NZ Election 2020: Inter-city rail, reducing reliance on cars at centre of Greens' 'climate-focused transport package'

The Green Party has released its "climate-focused transport package" aimed at addressing the climate crisis by investing in rail, rapid transit networks, cycling routes.

As New Zealand recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Greens co-leader James Shaw says we have a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to rebuild in a way which tackles climate issues. 

"Decades of under-investment in rail and public transport has led to an over-reliance on cars to get around. It's worsening the climate crisis, and it has made getting around our cities, and between them, expensive and difficult," Shaw said.

The party wants to address that through investment in inter-city passenger rail, including from Auckland to Hamilton, from Wellington to Masterton and Palmerston North, and from Christchurch to Rangiora, Ashburton and eventually Dunedin and Timaru.

"Once built, this new intercity rail network will slash the emissions caused by the status-quo of only being able to commute by car, as well as create thousands of jobs building the network. It is exactly the kind of smart investment we should be making in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis."

NZ Election 2020: Inter-city rail, reducing reliance on cars at centre of Greens' 'climate-focused transport package'
Photo credit: Greens.

Within the main centres, the Greens would invest $6.5 billion over the next decade into rapid transit networks to allow people in the cities to "easily and affordably jump on a bus or train to work, school or the airport". 

That includes pushing ahead with a rail crossing to Auckland's North Shore. The Greens says we've recently seen how "desperately overdue" that is. A truck crash on the Auckland Harbour Bridge earlier this month brought the motorway network to a standstill and caused damage which won't be permanently fixed for weeks. 

On top of rail, the Greens want to get people out of cars with a $1.5 billion Cycle Super Highway Fund to create new "safe separated school and community cycling routes across the country".

From 2030, only zero-emission light vehicles would be able to be imported into New Zealand, which the Greens say will help "reduce our emissions to levels which help generations have a liveable planet".

"We chose this date because we don’t want New Zealand to become a dumping ground for other countries’ dirty discards."

The party would also introduce a nationwide "Go Anywhere transport pass". It hopes that will "reduce barriers to public transport" by making it free for people under 18-years-old and those over 65, and cheaper for students and apprentices.


Over the next decade, the Green Party says key parts of Auckland's rapid transport system would be completed, including:

  • A new light rail line to Māngere and the airport
  • A new light rail line to the north western suburbs
  • Completed busways between Botany and Panmure and Botany and the Airport
  • A new Upper Harbour busway between Henderson, Westgate and Constellation
  • Begin work on a second harbour crossing with light rail to Takapuna and Albany

However, it recognises Aucklanders "can't wait ten years to escape congestion".

To start with, the Greens would fund and fast-tracking measures to prioritise buses on transit corridors. 

"This means within the next two to three years buses will be given dedicated right of way along continuous stretches of these routes as well as priority at lights. Raised station platforms will be built for passengers which can later be used as light rail and busway stations," Shaw said. 

"These improvements will significantly improve travel times and reduce bus congestion on these routes and be future-proofed for the inevitable switch to light rail or bus rapid transit."

The inter-city rail network would see electric passenger rail services running from Auckland to Hamilton, Tauranga, and eventually Whangarei. 

"Fast regional passenger rail services would take just an hour and forty minutes to reach Hamilton and an hour and ten minutes between Hamilton and Tauranga," Shaw said.

"This would be as fast as driving for many trips and would allow people to work, rest, and enjoy the scenery while travelling."

Auckland's commuter cycleways would also benefit from the Cycle Super Highway Fund. 

"We expect the Cycle Super Highway fund could ultimately deliver continuous separated cycleways from South Auckland, Albany, Botany and out west, all connecting into the city," he said.

"With the rise of e-bikes and e-scooters, more and more Aucklanders are looking for safe, high-quality cycleways to get about the city on."


Shaw said the Greens plan to deliver on the "best parts" of the Let's Get Wellington Moving agreement, including by ensuring light rail to Newton and the eastern suburbs "is the first cab off the rank".

"Light rail will provide a fast public transport service from the eastern and southern suburbs able to carry thousands more people than the current bus services," he said.

"As more people come to live in the inner city suburbs we need a high capacity public transport system to avoid our streets being filled with cars, congestion, and pollution."

Wellington's inter-city passenger rail would connect to Palmerston North and the Wairarapa, with more frequent daily services intended to benefit commuters on the Kapiti and Hutt lines. 

An immediate priority for the city would be to accelerate the roll-out of bus priority upgrades.

"Bus priority means continuous bus lanes, priority at traffic lights and rationalised bus stops. These improvements are estimated to reduce the average travel time by a third," he said.

"Bus priority measures will be targeted at services running to Newtown, Island Bay, Miramar, Brooklyn, Karori, Kelburn, Johnsonville, and between Petone and Upper Hutt."

While the National Party is promising to fast-track a second car tunnel through Mt Victoria, the Greens says it's not a priority.

"A second car tunnel through Mt Victoria should remain the last cab off the rank as it is expected to shave just 30 to 60 seconds off the drive to the airport and cost close to a billion dollars," Shaw said.

"A new light rail tunnel out east will have eight times the capacity of a second car tunnel and we can improve access for people walking and cycling from Hataitai by expanding the existing pilot tunnel through Mt Victoria to become a dedicated walking and cycling route."


The Green Party says the people of Christchurch, after the earthquakes, want a "more people-friendly city with modern public transport and safe cycleways". 

"Yet Christchurch has missed out on investment in commuter rail and busways that have been key to making public transport attractive in Auckland and Wellington," Shaw said.

The Green Party’s plan for Christchurch includes:

  • A new commuter rail services connecting Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Belfast to the CBD
  • A new commuter rail service to Rolleston
  • Extended fast passenger rail services out to Ashburton and eventually further north and south
  • A new high-speed bus rapid transit service, linking the commuter rail lines to the city, University, and airport
  • New funding to expand the city’s major cycle routes.
NZ Election 2020: Inter-city rail, reducing reliance on cars at centre of Greens' 'climate-focused transport package'
Photo credit: Greens.

It says a train between Rangiora and Christchurch would take less than 30 minutes, "making it significantly faster than the average commute time of 44 minutes by car". 

"We would also invest in a high-frequency bus service connecting the rail line to the city, university and airport. This service would run every five minutes and have its own right of way to provide a fast service that can by-pass congestion."

The proposed inter-city rail service would also see multiple trains a day to Ashburton, a journey it says would take just 47 minutes with improvements to the line.