As Labour’s Transport Spokesperson, I want to visit as many regions as I can to hear what their issues are.
Listening to the locals is how we will get a well-informed transport policy that addresses not only the regions, but the pressing issues in Auckland and the opportunities that the rebuild of Christchurch presents.
It matters, because transport impacts on everything we do. We can't participate in society without it, it impacts on our ability to access employment, get educated, have our healthcare needs met and to grow our economy. In short, if we get it right transport is an enabler - if we get it wrong it can damage people's lives.
Whangarei was on the radar recently. While there I met with NorthPort, Regional Transport Committee members, the Automobile Association and local union members.
The overarching theme in all of the discussions was the future of rail in Northland.
From the (possibly wrongly-placed) rail corridor set aside for a port link to concerns that more rail closures are eminent in Northland, it was the issue that everyone wanted to raise with me.
NorthPort already has 1200 truck movements every day, and that doesn't take account of traffic from a cement company and a trucking firm that use part of the same road. It’s obvious from the wear and tear on that route and the associated road safety issues that rail and coastal shipping need to be part of a future integrated freight movement plan. And don't get me started on the environmental impact!
This region faces the prospect of rail closures at the same time the Government is planning bigger and heavier trucks on local roads, while that same Government has cut funding for local road maintenance. It is a disaster waiting to happen and it is happening all around New Zealand.
The jury was out regarding how best to improve the journey between Auckland and Whangarei, but everyone agreed that by-passes around Warkworth and Wellsford are a priority.
Barriers stopping people from getting their full driver's licence was another hot topic. Hardly surprising given there’s only four locations where people can sit their tests in this massive region and some 15,000 locals waiting to upgrade their licences.
People with a full driver's licence are eight times more likely to find employment, so those stuck on a Learner’s or Restricted are costing themselves and the local economy important opportunities.
So, plenty of issues for us to digest. Thanks for the insight, Whangarei.