Transport is a fascinating and complex topic. Day-to-day, it helps us get from A to B via multiple different methods such as walking, cycling, public transport and private cars. On a larger scale, transport also helps support key aspects of Aotearoa’s economy.
But transport, and what it might look like in the future, is at a critical juncture because of the role transport emissions have to play in climate change; July was recorded as the hottest month ever on Earth, and August could potentially overtake it.
Major announcements and discussions around transport always feature heavily in the lead-up to an election, and this year is no different. Though not every party has released their plans for transport, announcements from National and Labour have raised questions and sparked debate.
The National Party’s Transport for the Future plan would see a $25 billion investment into key connections across the country and the scrapping of public transport plans in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. Their plan to “cut congestion, provide more low emission transport options…and create a…transport network that drives economic growth” will be achieved through the creation of more roads – an approach that is well-known to increase road-user demand and not ease congestion.
The Labour Party unveiled their plans for a modernised transport network in Tāmaki Makaurau that is estimated to cost between $35-$40 billion and take decades to complete. It would see the creation of three tunnels – two for vehicles and one for light rail – across Waitematā harbour. However, some Auckland councillors have raised concerns over a failure to prioritise rapid transit and the growing Northern Busway, which is estimated to support 21 million each year by 2038.
The Green Party have criticised both National and Labour’s proposals. Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter called National’s plan “visionless”, while James Shaw said Labour’s plan to build more roads during a climate crisis is “bonkers”. In the Green’s Transport Policy, goals have been set that centre around sustainable transport. This includes investment in light rail, electric vehicles, public transport and moving away from a “traditional prioritising of road development and private motoring”.
The Opportunities Party (TOP) has similar ambitions to “decarbonise the way New Zealand moves, ” aiming to fully electrify the national urban bus fleet by 2030. Free public transport for under-30’s through TOP’s Teal Card scheme would also make such an option more affordable and accessible, encouraging individuals to move away from private transport.
While Labour has committed to a separate light rail link in Tāmaki Makaurau, the transport plans from both major parties have come at the expense of public transport and other low-emission options, producing obvious implications for the climate. Beyond consequences for the climate, a lack of investment in public transport also impacts women in ways that people may not know about.
Women interact differently with the labour market than men do, where they are more likely to be employed in part-time or casual work and disproportionately take on domestic responsibilities. As a result, the gendered division of labour has led women to develop different transport needs than men.
Women’s travel habits can be characterised by what is known as ‘trip chaining’ – an approach to transport that involves making multiple stops between the origin of the journey and the destination. In Aotearoa, research from transport agencies shows that compared to men, women are more likely to depend on public transport, use it during off-peak hours and make several short journeys that are consistent with trip chaining.
Public transport travel patterns that align with trip chaining don’t always run smoothly for women, however. This is because the design of public transport has always veered toward the needs of men. When approaches to public transport fail to understand the different habits and needs of all users, women – and other groups, such as disabled people – get the short end of the stick.
On a personal note, I love walking and using public transport. Perhaps this is because I am a born and bred Wellingtonnian and I find walking from one end of the city to the other very doable! But to get to work, I do have to catch two forms of public transport – a train and a bus. I know many other commuters have to do the same and that sometimes even this multimodal travel can be a nuisance if a train is delayed, or a bus is cancelled. Luckily for me, there are always several bus routes that go through my final destination. But when you think about all of the women who don’t fit into a typical 9-5 mould and cannot rely on other bus services to take them to where they want to go, it becomes clear just how bad they are affected by a lack of investment in public transport.
For example, when bus schedules run hourly outside of peak hours, women’s day-to-day lives are impacted in ways that men are not. If women are in part-time or casual work, they don’t always travel during peak hours Monday-Friday – their shift might start in the afternoon, or on a Sunday, when schedules are significantly reduced. Further, when women trip chain, performing care responsibilities requires more ‘strategic’ planning than should be required – choosing which tasks to prioritise over others due to a lack of public transport options is a reality for many women.
Rethinking and redesigning how we think about transport, particularly public transport, plays a crucial role in urban development, how a city functions and how resilient it is to climate change. But public transport is also a good thing for people, especially women – when it is invested in (this means paying fair wages to drivers and making services both frequent and accessible), it can open up so many options for people who are currently bound by the idea that transport equals cars.
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