Labour's rail plan is heavy on promises, light on delivery

The first promise that Jacinda Ardern made as leader of the Labour Party in 2017 was to build light rail from Auckland's CBD to Mt Roskill by the end of 2021.

Over the years, this project has gone through multiple different announcements, but has yet to be delivered. It started as light rail from the CBD to Mt Roskill, then CBD to the Airport, then it was renamed CBD to Māngere, before being scrapped altogether prior to the 2020 election.

New Transport Minister Michael Wood, who is also the MP for Mt Roskill, is now attempting to resurrect this forever-changing project. He has commissioned an indicative business case to attract funding from both taxpayers across New Zealand and ratepayers in Auckland.

Already, $50m of taxpayer's funds have been spent on this project with all that has been delivered is endless press releases and reports, but not one single metre of light rail.

The full details behind the indicative business case have not been publicly released, but there are some things we have been told, and those already aren't stacking up.

There are three Light Rail options proposed by the Auckland Light Rail Establishment Unit.

Option one is light rail at road level, option two is tunnelled light rail, and option three is tunnelled light metro.

Firstly, all three light rail options considered in the indicative business case only have a benefit-cost ratio of around 1.1. This means, for every dollar spent on the project, they assume there is a return of around $1.1 dollars.

We know that it will require up to 66,000 houses to be built along the corridor between the CBD and Māngere to ensure the project meets the capacity estimates.

Which leads to my second point; is it a transport project to enable housing, or a housing project to enable a multibillion-dollar transport project? The indicative business case doesn't answer this question, but it seems it isn't attempting to solve the problem of Auckland's transport and congestion, which costs Auckland's economy around $1.3b per year in lost productivity.

Thirdly, the business case and the benefit-cost ratio don't take into account the cost required for the infrastructure to enable 66,000 additional houses along the light rail corridor. It only takes the benefit of having the houses there.

This is in an older part of Auckland, and the capital cost will be significant. It is another failure that will likely mean the Benefit-Cost Ratio goes from marginally positive $1.1 dollar return, to negative.

Finally, the project is dubbed as reducing Auckland's carbon emissions from transportation. While this is a significant problem, a light rail is a very expensive solution.

The preferred option of the Light Rail Establishment Unit is option two - a tunnelled light rail that is anticipated to reduce carbon emissions by 980,000 tonnes over its lifetime.

Unfortunately, carbon neutrality will only be reached by 2053 after taking into account the carbon emitted in the construction of the project.

Overall this amounts to approximately $16,000 per tonne of carbon saved and will only reduce emissions by 4.5 days' worth of NZ's current emissions output.

The Government could spend the same amount of money and buy every voter in the Auckland Central, Mt Albert, Mt Roskill and Māngere Electorates a Tesla Model 3 and achieve a better reduction in carbon emissions.

The Government is being driven by an ideological preference for light rail when there are other options to get Aucklanders moving and to give them better public transport choices.

Some alternative solutions I suggest are; building a rail spur from Puhinui to the airport to connect our airport with the main rail line; planning for a second harbour crossing to give more resilience to our city's transport network and more public transport options for the North Shore; completing the Eastern Busway; and building a busway to the west to give more public transport choices to other parts of Auckland.

These are the practical solutions that National is focused on, rather than an incredibly expensive and unrealistic project.

If it was so critical to our city, it would have been built by now.