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Driving us backwards

by Tim Jones
Andy Foster’s transport policies put him at odds with the public’s demand for climate change action.

A few weeks ago, Wellington saw a massive turnout for the Wellington edition of the worldwide School Strike for Climate. And we have just elected a City Council which appears to have a majority for progressive action on issues such as climate change and a low-carbon transport system for the city.

Yet the city has also elected long-standing Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster as Mayor. While Andy deserves congratulations for his successful campaign, I fear this may be bad news for Wellington on some key climate change and transport issues.

I support a number of Andy’s policy positions, including his lack of enthusiasm for the proposed airport runway extension – a terrible idea at a time of rising emissions and rising seas – and his opposition to the deeply dubious Shelly Bay development plans.

Also, Andy is a strong supporter of better walking and cycling facilities for the city, and I’m hopeful that as Mayor he’ll continue to support initiatives such as the Let’s Get Welly Riding Vision.

But when it comes to anything larger than an e-bike, Andy is mostly about cars. More cars, on more roads, going through more road tunnels, covering more of the city in asphalt, like some sepia-toned picture in a photo album coming suddenly and horribly to life.

Transport makes up about 60% of Wellington’s greenhouse gas emissions. The city has committed to sharply reducing those emissions over the next ten years, but if Andy’s plans go ahead, those emissions will continue to increase: our car fleet is still overwhelmingly powered by burning fossil fuels, and that isn’t changing quickly enough to lead to emissions reductions.

Cars are a really bad way of moving lots of people through a city: quite apart from all those greenhouse gas emissions, they simply take up too much room, whether in the middle of the street or stored at the side of it.

Mass transit such as light rail, on the other hand, is a very efficient way to move people, and it frees up space in our city for more important uses than storing large metal boxes on wheels: housing, for example. Mass transit also contributes to a city that is made for people, not cars.

Yes, building mass transit is expensive. But so is building more roads and more road tunnels.

We should do what makes sense for the city: pick the option that moves more people, more efficiently, using less space and producing lower emissions. That means mass transit supported by better bus services, walking, cycling and micromobility – all of which will free up the existing road network for journeys that genuinely need to be taken by road.

At the apex of a long political career, Andy Foster has a choice. He can work with his progressive new Council to take the urgent steps necessary to reduce Wellington’s emissions. Or he can attempt to drive us backwards into the car-dominated, climate change-denying past. History will not be kind to those who make the latter choice.