Gareth Hughes
Government’s transport funding plans just silly

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

13 thoughts on “Government’s transport funding plans just silly

  1. What Aotearoa/NZ really needs is education & a shift of mentality. Focusing on alternatives to more roads is a great idea, but getting kiwis out from behind their steering wheels is something else.

    I ride buses regularly, (not owning a car).. but the majority of the buses I catch, are at least half empty.
    BUT I do applaud any strategy to reduce the gross carbon foot-print !! Kia-ora

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  2. The last link on the post doesn’t work (used the second to last one instead).

    Thanks for linking to most of your claims! The one thing missing is a link to research that shows that people want to walk/bike more. I think there’s a lot more research to be done on the actual reasons people don’t bike, walk, or bus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 (+3)

  3. 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).

    Although not building motorways can do the same thing (see the example of Phoenix).

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

    Given that the National Party has been blamed for the last 25 years for nearly bankrupting the country in pursuit of projects that would have made us more resilient to oil shocks (but ended up being sold at a massive loss), please explain how you are going to sell projects on that basis?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1 (+3)

  4. Governments have cornered the Market on seeming silly – they take advice from Public Servants, long in the tooth and big-time with Public Funds – lucky for them someone doesn’t ‘clean house’ one day….but then I guess no Government could survive such an undertaking – possibly how we’ve come so far down the wrong road

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  5. Although not directly related to transport options, one way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to convert some of our vehicle fleet to run on CNG (methane), and to develop our renewable resources to reduce our other usages of CNG, such as for power generation, water and space heating and conversion to hydrogen (for ammonia/urea production and the oil refinery). The most sensible vehicles to convert are the newest petrol-engined cars and light vans, as converting older vehicles gives less time to break-even, and petrol engine conversions are relatively simple.

    Trevor.

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  6. @Johnston, There will always be peak hour congestion unless there is road pricing. In cities that invest in public transport and aren’t car-oriented, more people can get where they need to go without being stuck in congestion.

    If you try to solve congestion with motorways, origins and destinations will be even more spread out, more people have to get places by car, and therefore not only is congestion worse, but a higher percentage of people are stuck in it.

    It’s incredibly ironic that the National Party is going to nearly bankrupt the country again, this time to build expensive projects that will be white elephants precisely because of oil prices.

    They don’t have to justify projects — they could spend less money overall and still invest in the rail network in Auckland. People are highly supportive
    “A Colmar Brunton poll commissioned by WWF-New Zealand found that 72% of New Zealanders think the Government should tackle this issue by investing now in developing public transport and alternatives to petrol and diesel for New Zealand. It looks like the government is seriously out of touch with what New Zealanders want and expect.”

    http://www.wwf.org.nz/what_we_do/?5020/NZs-Energy-Strategy-is-heading-for-a-slippery-slope

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  7. Congestion is the tool to manage road use. Its well known that if you reduce congestion by increasing capacity (or other smarter measures) then the usage increases. There is a level of congestion that people will accept, and if you reduce congestion then those with a lower threshold join the party, and thus congestion returns.

    The problem is that in New Zealand there are few practical alternatives to taking the car. So the options are either to build truly practical alternatives to the car, or increase car carrying capacity. Building practical alternatives from where we are today (as opposed to had we built them a century ago before traffic was a big issue) is a difficult and expensive proposition. So its easy to understand why “build more roads” is the oft-adopted mantra.

    Of course, increasing oil prices will mean people wont be able to afford to use cars as they do today, and we’ll still have no practical alternatives to the car, and practical alternatives will be even harder to come by. Going to be real interesting to see how that circle gets squared.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 (-1)

  8. The govt’s transport policies are very reimiscent of “think big” actually. Putting all our eggs in one basket and gambling hugely on the price of oil. Just this time they’re gambling oil will stay cheap.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 (+2)

  9. There will always be peak hour congestion unless there is road pricing.

    In the first instance, name me one city that has tried to get rid of congestion entirely. To be honest, I struggle to see an example of a city that has tried to get rid of congestion entirely. Secondly, in the case of Phoenix, congestion got so bad that the people that had complained about motorway development in the 1970s voted in favour of a Sales Tax in the 1980s to build motorways!

    Putting all our eggs in one basket and gambling hugely on the price of oil. Just this time they’re gambling oil will stay cheap.

    There is always the saying, once bitten, twice shy and in this case, high price of oil or not, there will be a use for improved roads.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2 (+1)

  10. Some random thoughts.

    The economic return value of the roading diminishes with each new road. Extra is not an economic return improvement – unless it removes bottle necks.

    Congestion is a great way to encourage public transport – bus and commuter car (multiple passenger) lanes cause congestion in the slower traffic lanes and so are of value in causing this congestion.

    Broadband investment should enable multiple site workplaces and spread out traffic over longer time periods – reducing peak hour congestion – reducing need for expanding road system capability.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  11. Thanks for that. I remember a saying ‘if you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got.

    We’ve had a few problems with public transport lately. Greens and Labour Progressive and Mana need to let the public know that under a National/Act government the above saying rings true, but the needs under huge petrol prices and traffic woes, the ground has now shifted and far more money needs to go into improving public transport.

    Labour and Greens especially should be pushing this. I hope it is in both manifestos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

  12. Communications and Transport continue to merge – at more than one level.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/science/11drive.html?_r=1

    Google, a pioneer of self-driving cars, is quietly lobbying for legislation that would make Nevada the first state where they could be legally operated on public roads.
    And yes, the proposed legislation would include an exemption from the ban on distracted driving to allow occupants to send text messages while sitting behind the wheel.

    The two bills, which have received little attention outside Nevada’s Capitol, are being introduced less than a year after the giant search engine company acknowledged that it was developing cars that could be safely driven without human intervention.

    Last year, in response to a reporter’s query about its then-secret research and development program, Google said it had test-driven robotic hybrid vehicles more than 140,000 miles on California roads — including Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    More than 1,000 miles had been driven entirely autonomously at that point; one of the company’s engineers was testing some of the car’s autonomous features on his 50-mile commute from Berkeley to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/science/11drive.html?_r=1

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