Election 2019

The week so far; Getting context around opinion, trouble brewing out East, more criticism on our Climate Emergency.

Winter has arrived. The harbour is blanketed by the exhaust of tens of thousands of cars travelling to and fro on the motorway, electric scooters zip through the pre-dawn light, travel times from the airport to CBD reach a staggering 45 minutes most mornings, and the movie industry is in full production after a slow start to the year.

News this week that public transport patronage is increasing, albeit it at a glacial pace (don’t worry, the way we are going we won’t have any glaciers soon), which is worrying.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said that was due to extra spending on trains.

“When you invest in train services – and we’ve seen that to the north of the city, for example – and you’ve got a reliable service that’s new with the Matangi trains, people will use it,” Mr Lester said. “There’s been significant uptake. Likewise, you need to do that for buses and you need to make sure that you provide mass transit to other parts of the city.”

Wellington councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman said there needed to be a mass-transit system (as proposed by LGWM) that would extend from Wellington station via Newtown and Kilbirnie to the airport and Miramar. “It would be a game changer in reducing congestion and encouraging more sustainable commuting. I want to see it in place in less than 10 years – ideally 8, to coincide with the end of some of the current bus contracts, although these can be varied a little to suit.”

Commuting on public transport continues to increase

We did ask and were reliably informed that despite the bus shambles, the number of people using buses was slowly increasing. Choke on your drink why don’t you. Yes, recent data shows that we are not getting off the bus and back into our car, so where on earth is the extra congestion coming from?

Well, it’s all about context, so let’s take a peek at Eastern Suburbs for example.

According to Google data, traffic at peak in the mornings means that what was a twenty-minute trip a decade ago, is now pushing forty-five minutes at high-peak. What’s causing that?

Airport traffic continues to grow year on year, and we see surges of traffic coincide with dozens of planes all landing near the same time in the mornings. Ditto surges earlier in the afternoon as the Trans-Tasman flights land along with a large capacity Singapore 777 most days.

The number of new rideshare vehicles has jumped significantly as well, giving people a cheaper option to get into town than the airport bus, for example. Uber, Ola, and Zoomy are now cluttering up the road along with the regular taxi fleets.

When the movie industry is in peak-production, we see very large increases in cross-town traffic. A lot of the local movie workers can’t afford to live in Eastern Suburbs, in fact, good luck finding any rental out here, so drive in from other places.

But wait, I hear you say, that’s inbound traffic. Aha, I say, this is true however there are two other factors in play. First, they have to leave at the end of the day, and there are other production sites across the city — for example, the Hutt Valley. So movie workers who are living out here are frequently having to travel in morning peak to those locations. More traffic.

Then there is the general population growth. Eastern Suburbs is booming. Local hospitality operators are having a grand old time.

Let’s not forget unintended consequences and the Google effect on getting into town from out East.

In the last few months, Google has stopped just reporting on traffic times and started actively re-routing traffic to where it thinks is a faster route. This has hit Kilbirnie and Hataitai most noticeably, as well as around the Bays when at peak, Google directs users in those directions rather than State Highway 2. It’s caused a lot of problems overseas by introducing congestion to areas that are not capable of handling it, in effect soaking the entire network.

Now, the issue is, buses are currently getting stuck in all that traffic as well. Which is where LGWM is meant to help long-term, but we need solutions right now. It’s still faster to drive than take public transport, but it will cost you more.

All that congestion is frustrating the local at East, and I sense a shift in mood when it comes to that ward’s current Councillors.

There are increasing calls on Simon Marsh, Chris Calvi-Freeman, and Sarah Free to do something. It’s been playing out in the social media arena in the last few months with Chris coming under some personal and nasty attacks, most likely because he makes himself the most visible.

Locals are tired of Simon Marsh and his perceived lack of visibility on key issues such as Shelly Bay, housing, and that soul-destroying traffic. Likewise, Sarah Free, who is noticeably absent from a lot of discussions.

The continued pressures on Eastern Suburbs could see at least two of those candidates thrown out this time around, with emotions running high about their perceived lack of progress on anything. It is noticeable when you scan the other wards to see if the same sentiment exists. I.e. Are other wards as disgruntled with their Councillors as Eastern Ward?

