Wellington Scoop

Ask Dr D: who should I vote for?

by Demetrius Christoforou, PhD
For several elections now, both local and general, I have enjoyed engaging with candidates, especially at meetings or when they knock on my door. I firmly believe it is incumbent on us to become informed on what each candidate stands for and vote accordingly. Often, this is not easy, as many tend to be vague in what they support.

I guess their thinking is that the fewer people they put off with specific policies, the more votes they’ll get. The focus seems to be on reaping the most votes, rather than being up-front and honest.

In voting, my own thinking is based not on what is best for me, but what I believe is best for the region, for the most people, now and into the future.

In this election, the most important issues for me are transport, housing and not wasting money on the so-called “vanity projects”.

Backed with plenty of evidence, I strongly believe regional light rail is the solution to our mobility problems, so in this assessment I have ranked the candidates based on what I know of their support, firstly for a light rail system fully integrated with the existing suburban system, secondly any light rail system, and thirdly on their lack of support for any road expansion, especially a second Mt Victoria tunnel. I firmly believe we do not need more roads to install a decent light rail system and that a decent light rail system will negate the need for more roads. Putting in more roads first, will merely encourage more people to drive and make the uptake of public transport even more difficult.

My apologies to any candidates who believe I have wronged them. I have made my assessments as honestly as I can, based on the information available to me at the time of writing. Candidates can only blame themselves for a lack of information through having no website, not fronting up to meetings, or not being clear on their policies.

A note on the voting system and strategic voting.

The voting system is STV (single transferable vote) so I have ranked them in order based on a clear affinity for regional light rail and rejecting the “road expansionists”. The idea is to first choose candidates you definitely want in your preferred order, then put those you don’t mind, and finally leave blank (i.e. do not rank at all) those you don’t want under any circumstances. Remember that if an outsider you vote for doesn’t get in, your vote goes down to your next choice. With that in mind, here we go…


I start with the GWRC, as these councillors will probably have the greatest influence on whether light rail goes ahead or not. It is essential that ALL members of the GWRC, regardless of which constituency they are in, realise the importance of a region-wide rail system with on-street capability. Hence the transport views of all the candidates (with the possible exception of Wairarapa for now) need to be taken into account by those voting in their constituency.

WELLINGTON CONSTITUENCY. An incredible 23 candidates for 5 seats. In this case we have a plethora of good candidates, more than enough to fill the five seats.

(1) JOHN KLAPHAKE. Strong open support for regional light rail. A clear stand-out.
(2) THOMAS NASH. Aware of the benefits of light rail compatible with the existing system.
(3) ROGER BLAKELEY. Sitting councillor, supports light rail using existing gauge, likely chairperson for GWRC.
(4) DARAN PONTER. Very effective sitting councillor. Took the rap on the bus fiasco when others were missing in action. Sees the benefits of light rail.
(5) SAM SOMERS. Impressive young man. Well aware of regional light rail and openly says so.
(6) ALEXANDER GARSIDE. Forward-thinking young man. A converted light rail supporter during the campaign. Talks of the need to form an 80 year regional plan with ambitious public transport policy.
(7) VICTORIA RHODES-CARLIN. Young, focussed on biodiversity, freshwater, climate change and transport.
(8) HELENE RITCHIE. Long-serving councillor. Supports light rail.
(9) DAVID LEE. Good green credentials, aware of mass transit.
(10) TONY JANSEN. Has come out and supported light rail when asked.
(11) RAY WILSON. Driver for NZ Bus. Not much on policy but supports light rail.
(12) PHIL QUIN. Dompost opinion writer. Realises importance of rail network, has not appeared at any meetings.
(13) JILL FORD. Vague, nothing standout.
(14) YVONNE LEGARTH. Nothing standout.
(15) ANAND KOCHUNNY. Strong on values, but no policy whatsoever on his extensive website.
(16) TONY De LORENZO. Very vague statement. Claims financial responsibility.
(17) DEANE MILNE. A tradie, talks about transport impacting our personal and work lives. Could be a closet road expansionist.
(18) BRYCE PENDER. Fixing the buses and public transport. Claims big picture thinking. Taxi driver, so may have a conflict of interest regarding light rail.
(19) GAVIN BRUCE. Farmer focussed on predator control, water, planting native trees. Openly a road expansionist, against light rail.
(20) LESLEIGH SALINGER. Road expansionist, against light rail. Ignores climate change.
(blank) GLENDA HUGHES. Represents the Wellington Party, a strongly pro-roads party which sees no case for mass transit of any sort. Damaging to the environment and the city’s amenity. From their website: “Our city’s network of core roading infrastructure needs to be finished.” Their statement on LGWM “Behind the gloss, pomp and shiny trams, it’s mostly a dud” clearly reveals their negative attitude to light rail.
(blank) PHILIP O’BRIEN. Also represents the road expansionist Wellington Party.
(blank) TROY MIHAKA. Another member of the road expansionist Wellington Party.

