate advocacy group.”

            With some heavy shades of social equity and age equity thrown in.

            And if THAT alone makes them “hard left” by default in your political view, then, with all due respect, I am seriously insulted by that definition.

          • jonno1

            Patrick, I’m not sure if you’re patronising me, or whether you truly believe what you have written above. I rather hope it’s the former! And no, I don’t categorise environmental organisations as hard-left, far from it. I don’t know where you got that idea from, as no such organisation has been mentioned thus far in this discussion.

            Neither have I ever used or would ever use the pejorative terms pinko or greenie (or fascist, to complete the set), any more than I would use the term neo-liberal. I accept that you probably didn’t intend those smears, but rather made certain assumptions without thinking it through. I did, however, use the term RWNJ (right wing nut job) as a joke, along the lines of VRWC (vast right wing conspiracy).

            As for accuracy, I note you’ve introduced the term “conservative” as an alternative to “right-wing”. That’s actually not a bad point, and may be what Matt was getting at in his post. It certainly makes more sense and reduces confusion to categorise the continuum of the political spectrum in terms of progressive/conservative rather than left/right.

            Deepred (below): What the…?

    • Jonno1: “Still, at least the RWNJs allow – no, insist upon – free speech; that’s got to be a plus.”

      Try telling that to the Dixie Chicks, anyone who survived Pinochet or Breivik, anyone who’s had to deal with Andrew Bolt or Pat Robertson or Senator McCarthy or the Westboro Baptists…

  • JohnP

    Matt your post yesterday left me bewildered and wondering if you couldn’t spot biased claptrap ie you quoted a US rant that took the view of paint your enemies as homogenous diehards who all think the same mistaken ideas then compare it with right thinking people who agree with the author. But your post today has made up for it. Half the problem is the lens people insist on looking through at transport, rather than asking if a project is value for money regardless of mode. If only we could get a true road pricing system in with the money raised going to PT we would move towards efficiency with people making good rational choices. People should pay the true cost of their travel. If PT has a positive external benefit then subsidise it. Cars have negative externalities so penalise car use. Some will still use cars and pay for the privilege of uncongested roads. PT could be properly funded.

  • Stu Donovan

    Well this is all very interesting.

    I completely agree that the split is “urban versus rural” rather than “left versus right.” Problem is that the latter is correlated with the former, i.e. right wing MPs in NZ tend to be based in rural electorates.

    But I think there’s another interesting angle to this debate that relates to the associations people have with PT.

    In my mind, PT investment in Auckland is likely to deliver fairly tangible economic benefits in the form of reduced congestion, parking cost savings, and agglomeration economies. This is why the BCRs for PT projects are frequently higher than urban highways. The fact that the latter also require vast quantities of expensive land and/or tunneling does not help.

    Public transport of course also delivers some peripheral social (mobility for people who can’t drive) and environmental benefits (reduced reliance on private vehicles). But these benefits are peripheral in the sense that they are much smaller than the economic benefits of PT investment. That’s not to say they’re not important, just that they are small relative to the costs (which in turn implies that there are likely to be more cost-effective ways of achieving those social and environmental benefits).

    Perhaps we could make more progress if left-minded people reduced the emphasis on the social/environmental benefits of PT and instead focused on the economic impacts. For their part, many right-minded people might 1) stop trying to transfer rural transport solutions to urban contexts and 2) drop the sycophantic association of private vehicles and personal freedom.

    Being stuck in your car (because there is no viable alternative transport mode) stuck in traffic (because un-priced urban roads are always congested) is the anti-thesis of “freedom”.

    • I overall agree with you Stu except where you say that “environmental benefits (reduced reliance on private vehicles)” would be a small benefit.

      If those environmental benefits resulted in the majority of Auckland households shedding one car (so two car to one, three to two, etc) that would be a massive economic benefit for the average household. The cost of running that second or third car would be a big financial boost.

      We have made a conscious decision to have only one car (and a very economical one at that) and I know iot make a big difference to our household bottom line in paying more off our mortgage or having an extra holiday.

  • Ian Auld

    As a centerist with both right and left leaning political preferences, all I know is that that tweet from Michael Woodhouse (and the fact that he is the Associate Minster of Transport) is not pulling me towards voting for his party at the next election. This is not a right v left issue – its just a dumb tweet.

    I do agree though that when it comes to urban development issues, National’s ideology is firmly based on its rural and provincial roots. To me this reinforces the need for a social liberal party in New Zealand to repreent urban liberals. As many people have mentioned, New Zealand needs a pro- environment party that is to the right of the greens on economic issues. This is the natural territory of a social liberal party (for example, the Australian Democrats were traditionally very pro-environment). I can think of politicians from both of the major parties who would fit into this camp (with Nikki Kaye being a prime example from National).

    • Ian I think the kind of thing you mention is likely. The glue that holds the various threads of the National Party together is power, and I think it not unlikely that during its next period in opposition that the inherent contradictions within it will surface, leading to a spilt into country and urban based parts. Or an alternative right-ish more urban party will emerge that gains credibility at the expense of National [ie not ACT]. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest this except for MMP which naturally incentivises specialisation. The left has already gone through this with the emergence of the Greens coinciding with the down-sizing of the Labour which shows that they both do have their roots on that side of the spectrum [in as much as that is an insightful way to view politics now]. All political renewal occurs in opposition. When National next loses, Key leaves and the discussions will begin.
      I would expect such an entity to probably act like the two Australian parties currently in power, but it isn’t impossible to imagine a scenario where different combinations could find themselves in coalition. As happens all through Europe. So Blue/Green? Could well happen as the current realities shift, as they always do…. Very interesting to watch.

  • Ian Auld

    Hi Patrick. I agree. There is also the strain between progressive and conservative elements in the Labour party that could play a part. Personally, I would rather see the emergence of a true centerist liberal party like the Liberal Democrats in the UK, as opposed to the ongoing neoliberal-conservative alliance in Australia. This could also be a reaction to National being pulled to the neoliberal or conservative end of the spectrum by Act and/or the Conservatives and/or New Zealand First. The same could be said for Labour being pulled to the left by the Greens and Mana. Social liberal parties have traditionally been very important in European democracies with proportional systems to anchor coalitions in the centre and avoid them being pulled to the left or right by the more extreme political elements.

  • As a libertarian, it’s so obvious that Auckland needs deregulation of planning restrictions and fiscal conservatism when it comes to boondoggle roading projects.

    The anti-urban camp clearly misunderstand economics (though they try to use it to prop up their own arguments) and are bent with emotive arguments from those who want to protect their sea view from an unreal threat of a 30-floor apartment block being built in front of their house. They make it sound like they’re defending property rights, when they are indeed undermining them for everyone.

    It’s appalling that our so-called “right wing” councillors and parliamentarians are such freedom-hating socialists when it comes to urban issues…

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