Except Island Bay, strictly a part of a ward than the whole, the answer is no. Northern, Western, and Lambton seem to be relatively quiet.

What has most incensed Eastern Ward residents seems to be the confusing situation over the Shelly Bay dealings and the total lack of response by Simon Marsh and Sarah Free over the goings on. Chris Calvi-Freeman has certainly spoken about it, and now the heat is back on the remaining two to open their mouths.

“Simon only comes out a election time,” one resident told me, “a bit like Michael Buble only appears around Christmas.” Evidence on the social media front appears to support that, with a noticeable uptick over the past month from Simon Marsh.

A couple of well-known candidates dropped into this election could very well see the end of Sarah and Simon, though I think Chris will poll well. We know that Teri O’Neill has been door knocking, an ancient strategy that works but they have seen no other real candidates arise.

It’s been all about Climate Emergencies over the past few days and what it means. The Council has taken a pasting from some commentators as we will see, though, there is some data around what they have been doing and what they aspire to do that needs to be seen to balance the situation.

The council’s climate plan, Te Atakura – First to Zero, aims to put the environment and climate change front and centre in its decision-making. Only Nicola Young, who called the plan “nonsense” and “preachy” voted against the “virtue signalling” declaration.

So, let’s look at the big emitters in Wellington and what the council is doing about it. Aviation emissions are believed to be responsible for just under 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Wellington. So, what’s the council doing to reduce these? Subsidising Singapore Airlines to fly between here and Canberra – the mayor’s idea – and supporting a publicly funded extension of the runway. Fantastic.

Eastern ward councillor Simon Marsh voted for the climate emergency declaration, yet has written in this newspaper about the vital need to extend the runway. Justin Lester, who also voted to declare an emergency, is another runway supporter.

How serious is Wellington about its ‘climate change emergency’?

Hmmm. “Do as I say, but not as I do” has been the criticism of the week. Even the Taxpayer’s Onion got in on the pile on.

For Justin Lester to declare a ‘climate emergency’ is incredible hypocrisy. He needs to look in the mirror: his Council and CCOs have been spewing emissions at a massive rate while enjoying ratepayer-funded junkets to the likes of Switzerland and Shanghai.

Ratepayers will be looking on with envy at the lucky bureaucrats who flew premium economy to Texas for the South by Southwest Festival, or London for a live music conference. It’s completely unclear how this relates to delivering value for ratepayers, or how it aligns with the Council’s virtue-signalling on climate. In fact, it’s out of touch on every level.

Revealed: Wellington City Council’s Climate Hypocrisy

Let’s get a little bit of context around this, though. While there is no “plan” there certainly is an aspirational strategy that has been developed and the most recent discussions around “how we grow” have a strong future focus.

But the Council already spends a lot on our behalf in this space, and it’s worth remembering that.

34% of operational spend goes to the environment, for example.

But they could do better.

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said the expenditure for WREDA for $168,672 on international flights covered travel for 107 people, he said. 

“As the economic development and promotional agency for Wellington, international travel is required for us to carry out our role in driving economic growth for the region.” 

WREDA represented Wellington at workshops in England, Zurich and Germany, he said. 

There were three trips made to Shanghai, or which incorporated Shanghai, and the past interim-WREDA chief executive held various meetings there about the World of WearableArt show and how it could be better leveraged in China, he said.

Wellington City Council flights spending called climate change ‘hypocrisy’

We think that moving to a zero-flight Council is a good aspirational goal, as other companies and entities have internationally. Frankly, with modern technology, there is no need to travel “for a meeting.”

Leading by example, is entirely possible in this area as is rejigging some capital spending priorities into areas that need it most as a result of climate change. Well, they need it full stop. Infrastructure for example, as opposed to a Convention Centre that is going to be a white elephant as the rest of the world, starts to slow down on flying, which they are.

Frankly, the Councillors could also show some of their thinking about this priority election area by answering our ten questions. So far, I’ve been told they are too busy, the questions are too complex, and that they don’t relate to the business of WCC.

Despite that, we’ve had new candidates lining up to answer the questions. Of course, it’s voluntary, and what we will do starting from next week is go back through the official record and answer questions as best we can on their behalf and score them.

Because we think when you declare a Climate Emergency in an election year, the residents deserve to know exactly where each Councillor stands.

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