LOWER HUTT CONSTITUENCY. Six candidates for three seats. One excellent candidate. I have ranked all the sitting councillors the lowest as Lower Hutt is currently too road-focussed.

(1) JOSH VAN LIER. The standout candidate. Strong on extending the existing rail system via light rail.
(2) PETER GLENSOR. Focussed on transport with a leaning towards rail, was involved in the rail upgrade.
(3) LEONIE DOBBS. Seems to give transport a high priority but nothing of substance.
(4) KEN LABAN. Sitting councillor. The usual noises about climate change and the environment but nothing of substance.
(5) DAVID OGDEN. Sitting councillor. Nothing notable.
(6) PRUE LAMASON. Sitting councillor. Too road focussed, especially the proposed Melling interchange. We need a change, not a road interchange.

PORIRUA-TAWA CONSTITUENCY. Seven candidates for two seats. Difficult to find any positive candidate to support. The last two are sitting councillors and I reject them because of their pro-roads background with no support for regional light rail, in fact it’s doubtful they’ve even heard of it and would see light rail as a Wellington-only project. I have gone on the principal of “a change can’t be worse than what we’ve got”. Nothing much to say about any of them. So with that in mind, here goes:

(3) CHRIS KIRK-BURNNAND. The only one with a website but nothing much on it.
(blank) BARBARA DONALDSON. Sitting chair of the transport committee but did not front up to the meetings on the bus disaster, nor does she have any clues about regional light rail. Vote her out.

KAPITI COAST CONSTITUENCY. Two candidates for one seat.

(1) PENNY GAYLOR. Sitting councillor, focussed on trains and public transport with links to Wellington.
(2) NEIL MACKAY. Mentions sustainable transport, but nothing specific.

UPPER HUTT CONSTITUENCY. Four candidates for one seat.

(1) ROS CONNELLY. Seems the best bet, judging by her statements, especially on transport.
(2) STEVE PATTINSON. A close second.
(3) BILL HAMMOND. Claims background in the transport industry without being specific. Vague.
(blank) MARK CROFSKEY. Representing the road-focussed Wellington Party. Specifically mentions enhancements for SH2 and SH 58. “Melling is just the start,” he says. And we say, “No, out you go, Mark.”

WAIRARAPA CONSTITUENCY. As this constituency will not be affected by light rail, at least for many years to come, I have not assessed or ranked the candidates.

There are 9 candidates and one would think that there would be lots of talent here. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is one standout by a country mile but for me the second and third contenders have improved markedly after I engaged them in conversation. I have ranked the rest in order of being the least damaging.

