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Why aren’t we getting what we want?

Yesterday the NZ Herald picked up on the UMR research poll on transport spending preferences – that Matt did a post on a few days back. Here are some of the key points in the Herald article:

Popular support for spending on public transport has almost doubled over 20 years, according to a poll of 750 New Zealanders.

The poll by UMR Research shows a reverse from 1992, when 43 per cent of those surveyed preferred Government money to be spent on motorways and other public roads, compared with 25 per cent support for public transport as the priority spending candidate.

By September last year, when the latest poll was taken with a 3.6 per cent margin of error, the tables had turned.

Those supporting priority spending on public transport had grown to 48 per cent, compared with 37 per cent favouring roads.

The portion who were unsure or supported equal spending on both categories fell to 15 per cent, from 32 per cent in 1992.

Survey participants were asked by phone of UMR’s wide-ranging annual Mood of the Nation review: “If you had to choose, should Government funds by used to improve motorways and public roads, or should funds be used to improve public transport?”

I’m always a bit sceptical of polling on issues like this, because you never quite know what slant is being put on the question to elicit a result one way or the other, but what is of most interest to me is how the results have changed over time because the same question is being asked. And between 1992 and 2012 there was a big increase, 25% up to 48% of people who would choose for funding to go into public transport, a noticeable decline from 43% to 37% favouring roads and quite a big decline in those choosing “both” or “neither”.

What’s really interesting is then looking at the extent to which funding is following the preferences of the public, which the Herald article touches upon:

Its policy directives have seen the Transport Agency allocate just under 14 per cent of a $12.3 billion land transport investment problem over the next three years to public transport…

…Although an allocation of $1.7 billion in the coming three years to public transport represents a 21 per cent increase on spending from 2009 to last year, about $700 million of that will come from local councils and much of the Government’s money will be spent on new electric trains in Auckland and Wellington.

There’s a bit of debate over these numbers because, as the article notes, a significant chunk of the public transport funding actually comes from local government rather than from Central Government. There’s also the issue of whether we’re talking about transport funding as a whole or whether we’re really focusing on where the money is being spent in terms of building new infrastructure.

If you look at NZTA’s spend over the next three years you get a better idea about where the government feels its transport priorities lie:NLTP 2012-15 Investment LevelsAnd take that one step further to just look at where the spending on new infrastructure is going to go and things become even clearer:spending-profileThe disconnect between what we are getting and what we want in terms of transport priorities is simply startling. Aside from the fact that people really don’t tend to vote in national elections based on transport policies, I’m pretty stumped as to how a government can get away with 97% of its new transport infrastructure investment going on roads when a greater proportion of the general public want to see the transport budget spend on public transport than on roads.

I suppose at the very least this should give opposition parties huge confidence that once there’s a change in government they should have broad support for an extremely radical change to transport spending priorities.

34 comments to Why aren’t we getting what we want?

  • Kevin

    Remind me again, what do buses travel on?

    • Patrick R

      Not state highways

      • SteveC

        actually, the Northway Busway is within the SH1 designation and the roadways were built as part of the motorway with (then) 100% Transit NZ funding

        not to mention SH1 shoulder lanes on the Southern

        • But the stations, about 1/3 of the cost, were paid for by North Shore City.

          Still, you can bet there ain’t any busways sitting in that 84% of funding on state highways.

          • star

            The stations made up about 1/3 of 1/3 of the total cost. You could also bet that of the 84% that is being spent on state highways is along transport routes for which putting in a train line would be a total waste of time and money.

  • Ben S

    Tyres?

    But yeah – that’s the problem with buses, they send the signal of yet more roads…

  • But a spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that with $890 million budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years “it would be grossly unfair to suggest the Government hasn’t given this mode of transport the priority it deserves”.

    I’m still waiting on clarification from Gerry Brownlee’s office on where the $890m figure comes from. Based on the above it looks like it is all NZ, not Auckland, and includes PT services.

