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Investing in Public Transport is a Chicken or Egg debate

In New Zealand, the provision of public transport seems to have really gotten into a chicken or egg debate. This is especially so with the current government who are very reluctant to spend any money on improving public transport using the argument that because most people drive, then we should invest in roads. Of course that ignores the point that so many people use roads because that was all we invested in for almost 60 years. An example of what I am talking about, skip to the 10 minute mark in this video

The reality is people aren’t going to magically use PT if is slow, expensive and not very attractive and the recent improvements in PT use have shown that even with some comparatively moderate investment, we seen patronage take off. Further most signs, especially in Auckland point to people wanting much investment in PT and it consistently seems to rate as one of the key things that people want to see improved. So with that in mind the question really becomes whether we should be using current results as the basis for our investment or something else. The council of course has produced its vision for the future as part of the Auckland Plan however transport is one of the key areas that the government disagrees with so perhaps its time the government started actually expressing their own vision for how they see the future. Developing to a vision, what ever it is, is surely going to provide better outcomes than just building more of something just because that is always what you have done. After all isn’t repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result a definition of insanity?

34 comments to Investing in Public Transport is a Chicken or Egg debate

  • Ash

    Yes, evident from English’s response to one of Genter’s question was that transport funding will only *follow* patronage trends. The National government will resist any attempt to *lead* the public, as has been witnessed with many of Len Brown’s efforts in Auckland (regional fuel tax, motorway tolling, etc).

    This is of course because the ideology to which the National party’s leadership subscribes holds that planning will always produce inferior outcomes to the market. There are of course other factors that prejudice them against PT and active transport (the much clearer delineation of subsidies in PT versus roading; perhaps even unions’ ability to shut down transport systems during strikes; their conception of ivory tower planners, etc).

    For me, regardless of how well that tenet holds in other real life scenarios, one of the areas where it really seems to fall short is around urban planning and transport.

  • Sacha

    This government has a vision. It’s called the 1950s. Cars and sprawl uber alles.

  • So with motorway traffic trending down and public transport, walking and cycling trending up… now what Nats?

  • Stu Donovan

    English is talking crap. The RoNs are not about following travel demands, but stimulating traffic and economic development more generally, i.e. they are trying to lead the market. If the Nats were applying a consistently “neutral” philosophy to transport them most of the RoNs would be cut. And we’d all be better off, most likely.

    • Filde

      Yes, it is quite a disappointing. Him being a fiscal conservative, I can understand him not wanting to invest in the CRL. But I cannot comprehend why he would want to spend money on these ludicrous motorways. This is a $12bn government intervention with English forcing his idealogy of driving on all NZers. Not to mention ACT supports this.

      Poor poor form. The scale of this, puts National and ACT in the more socialist than the Greens basket for me. Heck, at least they advocate giving people money rather than the ‘rich prick’ engineering companies who validate their work by the most ludicrous assumptions.

  • Josh

    Without industry there can be no revolution. Bring on those thousands and thousands of jobs for the lower skilled so I don’t have to keep paying for them.. Billy the kid has milky bars for everyone not just those who cry because they don’t like to share. Give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day but give a man a job and he’ll have no choice but to contribute. Stop the greed and start the obama that lives deep down in all of us. Our govt is acting red while wearing a blue suit. GO Johnny

    • Ah yeah, please prove to us how the RoNS will create jobs, apart from the jobs that are there while building them, and I’ll listen. Do these RoNS link to industry? No. If you genuinely wanted to link to industry the Marsden rail line would have been built by now.

  • SteveC

    there’s a fairly fundamental rural/urban split between Norman and Genter’s question and English’s answers, in other words, the Nats are working from a rural focus (English’s answers relating to farmers as environmentalists and transport emissions as coming from stock trucks) and the Greens/Labour from a more urban perspective; which reflects their relative areas of support

    this difference in viewpoint is likely to persist and possibly worsen as Auckland grows and “steals our funds to build their roads” (where the opposite is generally true Aucklanders sitting in traffic subsidise the rest of the country) and the “farming is the backbone of the economy” viewpoint retrenches into greater anti-Auckland feelings

  • Josh

    Bryce when was the last time you had to stop for roadworks on a Motorway?… Oh and when was that road built?… Whoops..jobs are needed after roads are built because they need maintenance. It’s called the roading industry mate. Anyways I’m wasting my time trying to convince you. We will never agree.

    • Are you suggesting that the prime reason for building the roads is to create jobs?

    • Filde

      Josh, you have fallen victim to the ‘broken window fallacy’. I suggest you watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erJEaFpS9ls.

      If you watch that you will realise that effectively these motorways involve a hideous amount of wealth to be destroyed. Yes it does employ people, but! but! It is effectively paying then to do something of very very little benefit. Why don’t you pay your child to pick his nose? After all, you are employing him. I’m sure his nose requires maintenance too… The reason is, you could pay him to be much more productive doing something else such as cook your dinner or do your clothes. This $12bn could be spent on education, health, or put back into ordinary NZers wallets to pay off the mortgage.