(1) CONOR HILL. His transport policy is top notch: He is the ONLY candidate who firmly supports light rail and is against the trackless tram nonsense. He also has great ideas on housing policy and is totally against vanity projects including the runway extension. Best candidate by the proverbial country mile.
(2) NORBERT HAUSBERG. Strong on reducing transport emissions. Became a fervent advocate of regional light rail after learning of the 1992 Superlink study.
(3) JENNY CONDIE. Interested in light rail “if the business case stacks up”. Mentions low carbon transport and population growth in the north, but blind to the need for an unbroken rail spine through the CBD.
(4) ANDREW GRANTHAM COX. Vague, harmless. Strategic vote only to keep the worst ones out.
(5) DON NEWT McDONALD. Desperation measure to keep the road expansionists out.
(6) JUSTIN LESTER. After first supporting light rail, he went off on a trackless tram tangent. Blind to the financial dangers of installing an untried system as compared to a well-proven system. Poor track record as mayor but we reluctantly give him a ranking as those below him are even worse.
(7) AJAY RATHOD. Appears to be strongly in favour of roads, especially a second Mt Victoria tunnel. Climate change does not feature anywhere on his manifesto or his speeches. Others below him are even worse.
(blank) ANDY FOSTER. His policies would encourage more car use, while he pays lip service to climate change. From his website: “Delaying the second Mount Victoria tunnel and Basin Reserve improvements for reasons of political ideology is unacceptable,” he says. “There are several aspects of the LGWM package that show it is clearly anti-motorist.” Judge for yourselves.
(blank) DIANE CALVERT. From her website: “… it looks like [LGWM] were captured by the light rail movement, ideological views…” She goes on: “It also looks like that 50% from the SH1 funds has been applied to prop up a seemingly unviable mass transit investment.” Straight out of the last National government’s agenda. Endorsed by the Wellington Party which has not stood a mayoral candidate, in support of her. The worst possible candidate.


Seven candidates for three seats. The first two choices are natural and I am torn between the next two. This is one of the wards that will get immediate benefits from the introduction of light rail.

(1) IONA PANNETT. The standout candidate and an effective long term councillor. Strong supporter of light rail over the years, also very prominent in opposing the flyover. Strong environmental credentials.
(2) TAMATHA PAUL. A young flyer. Strong environmental credentials and could be convinced about the need for light rail.
(3) HARRY SMITH. Another young candidate. Strong on housing and environmental issues. Could be convinced regarding light rail.
(4) BRIAN DAWSON. Has done good work in the community and housing sector but not strong on light rail.
(5) SHAN NG. Nothing on transport. Diversity and good representation. Not turned up to any meetings.
(blank) LEE ORCHARD. No view yet on a second Mt Victoria tunnel! Not convinced about light rail.
(blank) NICOLA YOUNG. Two-term sitting councillor who is definitely against light rail.

Four candidates for two seats. This is the next ward to get benefits as light rail expands southwards.
(1) LAURIE FOON. Green candidate, emphasis on public transport, without being specific.
(2) FLEUR FITZSIMMONS. Sitting councillor with good policies.
(3) HUMPHREY HANLEY. Sustainable transport and other good policies.
(4) THOMAS MORGAN. Some strange statements in his manifesto.

Seven candidates for three seats. This would be the next ward to reap the benefits of light rail, once it gets through Mt Albert. Update: The original version was written before the Eastern Ward candidates’ meeting took place. Following that meeting, I have made significant changes to the rankings I had previously given.

(1) SARAH FREE. Very effective sitting councillor. Supporter of sustainable transport, specifically light rail.
(2) CHRIS CALVI-FREEMAN. Experienced transport planner strong supporter of light rail, having pushed for LGWM to put mass transit ahead of more roads. His reply to Steph Edlin at a youth engagement with LGWM was misinterpreted and misreported in the media.
(3) TERI O’NEILL. Good sustainable policies. Would prefer mass transit to more roads. Unsure of her attitude to light rail, but no second Mt Vic tunnel and overall many good ideas and policies.
(4) BERNARD O’SHAUGHNESSY. Claims to support light rail, but also supports a second tunnel.
(5) STEPH EDLIN. Thoughtless, with strong support for a second tunnel and against light rail. Needs to realise that the idea of improving public transport is to negate the need to expand roads. Climate change doesn’t feature. Great to have young people standing, but should have done her homework first!
(6) AJAY RATHOD. No concrete policies, just a vague “will listen to the voters”. Wants a second Mt Victoria tunnel. No climate policies.
(blank) SEAN RUSH. Represents the road expansionist Wellington Party (see previous reference to this).