  • Brian

    That’s a good point actually. Is the PT infrastructure for buses included in the local road category or the public transport infrastructure category, or a combination of both?

    • I would assume that the specifically PT infrastructure for buses like busways, bus stations, bus stops and bus lanes would be in the PT category, and situations where the bus simply drives on regular traffic lanes would be on local roads.

      However we should not that the charts above are about new infrastructure, whereas most buses operate on roads that have existed for decades (so they only contribute to maintenance costs.

      Anyway to say “but buses drive on roads too” really ain’t much excuse for spending 84% of the capex budget on new state highways!

      • but how much does it cost to build a new road (which will also no doubt include some PT infrastructure elements) compared with the cost of retrofitting PT infrastructure (lets say road marking) to provide PT facilities within existing infrastructure. there are not many opportunities (cheap ones) to build new dedicated busways.

        also, you have fell into the same trap with your pie chart that you are berating the NZ Herald poll for. you have isolated three of the items and used them to create some percentages that you have then gone on to rant about. Why don’t you include all of the items in the pie chart then you can make a more realistic comparison rather than an out of context assumption.. You also don’t seem to provide any renewal and OPEX requirements of roading/transport and haven’t included the costs relating to public transport services, which if you add in will certainly alter the percentages

        • The cost of building a new road is several orders of magnitude more than painting some bus lanes and adding bus stops onto an existing road. There may not be many opportunities to build cheap new dedicated busways, but there certainly aren’t any opportunities to build cheap new motorways and highways! And relatively speaking busways are much cheaper, as I noted above they have costed $450m for a 17km busway from Waterview to Westgate and across to Constellation. Meanwhile $450m doesn’t even cover the cost of one interchange between SH18 and SH1! Just look at the list. Harbour crossing is 4.8 billion dollars, just to move the same amount of people as marking one lane of busway on the existing harbour bridge. You do the math on that one.

          The point of focussing on capital expenditure is that it is the capex which locks in the form of the transport network for the future, and the the resulting opex that we will be locked into paying.

          If you want to compare the opex costs of roads vs public transport, or combined opex and capex then go for it, it doesn’t change the interpretation.

          • of course the interchange is going to cost a lot of money, do you understand the engineering issues that are required to get the SH18 / SH1 interchange in? I assume not. comparing that to widening an already future proofed corridor from westgate to constellation is not a fair comparison.

            with regards your harbour crossing comment are you implying that instead of building the second harbour crossing they should just make a bus lane across the bridge? moving people isn’t the only service and benefit that the bridge provides and i don’t understand what math you want me to do.

            Focussing on CAPEX alone does not “lock in” the form of the transport network, OPEX has a substantial impact on any assessment of the economic viability of a project (at least every single engineering project I have ever worked on) which therefore is vital in any interpretation of how much is spent on what. but don’t let that get in the way of a good blog post.

            are you trolling?

    • star

      Pretty much all of the bus infrastructur that gets built as part of a normal road project gets called “roads”. Its larger things like ameti that may get broken up.

  • John Smith

    The poll question is of course stupid, as it implies a black or white response, when in fact the issue is about priorities and balance. But the change in response to the same question over time is still significant.

    Possible reasons why politicians and opinion leaders are slow to respond to this:

    1. the usual venal reasons: road lobby pressure; turf-protecting by bureaucrats whose careers have been built up around the status quo.

    2. ideology: for right wing governments, cars = personal freedom = good. Public transport = collective action = bad. Or less, strongly, for small government types public transport as a public service is just a hassle that they would rather not have to deal with. Roads, once built, are a lot less hassle to manage ongoing.

    3. the politician’s underlying mistrust of *stated* opinions. ‘People may say they want more of X – but do they really mean it? Are they just saying what they think is socially approved? If I give them more of X, will they like me? Or, secretly, do they still want more of Y, which is what I’m used to giving them?’

