Budget 2011: Gareth Hughes’ speech on transport

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Kia ora, Mr Assistant Speaker. It is a privilege to take a call in this Budget debate, and I intend to focus on transport issues.

When it comes to transport, this Government, under Steven Joyce as transport Minister, is simply on the wrong track. This Government is creating monuments in concrete and asphalt to 1950s-style transport thinking. The roads of national significance—or the roads of significance to National—that dominate the transport budget are memorials to old-fashioned thinking, locking Kiwis into cars, trucks, and an oil-dependent future.

As Wellington debates an appropriate sign for the airport, I would like to propose instead of the Wellywood sign, a gigantic statue of Steven Joyce near the proposed Basin Reserve flyover to remember him, the “colossus of roads”.

I ask where the balance is, when for every dollar we spend on walking, cycling, buses, trains and coastal shipping, this Government is pouring $7 into building more roads. I intend in this call to explain the Green Party approach to transport, to look at the roads of significance to National, and to discuss the smart alternatives we should be adopting. The transport budget is primarily delivered through the Government Policy Statement, which is currently out in draft form. It is an enormously influential document, determining how we will spend more than $38 billion over the next 10 years.

Firstly, I will state the Green approach to transport. We believe that our Government is wasting our scarce national resources on uneconomic motorways, and locking us into a car, truck, and oil-dependent future. I ask where the balance is, when for every dollar we spend on walking, cycling, buses, trains, and coastal shipping, this Government is pouring $7 into building more roads. Walking and cycling come off particularly badly in this Budget, receiving less than 1 percent of the total transport budget even though 10 percent of Kiwis cycle or walk to work, and they would do that even more if it was safer.

This Budget is massively skewed, with $13.7 billion, or 39 percent, of the total Land Transport Fund going towards State highways, to the detriment of local roads, police safety, transport planning, and public transport infrastructure. It is like investing in a CD store at the dawn of the iPod age. These projects lock us into old ways of getting around, and constrain the smart alternatives.

The Government Policy Statement allows for an increase of only $90 million in subsidies for public transport services over the next 10 years. Public transport services will receive less than 10 percent of the Land Transport Fund. This suggests that the Government wants to constrain the high growth we have seen in patronage over the last 10 years.

There is no joined-up thinking in this transport budget. The Government talks about roads of national significance when it should be looking more broadly at transport corridors of national significance. The Green Party believes in smart transport investments that balance roads with sustainable transport options to future-proof our transport system so that it is more affordable, efficient, and versatile.

Out of Government, the Green Party has achieved the electrification of the Auckland rail network, we have saved the Overlander train, Johnsonville’s trains, and Wellington iconic trolleybuses, and now we are working with the Government to roll out the national cycleway. The Greens are not anti-car or anti-road; we love to drive, we are pro-transport choice.

We do not want to stop all road investment; we just want to stop pouring billions of dollars into white elephant motorways that will just make congestion worse. The roads of significance to National that dominate the transport spend are expensive. We are talking about $10.7 billion over 10 years, and many of the roads are uneconomic under the Government’s own benefit cost ratios. That is without measuring the true cost: the externalities of climate change, obesity, and road safety.

The OECD report reference to the National Infrastructure Plan shows there is no correlation in New Zealand between motorways and economic growth, yet there is a strong positive correlation between investment in other types of local roads and rail. Recent research from the United States shows that the economic stimulus spending there on public transport created twice as many jobs per dollar spent on motorways. We hear from the “colossus of roads”, Steven Joyce, that motorway projects are good for creating jobs. However, that makes no sense when each job costs between half a million dollars and $1 million to create just a single job. Even Don Brash, in his latest 2025 task force, said of one of the roads of significance to National that there was no evidence that the project would provide a net benefit to the economy.

Many of these projects are not even needed. For example, the Western Link Road, which was the community’s preferred option over the Kapiti Expressway, or, north of Auckland, the Campaign for Transport’s “lifesaver highway” would cost considerably less and do considerably more for road safety in the short term than the $1.7 billion “holiday highway”. Essentially, the National Land Transport Fund is the Minister’s own discretionary fund to play with, and to make political decisions with, and he has rammed these motorways through under a shocking process.

That is why I call them roads of significance to National. These roads benefit trucks primarily, and are roads of trucking significance. They run through iconic and important communities of national significance, and they lock us into an increase in greenhouse gases, which are already up by 70 percent since 1990 in the transport sector, as if the climate were not of significance. The Government is woefully and wilfully ignoring the price of oil. None of the business cases take into account the volatile or rising oil prices, nor the huge impact that current world prices are having, seeing that road traffic levels have declined over 3 percent over the last year.

Unlike many businesses, councils, and Governments, this Government has no plan—or plan to start planning—to reduce our dependence on oil, which accounts for 16 percent of our gross domestic product or 99 percent of our transport fuel. This huge fortune we are wasting on our motorways is based on a fuel of declining significance. These roads of significance to National will not even help motorists stuck on our crowded roads.

Building roads to deal with congestion is like dieting by extending the belt buckles. These roads will increase sprawl significantly in low urban housing density, mean higher infrastructure costs, higher household commuting costs, and constraining public transport more akin to the 1950s than the 21st century.

We are at a turning point. If we keep doing things the way we always did, building more motorways and spending the vast majority of the Budget on roads for trucks, we will not get a different outcome. We need smart transport solutions.