Eight candidates for three seats. No one stands out as specifically supporting light rail. Really only two candidates I would be comfortable supporting.
(1) JENNY CONDIE. See comments under mayoral candidates. Talented and unlikely to support road expansion.
(2) JILL DAY. She supports “… massed transit [sic!] (light rail or trackless trams), the second Mt Vic tunnel, unlocking congestion at the Basin Reserve, improved cycling infrastructure, improvements to the rail corridor and bus priority through the city.” However, definitely stated “no more roads” at a meeting.
(3) PETER GILBERD. Sitting councillor, wants “a step-change in public transport uptake, supports trackless trams and hybrid buses. At least he hasn’t stated he wants more roads.
(4) GRAEME SAWYER. His website has not changed since 2016, with his major issue being his opposition to medium density housing in his area. Single-issue candidate, but as long as he’s not advocating for more roads, he can’t do any harm on the transport front.
(5) JOHN PETERS. Not seen at any meetings. Statement in the WCC website talks only about himself.
(6) MALCOLM SPARROW. Sitting councillor, roads focussed.
(7) TRACY HURST-PORTER. Seems anti-cycling, from her statements.
(blank) JOHN APANOWICZ. A member of the road expansionist Wellington Party (mentioned earlier).

Nine candidates for three seats. Surprisingly, most candidates for this ward make few if any statements on transport. Only the first two candidates stand out.
(1) CONOR HILL. Top candidate. See notes on his mayoral candidacy.
(2) MICHELLE RUSH. Accountability and future-proofing infrastructure. Background in sustainable urban design but nothing specific on transport. Not for more roads, and did put her hand up for mass transit, of whatever type.
(3) RICHARD MCINTOSH. Green candidate, claims to be focussed on environment, waste minimisation, a working transport system, and very much on future-proofing but does not inspire.
(4) REBECCA MATTHEWS. Wants a reliable bus service and transport that meets our needs for the future, but not specific on what that might be.
(5) RAY CHUNG. Mentions infrastructure challenges, consultation, transparency, liveability of the city and manageable rates. Nothing specifically on transport.
(6) ROHAN BIGGS. Focussed primarily on fiscal responsibility and lowering rates by eliminating wasteful spending but also mentions housing and transport. Was not clear, but will probably not want light rail.
(7) SIMON WOOLF. A lot about his credentials but almost nothing on policy. I have a feeling he prefers road expansion to light rail.
(blank) ANDY FOSTER. Road focussed. See notes on his mayoral aspirations.
(blank) DIANE CALVERT. Endorsed by the Wellington Party. See notes on her mayoral campaign.

Dr Demetrius Christoforou is a long-time Wellington resident with a PhD in chemistry and an intense interest in public transport, particularly light rail. He lives in Mt Victoria and has been commuting to Naenae for 25 years by private motorcar, having found the public transport system too cumbersome, slow and inconvenient. He has occasionally cycled the 23 km and once found, much to his surprise, that he could beat public transport over that distance! He has visited Karlsruhe in Germany, the city that pioneered tram-train, and been mightily impressed with their light rail system that shares heavy rail tracks for part of its journey and brings people from outer suburbs and surrounding towns seamlessly into the CBD and out the other side, largely avoiding the need to interchange between light and heavy rail. Their main railway station does not suffer from the morning stampede which is only too evident in Wellington during the morning rush and doubtless puts many people off using the rail system.

First published in the Wellington Light Rail Newsletter.


  1. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 25. September 2019, 13:09

    I thought better of Demetrius Christoforou after Roger Blakeley and I invited him to participate in several workshops in which a number of LRT advocates (and Roger and I) worked out proposals to take to LGWM, which has now resulted in the single spine mass transit route from the railway station to Miramar/the airport via Newtown. Of course this is only half what regional LRT advocates want, but it my opinion it is the best and only chance of having a step change in public transport for the eastern and inner southern suburbs and a better, faster and more reliable journey through Wellington CBD/Te Aro, albeit with a change of mode at Wellington railway station.

