Tēnā kōrua Hon Phil Twyford (Minister of Transport) and Hon Julie Anne Genter (Associate Minister of Transport),
We’re writing to you to express our concerns about inter-regional transport options during Alert Level 2 and to inquire how the Government will address the cancellation of train and bus services during this time?
How does this relate to Alert Level 2?
As you may be aware, Intercity has announced they will not be operating at Alert Level 2. KiwiRail will not resume its inter-regional services (which it calls “tourist trains“) until 30 June at the earliest (despite this being a great opportunity to pivot from being tourist-focused to local passenger/commuter focused). However, flights ARE operating. Sure, not as many flights as usual, but it looks like flying will be the only option for inter-regional transport unless people drive themselves or go nowhere.
Our understanding is that the disappearance or reduction of these inter-regional transport services under Alert Level 2 relates to social distancing requirements making ordinary operations financially unsustainable for these businesses. In relation to KiwiRail, it may also relate to the organisation’s long-standing reluctance to see the inter-regional train component of its operations as anything other than a tourist service (even though there are NZers who chose to use services like Northern Explorer to travel for work purposes, despite the eye-watering prices).
The bottom line is that in this day and age, after all we have been through and all we have learnt during lockdown, it cannot be possible that inter-regional travel recommences in New Zealand, with the only options available to the nation being the high-carbon options of flying or driving a personal car.
What can the Govt do to address this?
One option seems to be to step in and subsidise these services temporarily (presuming that people are going to need to move around – and certainly if the govt wants to promote domestic tourism). This would also support the jobs in these businesses that would otherwise not be operating. We’re open to hearing what other plans you might have. Perhaps further nationalising these services could be another option.
Why is this important?
We are at a turning point in global history. Government failure to support alternatives to flying right now throws into question any sustainable reset for Aotearoa or the chance to direct New Zealanders towards alternatives to flying. Sure, the alternatives we have right now are very far from perfect, but they are absolutely better than nothing.
Our view is that this is pressing. As a nation we must start Alert Level 2 how we mean to carry on and create a precedent. If people are going to be permitted to travel between regions under Alert Level 2 (regardless of whether we think they should or not), it can’t be on planes alone. Furthermore, it can’t be argued that planes are inherently safer when it comes to this virus’ transmission than buses or trains (although some people may incorrectly infer this from the current situation). Everything needs to be on the same playing field.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Hannah Blumhardt and Liam Prince