  • Stu Donovan

    I agree with you almost entirely, although just note that English is having to defend Joyce’s baby. I also can’t believe that ACT supports the RoNs, or at least does not create a stink about it. Agree with you: The scale of National’s intervention via the RoNS makes the Green socialist tendencies pale in comparison. Not even questionable engineering assumptions can make these roads stand up – Kapiti Expressway has a BCR of only 0.97 with recent revisions putting it at 0.2. I’m constantly disappointed by the RonS affair, at least it has now flowed through into the realisation that fuel taxes will have to be hiked.

    Wonder if fuel taxes are regressive? My instinct tells me they are.

  • Christopher T

    The National party’s current stance – and I hesitate to flatter it by describing it as ideological – is driven by an overriding belief (and you can ignore any accurate fact or statistic) that the only valid investment the state makes must ensure profit-making opportunities for the private sector. You need only look at Joyce’s inept and inappropriate intervention in the recent Hop card tendering fiasco where, according to papers Phil Twyford recently obtained under FOI legislation, he insisted that the venture capital firm Infratil be involved on the basis that an integrated ticketing scheme was best undertaken by the private sector.This may have just been provincial incompetence but it does suggest a degree of venality. RoNS are evidently in the same, fact free zone.

    • Rob Mayo

      Wouldnt be surprised if there are backhanders occuring between govt and the so-called ‘private sector’, particularly in the construction of the RoNS projects – money politics has become entrenched in NZ – yet another example of blindly following overseas trends – disgusting.

    • Peter M

      I also think the government genuinely believe that the public likes the RoNS and that not enough people catch public transport for them to be a group with any political clout. I’m not sure whether they’re right or wrong on this issue, but I’m fairly sure that they’re increasingly wrong.

      • SteveC

        see my comment on the rural/urban split, it’s a mindset issue

      • Filde

        Brownlee did mention in a recent TV interview (TVNZ I think) that it was ‘an election promise’ and thus they had to follow through.

        • Filde, there was absolutely no public mention of the RoNS idea before National were elected. Im sure it was discussed at length with its beneficiaries however. This is a nonsense argument.
          They also promised to make lots and lots of high paying jobs and to reverse the flight to Australia… how they doing with those ‘promises’?

        • Filde

          Ha yes, perhaps they see this promise as the only one they CAN deliver on!

          I’m not offering it as a defence, just more remarking on Peter M’s comment that they genuinely believe that the public likes the RoNs. Although, I’m fairly certain I recall them unveiling these ideas before the election!?

  • Joyce always argues that the government ‘doesn’t pick winners’ and with transport spending it is clear this is sadly true; they pick losers. Road use is flat in total and in decline per capita; public transport demand has been consistently rising FOR THE ENTIRE TIME THEY HAVE BEEN IN GOVERNMENT and for years preceding it. Yet they are not just maintaining the status quo of disproportionate investment in driving infrastructure but have have pursued an aggressive policy of expanding the driving subsidy. So they are not ‘merely responding to market signals’.

    Even if this idea of not doing any more than directing funding to follow demand was an ideal way for government to improve our economy and lives they are not, as they claim, in any way doing this.

    Bill English has no idea about anything, doesn’t see government as having any purpose, you have to wonder why he never pursued a ‘real’ job then. And it is no surprise that the two times he has been Minister of Finance [1999, 2008-] are low points in the nations economic performance with record levels of unemployment, and poor government financial performance .

    We have a government that does nothing much, except where it does, as shown by its transport policy, spend irresponsibly and without evidence to support its decisions.

    Whatever metric is used to measure the effectiveness of this governments spending decisions they are shown to be poor. Even the MoT’s own ‘Highway friendly’ BCR model shows how economically useless and fiscally irresponsible this policy is:
    BCRs of approved State Highways. Source MoT

    • Filde

      There shouldn’t be any picking… socialist buggers! ;-)

      • Funny thing is if we’re going to get into labels, the whole road funding system is intensely ‘socialist’: Taxes and Rates are collected then spent on a nation wide-network decided on by a centrally appointed agency with very little devolved decision making nor in proportion to individuals’ level of use:

        Power to the people: Vote National!

  • What ever complaints we may have about the performance of the previous government they were certainly not reckless nor irresponsible with our money in the way that this government clearly is. See above.

  • Christopher T

    Contrary to popular perception, Labour governments hold the historical record of being fiscally responsible. Bizarrely, it’s National party governments that have spent up big although, more often than not, and the RoNS is a classic example of this, on really stupid schemes which, incidentally, have a rural focus and for some reason are immensely profitable to the private sector.

  • Matt Lee

    I don’t know if that’s strictly true, the Bolger and Shipley governments were fiscally conservative. Though I understand your point.

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