    If you haven’t already voted, I suggest you support people who have some knowledge of or involvement in this field, rather than just anyone who says “why don’t we have light rail everywhere?” without necessarily having a clue as to how to make it happen.

    And don’t forget Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of the good”!

  2. Diane Calvert, 25. September 2019, 14:12

    Although ranked last in Demetrius assessments (we have a philosophical difference over mass transit mode and route), I do respect his work.

    He is been at many a candidates meeting, listened and asked questions thoughtfully. He has done his research thoroughly and as a candidate I appreciate the fairness and could not ask for anything more.

  3. Pauline Swann, 25. September 2019, 15:54

    Simon and Diane “top of the Pops” for me……they are great at meetings and listen to the public.

  4. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 25. September 2019, 16:02

    Really, Diane?! Placing Justin Lester below Don Newt McDonald and Andrew Grantham Cox in the pro-LRT rankings because Justin agrees that mass rapid transit is the number 1 priority within LGWM, presumably because Lester wants to see whether trackless trams might be better than LRT?! Next we’ll be halving the city’s population and having chariots to transport the survivors!

  5. NigelTwo, 25. September 2019, 16:05

    Interesting reading!
    I look forward to follow up posts for: housing, “vanity projects”, and green-rinse aka “first to zero”.

  6. Diane Calvert, 25. September 2019, 16:56

    Chris, it may surprise you but I didn’t check yours or other candidate rankings. My views were expressed on what Demetrius said about me and what I personally noted at candidate meetings.

  7. Michael Gibson, 25. September 2019, 17:29

    Chris – who else did you invite to “several workshops (where you) worked out proposals to take to LGWM”? How did you pick such invitees? Were there other specially invited and selected invitees? What came of your proposals?

  8. Alf the Aspirational Apteryx, 25. September 2019, 19:36

    I want to know who will deliver a kiwi for every backyard like Justin promised last election. It’s lonely out here in the burbs.

  9. John Morrison, 25. September 2019, 21:09

    What absolute and complete nonsense!

  10. Henry Filth, 25. September 2019, 21:23

    And still no mention of who might be likely to make the drains run on time.

  11. Demetrius, 26. September 2019, 3:15

    After tonight’s meeting at Kilbirnie and speaking with the candidates, I have made some changes to the Eastern Ward rankings. Always ready to admit any mistakes I have made, and with apologies.
    But my ranking of Lester below Cox & McDonald remains (in conjunction with my explanation of STV). Lester’s attempt to justify trackless trams by stating that we don’t want to be the last city to install light rail when 2019 is likely to set records for new LRT systems worldwide, is justification enough. Instead, he prefers to install a completely untried proprietary system which has never been in revenue-earning service outside of China (and maybe not even there). And remember, this company supplied the DL class locomotives to KiwiRail, which had poor reliability from the start (worse then the ageing locos they were meant to replace), forcing them to send over technicians to fix them, then it was found that they had asbestos linings.
    In light of that, I think I was generous to Lester!

  12. Concerned Wellingtonian, 26. September 2019, 10:03

    Demetrius, anyone who suggests putting a number of any sort against Lester is far too generous.

  13. Ralf, 26. September 2019, 10:28

    Chris – while I also think putting Don Newt McDonald and Andrew Grantham Cox above Justin is cheeky I have to to agree with Demetrius that Justin is working hard on to justify this ranking. In fact I am not sure I would rank him higher than Andy Foster.

    * Justin declared a climate emergency. Next day he is opening a new gas station. (“No more new fossil fuel infrastructure” should be the minimum you do in our emergency, or maybe Justin has a different interpretation of emergency then everyone else? Is he also ignoring fire emergencies?)
    * The monument of stupidity (the convention center) is actually being built. What a waste of ratepayer money. Also why is this higher priority than our civic center? Not to mention that it also not aligns with our climate emergency.
    * he wants to build roads. At the same or higher priority then public transport.

