Gareth Hughes

Government’s transport funding plans just silly

by Gareth Hughes

A while ago the Herald wrote an editorial about the Government’s transport plans for Auckland. They observed that if you define insanity as doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different outcome, then the Government’s transport policies are insane.

While I was reading the Government Policy Statement on Transport Funding last week I remembered their words.

The Government Policy Statement is an enormously influential document that will determine how we spend $38 billion of transport funds over the next 10 years.

And, as the graph below shows, it is crazily unbalanced towards investment in major motorway projects that won’t fix congestion.

For every $1 the Government spends on bus, rail, walking or cycling from the National Land Transport Fund they’re planning to spend almost $7 on building or maintaining roads. Walking and cycling come off particularly badly, receiving less than 1% of the total transport budget, even though more than 10% of New Zealanders currently walk and cycle to work, and many more would if it was safer. Road safety and transport planning are also cheated of extra funds.

The policy statement also predicts, bizzarely, that our investment in building new state highways will increase significantly over time but our investment in local roads won’t. I wonder where the Minister thinks the cars will go when they come off his enormous new motorways?

The Minister’s vision shows no awareness of climate change or that fact that land transport is one of our fastest rising sources of emissions. But the Government Policy Statement is not just disastrous environmentally. It also makes no economic sense.

The GPS does nothing to protect New Zealanders from fluctuating or rising oil prices, which significantly affect the economy.

If you actually thought we may be able to cheaply import a bunch of electric or hybrid cars while in a recession, this GPS still isn’t smart because motorways don’t solve congestion, they often make it worse (see the example of Los Angeles). And a transport system based mostly on private cars (electric or otherwise) takes up an enormous amount of land, the costs of which are shifted into the real estate sector. So even without high oil prices, our transport system is costing us far more because we’ve prioritised cars over more economically productive uses of urban land.

Sometimes we hear that the motorway projects are good for creating jobs. That makes no sense because research shows (PDF) that investing in public transport projects, road maintenance, walking and cycling create more jobs than building motorways. This should be intuitively obvious because people don’t build motorways, machines do. We spend $500,000 to $1 million to create one motorway job, and most of that money goes on machinery and materials.

Confidential Ministry of Transport papers (PDF, page 13) confirm that since the Minister started the Roads of National Significance Programme, the economic benefits we’re getting back from our transport investment have dropped dramatically.

Now the Minister is proposing building massive motorways on even more remote country roads than the Holiday Highway. For example, one of his proposed Roads of National Significance runs between Cambridge and Taupo and carries only about 7,000 vehicles/day (to put that in context many local roads in Auckland carry 15,000 vehicles/day).

At a time when New Zealand’s budget deficit is higher than ever before we should only be investing in transport projects with strong and proven economic benefits, like the CBD rail loop.

All in all, the Government Policy Statement is a joke. It’s so silly that I can hardly believe the Minister is actually seriously proposing it.

I’ve written a form submission on the Government Policy Statement. If you want to live in a country with a decent public transport system, where you can get around even when the price of oil rises, and where we’re taking serious action to prevent climate change I encourage you to fill it out.

Go on! It only takes 5 minutes and you don’t want our transport funding policies to be as silly as this video below, do you?

The Ministry of Silly Walks