Transport in the next three years

With special votes seeming likely to result in the Green Party getting one more MP, at the cost of National, and the chances of Auckland Central and/or Waitakere swinging from National to Labour being relatively (but not impossibly) slim, we have a fairly good idea about the shape of the future government.

  • We have 121 seats – a one seat overhang. This is down from the current parliament, which has 122 seats. This means that 61 seats are necessary for a majority.
  • National are likely to end up with 59 seats, which leaves them two short of a majority. They will require two “parties” (it feels a bit wrong calling one man bands of Act & United Future parties) out of United Future, Act and the Maori Party for support. This shouldn’t be too difficult. Ironically Labour might be kicking themselves for winning Te Tai Tonga as then there’d be a two seat overhang and National would need all three of these support parties – a much harder ask.
  • Interestingly, the total number of seats of parties generally supporting the government is down from 69 to 65 (assuming the Maori Party supports them), which gives a little less breathing space than we had previously. If either John Banks or Peter Dunne disagree with National on anything then they could make life pretty difficult – although I think this is unlikely as both will probably become defacto National MPs.

What does this all mean for transport? Well obviously the government is likely to continue with its current policies – as I outlined in this post we are likely to see further investigation of four additional Roads of National Significance. Personally I think these extra roads are more election bribes than anything else as there’s unlikely to be any money in the transport budget for major new projects for at least a decade if the government keeps pushing forward on their current RoNS.

In three years time obviously Victoria Park Tunnel will be fully completed and opened (I wonder if it will still be plagued by horrific congestion, I suspect so), construction on the Waterview Connection will be in full swing and widening of the SH16 causeway should be well under way. I’m not entirely sure what progress is expected to be made on Puhoi-Wellsford by that stage. Assuming that Labour and the Green Party stick to their pledge to scale back this road, a change of government in three years time could well mean that the “holiday highway” never happens, unless so much construction on it has occurred by 2014 that it’s impossible to back out of. I think that’s unlikely.

My pick for the big “elephant in the room” issue for road construction over the next three years will be declining fuel tax receipts putting enormous pressure on NZTA’s ability to actually deliver on the projects the government is promising. Already this year we are seeing NZTA finding it desperately difficult to “pay the bills”, having to put off many of its subsidies that go to Auckland Transport for a month or two here and there, so that they can manage their incredibly tight cashflow. If petrol prices continue to rise between now and 2014 this trend will only increase and we might find it very difficult to fund either the smaller projects (generally those with the best cost-benefit ratios) or we may have to be looking at delaying some of NZTA’s bigger projects. I feel that even increasing NZTA’s ability to borrow (as proposed in the LTMA reforms) will only delay this inevitability.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom over the next three years. By late 2014 pretty much all our flash new electric trains should be running on the Auckland rail network, and judging by recent trends our rail patronage may be getting close to 15 million trips a year. With an enlarged Greens caucus, and key Labour MPs with a strong interest in Auckland transport issues (Phil Twyford, David Shearer and Jacinda Ardern) being returned to parliament and identified as rising stars, there should be an even better informed political debate over transport in the future. As I have noted in a few recent posts, I am particularly excited that Julie-Anne Genter has made it into parliament – I’m looking forward to parliament’s first questions on parking policy!

Like with many things, the real wildcard might be New Zealand First. Which side of the political divide they fall on transport policy is probably yet to be determined, but they may find it a useful weapon to attack the government on. Although Andrew Williams was clearly the worst mayor North Shore City ever had, the fact that he has been in that position means that he must have a reasonably good awareness of transport matters in the Auckland area – which must be a good thing.

Certainly, it’ll be an interesting three years.

Thoughts on the election result

Things went largely as expected last night with the election results, although a few of the results (particularly NZ First getting back in) were a bit of a surprise. Here are the preliminary party vote results – with another 220,000 odd special votes still to be counted: The 13 seats for the Greens Party (and they traditionally go up a seat on special votes) means that Julie-Anne Genter will get into parliament, which is pretty awesome as we’ll have a transport planner there to put the tough questions to Steven Joyce over the next three years.

Somewhat more frustratingly, if you look at the results for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye is just over 500 votes ahead of Jacinda Ardern – although there are still around 6000 special votes to be counted. If Nikki had lost Auckland Central to Jacinda it would have been quite a strong message sent to the government about the transport policies of the two major parties. Ironically, the current majority is well under the number of electorate votes for Green candidate Denise Roche – so all you Green Party supporters who couldn’t split your vote have undermined your own transport goals. Fools! There are quite a few interesting things about this result, moving forwards:

  • Because “Keep MMP” easily won the referendum (at least the advance votes, but the final votes should be pretty similar) it seems that we will definitely keep that system, which I think is overall a very good thing.
  • If you combine the party results into “centre-left” and “centre-right” parties, the vote split is remarkably similar to the 2008 election. National has just mopped up votes from Act while Labour lost votes to Greens and NZ First.
  • The turnout seems to have been remarkably low, at below 75% once special votes are counted. This worked against Labour as in electorates like Mangere (Labour’s strongest in the country) there were only 21,000 votes whereas in many rural ¬†electorates there were well over 30,000 votes.
  • I wonder what NZ First’s approach to transport matters will be. I’d better have a search through their policies…
  • If the Greens can maintain something like their vote share at the next election (which I think will be a challenge against an inevitably revitalised Labour) then in 2014 I think we’re likely to see National remaining the largest party but not being able to form a government.

But perhaps the weirdest thing of the whole night is the electorate result for Christchurch Central. With the special votes still to be counted the Labour and National candidates are dead even.