    I will probably rate him higher than Andy since he has proven that he cannot deliver, so I am counting on that. Andy might actually deliver roads which would be a worst case scenario.

    (it would be nice to see PT being delivered (and not being destroyed) but if we can at least avoid new roads being build that would be a big improvement)

  14. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 26. September 2019, 10:55

    Hi Demetrius. Thanks for your time last night and I believe we had a really good chat and are now on the same wavelength. If people want light rail they need to vote for a mayor and councillors who are, at the very least, prepared to consider it, and hopefully prepared to prioritise it! Sector knowledge is of course an advantage, or at least the ability to critique what officers come up with at each stage.

    Michael, I’ll have to pass your query to Roger Blakeley, who originally started the process or was originally contacted by various LRT advocates. Roger then contacted me; I arranged venues for meetings and we both moved the issue forward. (He was not on LGWM and I’m not sure whether he had any traction with Chris Laidlaw & Barbara Donaldson who were the GWRC reps on the LGWM governance group.) The process might have benefited from one or two more LRT advocates, but the people we worked with had strong involvement and deep knowledge of systems around the world and were invaluable in shaping our proposals.

  15. Anand Kochunny, 1. October 2019, 2:34

    Dear Dr D,

    You’re quite right ― my website at https://www.candidatekochunny.nz/ is strong on values, but has no policy whatsoever.

    The reason is because I’m probably the only GWRC candidate who sees the ‘busastrophe’ not as a problem per se, but as a symptom of a more pervasive problem ― namely, a poor organisational culture within the GWRC, which has led to flawed decision-making that has resulted in perverse outcomes for us Wellingtonians. To change the organisational culture at GWRC, I recommend embedding my 5 Values for a Representative Democracy ― Consultation; Collaboration; Transparency; Accountability; Responsibility ― into GWRC’s DNA.

    Consequently, I’m the only GWRC candidate who’s focussed on changing the organisational culture at GWRC so that such avoidable crises (especially in other areas that GWRC is responsible for) do not occur. In order to resolve the ‘busastrophe’, I’m prepared to go back to the drawing board ― but this time, GWRC should seek advice from various stakeholders including bus operators, drivers, passengers, GWRC officials, transport advocacy groups and councillors from the Wellington City Council so that we can have a system that works for most stakeholders.

    If you’re interested, my policies are available at https://policylocal.thespinoff.co.nz/candidates/CON_0905#Anand-Kochunny

    However, first things first ― let’s start by putting the house (i.e., GWRC) in order so that decisions that are made on ‘fixing the buses’ or mass rapid transit or LGWM do not result in the chaos that has characterised the ‘busastrophe’ and made GWRC the object of scorn for an entire city. Otherwise, GWRC will be lurching from one crisis to the next.

  16. Stephen Moore, 5. October 2019, 22:55

    I am late to the party but it needs to be pointed out that BRT or LRT are not the only options for mass transit. I have had a lot of positive feedback to my article on suspended light rail that has none of the issues associated with light rail and does not need a tunnel(s) to reach Kilbirnie saving $$$$$$. Here’s a youtube video that shows it running through streets like Wellington.

    Shonan, a region about 40 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, has a very similar landscape to Wellington: steep hills with narrow congested streets and valleys. Fifty years ago it built a suspended light railway from the coastal suburb of Enoshima to the main station at Ofuna, 6.6km away. This system has the same capacity as light rail, doesn’t require dedicated traffic lanes and there’s no risk of accidents with people, cycles,etc; is much faster than light rail at 75kph because it doesn’t need to take account of intersections or people crossing its tracks or shared roads with other vehicles runs on eubber tyres so is quiet; can go up and down 10% gradients much steeper than light rail; can switch lines like light rail; doesn’t occupy road space so doesn’t conflict with traffic; minimal disruption during construction. Stations are located over the roadway and can have gateways to ensure all passengers on the platform have already paid (speeding boarding)