Just before Bill English read out his Budget speech, I highlighted the major missing piece of the Budget, funding for the central business district rail link, when I tabled my petition signed by thousands of Aucklanders. Building the link would transform the rail network, whose patronage grew over 20 percent in the last year, it would unlock the rail network, unlock its constrained capacity, and transform the central business district. Primarily it would benefit motorists by taking cars off the road massively benefiting the regional economy. This Government however is determined to continue the heritage of previous National Governments by thwarting Auckland’s ambition for a central business district rail link.

The Government policy statement contained only $370 million, or 1 percent of the National Land Transport Fund, for building new public transport infrastructure meaning the central business district rail link will stay just a dream. Auckland cannot do it alone given that this Government removed its transport revenue-raising options. The “Colossus of Roads” got his officials to produce a negative review of the business case, amazingly identifying only $148 million in benefits, whereas I prefer to go by the internationally reviewed and more robust Auckland Council review, which showed $3.3 billion in wider economic benefits. This Government is holding Auckland back despite the clear call from the people of Auckland, the strong business case, and the plain need to get the loop now.

In Wellington funding was missing for another transformational transport project—the light rail system to link up the region’s rail network with its southern suburbs. The Greens have been champions for rail in Parliament. We love it because it is efficient, better at reducing congestion, safer, environmentally friendly, and, lastly, economically beneficial.

This Budget fails to address the affordability of buses and trains, to develop a smart strategy to see more Kiwis cycling, to encourage car sharing, or to promote better urban design. At a time when New Zealand’s Budget deficit is higher than ever we should be investing only in transport projects with strong and proven economic cases, like the central business district rail loop or walking and cycling. Steven Joyce has essentially raided the transport pantry and taken all of the money to fund his pet political project, his politically inspired roads of significance to National, in the pursuit of some outdated and misguided vision of economic growth.

In summary, these uneconomic, and, in many cases, unneeded, roads of National Party electoral significance and roads of trucking significance rammed through under a terrible process through communities of national significance based on a fuel of declining significance—as if the climate was not significant—must be stopped. We need real transport leadership and a balanced approach to transport spending, but all we got was a monument to the 1950s—a “Colossus of Roads”.

11 Comments Posted

  1. Labour in the last 9 years in power simply continued a slightly lighter form of Neo-Liberalism. In that they were no better than National.

    The whole mess of Globalisation, exporting jobs, deregulated finance and making life easier for white collar criminals continued with little abatement.

    Lets hope, as claimed, they have had a bit of an epiphany lately. And realise that they lost votes due to their failure to reverse the decline caused by the cut taxes and wages, give our wealth to the already wealthy dogma.

  2. Given the yearly spend in imported energy costs rail, coastal shipping and anything else which makes better use of energy are excellent long term investments. However I would not have bought rail back. It should just have been nationalised to discourage the same sort of asset stripping burglary by the private sector in future.
    Our private sector which is so good at business they cannot succeed without being gifted public assets to play with.

  3. If the NZ Governmenst had have wanted the railways back, all they had to do was stop paying the subsidy they were, and the owners would have decamped pronto.

    Or they could have bought out Tranz Rail for a song in 2003, perhaps done an Air New Zealand type arrangement (i.e. take a huge stake in the company and water down the remaining shareholdings).

    If it was your money, would you invest in rail.

    Well, given that Warren Buffett has invested in rail (he bought out Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009), I would not exactly reject the idea of investing in rail too soon.

    Roads of significance to National – love it!

    Except that five and a half of the current seven Roads of National Significance were thought up by the Labour Party, and would have been constructed no matter which major party occupied the treasury benches.

  4. Owen asks “If it was your money, would you invest in rail”?

    Regreattble, it is our money. Cullen spend hundreds of millions on a clapped out railway – and committed the taxpayer to hundreds of millions more – whenthe owners would have walked away from it for the bad investmenst it was in a few years. It was ideological madness.

    If the NZ Governmenst had have wanted the railways back, all they had to do was stop paying the subsidy they were, and the owners would have decamped pronto.

  5. Not to mention taxis, shuttles, cans and trucks and even walkers.

    Rail takes nothing but rail and is about to go obsolete. If it was your money, would you invest in rail.
    It’s like investing in telex machines in the seventies.

  6. Gareth says “for every dollar we spend on walking, cycling, buses, trains and coastal shipping, this Government is pouring $7 into building more roads.”

    What do you think bicyles and buses get about on, Gareth?

  7. Gareth, you little bewdy, that was great.

    MED and Treasury are also both stuck in a pattern of denial about rising oil costs, (and peak oil) which goes back to the early 2000’s, a topic that has seen MED continuously underplan for fuel costs as part of NZ GDP (Jeanette used to give a great talk on this, with accompanying graph showing how the quarterly projections continued to fail to show the reality of rising prices, always predicting an imminent return of oil prices to pre-2003 levels) – they refused to acknowledge what most green lobbyists and many business analysts were already saying, that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the nation must begin to plan past that fact.

    National are taking their cue from imbedded industries with a preference for subsidies and government assistance, who are all content to consume resources right to the last drop, no matter what the consequences economically or environmentally. This has got to be challenged, it is homicidal and selfish thinking – get as much profit now as possible, never mind how many people die later.

    The results are in, we have good science on the effects of climate change, on the limits of oil exploration and production, now is the time to ‘power down’ gently by increasing spending on mass transit systems and both decreasing our dependence on private transport solutions, and reducing the carbon emissions produced per person travelling each journey.

  8. Good onya Gareth.. Yes there are more options not just “build more roads”.
    They also need to put more effort into promoting alternatives. Aotearoa needs to get into the 21st century & embrace public transport (TRAINS & buses) Kia-ora

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