So much is happening in transport that it’s a bit hard to keep up and put out an informed post on each happening, so here’s a round-up:
First, the bad news:
The Napier—Gisborne line is hanging by a thread after being washed out. This is a huge blow to the regional freight line, which thanks to local efforts had been running a full freight service three times a week since the beginning of the year. There is a serious risk that Kiwirail will use this setback to mothball the line, which was their watching brief to begin with.
Wellington Regional Council is putting up public transport fares in a bid to raise revenue. Unfortunately, without a comprehensive approach to transport, this will likely lead to the typical public transport death spiral wherein high fares mean fewer passengers and lower revenue, therefore hiking fares even more. Although, high petrol prices mean there is something of a captive audience… there is a better, more affordable approach to transport and this is not it.
No hint that the Government is going to defer or delay its programme of burning billions of dollars to build a few motorways with extremely poor business cases (henceforth referred to as the RoNS). I can report from my experience sitting on the financial reviews of Ministry of Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency in select committee a few weeks ago that the general managers of these organisations are not able to give satisfying or compelling answers as to how these projects will deliver economic benefit to the country.
They did, thankfully, acknowledge that the forecasting of both passenger and freight volumes that had been used in the RoNS business cases had not eventuated over the past 5 years. But they did not seem to think that recent trends should have any bearing on near future travel forecasting or project prioritisation. The GM of MoT told me that he did not share my concern that higher oil prices and lower GDP growth would result in a need to prioritise different projects over the next ten years.
There was a surreal moment when he also tried to tell me that the Ministry did not decide which projects should be funded – that NZTA did the project evaluation and funding, and therefore selection. Given that the Government Policy Statement identifies the amount of money that will be spent in each activity class, including well over a billion dollars each year on new motorway infrastructure, and the RoNS were specifically announced in Government policy, I found this claim confusing. Even if all the economic evaluations for the RoNS are low, NZTA will still have to fund some of them. He then tried to claim that the RoNS were identified as priorities in Regional Land Transport Strategies, which in the case of Puhoi to Wellsford is patently false.
What do we take from official obfuscation? These guys have no idea what’s about to hit them, and they have unerring faith in the complexity of the four-stage traffic model to provide the right outcome. You can’t really blame them, they have been employed to defend and implement Government policy.
The good news?
I sent a letter to the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee today laying out the case for an inquiry into the prioritisation and evaluation of the RoNS. We’ll see what happens when we meet Thursday.