MPs fired up over 'public transport nut' Phil Twyford

Phil Twyford has defended the Government's preferred investment in public transport over building more roads, despite train delays in Auckland this week. 

Twyford, the Transport Minister, addressed the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee on Thursday, where he defended his advocacy for public transport and criticised the former government's focus on building new roads. 

He said the National Party is "operating in a 1950s development model where they think the only answer to congestion is to build more road capacity". 

In the last 12 months, Twyford said Auckland saw public transport trips go up by 8 million, and that the city had surpassed its 100 millionth public transport passenger. 

The minister said Wellington will also benefit from more public transport use through the Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) package which the Government endorsed last month - despite a warning from Treasury. 

"With Let's Get Wellington Moving, the strategic imperative was to actually give Wellington a modern, integrated transport system where we try to give people genuine choices."

But National's transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith questioned the Government's approach. He said Twyford, a self-described "public transport nut", hadn't given enough thought to building new urban roads to ease traffic congestion. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter at select committee.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter at select committee. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Auckland's traffic congestion is ranked the worst in Australasia, according to a report. It said Auckland commuters' rush hour travel takes 48 percent longer than it does at other times. 

With a nod to the Government's more than $1 billion boost for Kiwirail in Budget 2019, Goldsmith told Twyford: "You've stopped major investment in roads in favour of public transport."

Goldsmith pointed to Auckland's $1.4 billion Waterview Tunnel - considered one of New Zealand's biggest and most complex roading projects - overseen by National.

He asked the minister if that had been a waste of money. Twyford said "no", and agreed that Waterview was a positive project under the previous National-led government. 

He told Goldsmith: "Of course, we need roads and motorways - there's no question about that.

"But the previous government's policy - that saw 40 percent of the transport budget spent on a handful of urban motorway projects - meant every other part of the transport system was neglected."

Goldsmith asked the minister: "How do you say you're balanced, when you seem to be very much focused on only public transport?"

National's transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith at select committee.
National's transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith at select committee. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Twyford said he rejected Goldsmith's statement, and insisted there "wasn't a single significant new piece of public transport infrastructure built under the last government in Auckland while congestion got worse every year". 

"At peak hour, if you give people choices, some people will take the light rail or the rapid transit bus or will choose to cycle, and that frees up the road for everybody else. 

"That's the fundamental insight into transport policy that the National Party hasn't got its head around."

Is Kiwirail reliable enough? 

The Transport Minister was also questioned by Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross about whether New Zealanders can have confidence in public transport, pointing to the train delays in Auckland this week. 

Auckland Transport announced the delays during rush hour at 8am on Wednesday morning, and attributed it to a signalling fault - the second time in less than a week. 

"People having confidence in the rail system is important," Ross told Twyford. "Kiwirail really dropped the ball this week. It's not the first time they've dropped the ball on rail in Auckland."

He said for Aucklanders to switch to using rail, they're going to want to know that they'll get to work on time. 

Twyford told Ross he had communicated his disappointment to Kiwirail deputy chief executive, Todd Moyle, on Wednesday.  

"I expect Kiwirail will do everything in its power to ensure that the kind of lapse that we've seen over the last couple of days - that disrupted peak hour commutes - is not repeated," Twyford said.

"What I would say though is the effect that that half hour outage on the signalling had yesterday in Auckland illustrates the very point we've been making.

"A city of the scale of Auckland cannot function without an efficient public transport, rapid transport and rail network to shift large numbers of people and get people in single occupant vehicles into public transport."

Twyford said Kiriwail reports to him weekly, and said he will "hold them to account". 


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