    4. historical inertia: politicians and related opinion leaders and senior officials tend to be middle-aged, opinionated, dogmatic types who probably settled their views on key issues many years ago and have no incentive to revisit them. Even more so when the issue has some ideological colour (see 2 above). These folk grew up in the high growth period of the motor age and have a lot of trouble imagining a different future.

    ‘The dominant paradigm doesn’t change because people change their minds. It changes because old people die and young people think differently.’

    • Perhaps it is a black and white issue, or rather just a black one. Currently we’ve got 97% of capital funding going on roads and 3% on transport. That’s pretty black and white!

  • Christopher

    “I suppose at the very least this should give opposition parties huge confidence that once there‚Äôs a change in government they should have broad support for an extremely radical change to transport spending priorities.”

    Good luck with that. Bob Harvey had to drive Cullen around New Lynn in order to demonstrate to him the need for PT infrastructure investment in Auckland. I don’t think Labour ever really does get it, apart from Phil Twyford.

    • Steve D

      I agree, and it’s a pity Phil Twyford is no longer transport spokesman.

    • Christopher i think you’ll find that Cullen is no longer standing for Labour, they campaigned last time on funding the CRL and it is clear that the next new government will be very different in terms of transport funding priorities than the current one, and not just the Greens [although they do have the more radical programme. I was frustrated with the last Lab gov’s caution around Transit investment in Auckland but they did get the current revolution underway: Without project Dart, double tracking the western and all the rest that the last Lab give did fund you’d be riding your bike up our rail corridors now, well except the ones simply turned into State Highways…

      Anyway it’s up to us to make the case to the parties and give them the tools to hit the ground running, especially to opposition parties, because they tend to be better listeners when in opposition!

      • Christopher T

        James Henderson in The Standard is arguing that the appointment of Iain Lees-Galloway as transport spokesperson is a strategic ploy to allow Julie Anne Genter to ‘make her mark and cement her case to be Transport Minister’ which would be a most welcome move: http://thestandard.org.nz/room-left-for-greens-in-labour-reshuffle/. From recollection it wasn’t Bob Harvey alone who caused Dr Cullen’s change his heart but also David Cunliffe, the local MP. And, as Patrick observes, Labour’s conversion to the cause not only kick started the whole investment process that has led to the new trains, double tracking, electrification, etc, but also appears to have prompted Labour into re-assessing its approach to transport issues. As a road to Damascus moment, it’s a welcome conversion.

  • BD

    Yeah exactly some poor disabled person has been hit by a frieght train crossing the rail line over a level crossing in Morningside. The surface around there is uneven and is a bad need of an upgrade. Many level crossing accross Auckland are dangereous as well and need to be removed and made safer especially because more trains are in service now.

    Central government is failling to provide the money nessary to improve safety on our roads for both pedestrians and cars, instead it is determined on building brand new state highways. Instead local councils have to use their limited money to fund these projects by pushing up rates and making the local council look bad.

  • Whatever

    The state of the morningside tracks and crossing comes down to priorities not funding. There is funds to pour into the integrated ticketing fiasco or a fortune to electrify the network. Its just not sexy to spend moneys on the nuts and boring bolts, who can build a career on that when theres a tunnel to get. Just you wait, the excuse will be “no-one” told us, not “we couldn’t afford the work”.

  • Gian

    yep that crossing is quite third world.

  • Wai

    Well for all who think we do not need transport anymore, even an IT company wants to have it’s staff at the workplace

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/technology/yahoo-orders-home-workers-back-to-the-office.html

  • Dave

    Not true that all those “baby boomer types” who grew up in the age of massive road expansion are wedded to the car as being the only transport mode worthy of consideration. As a teenager (in the UK) my eyes were opened to the unfolding horror of allowing the private car to completely dominate the transport system. I tried to speak out about it then but received only ridicule. 40 years later (and through all the intervening years) I am still trying to advocate re-balancing towards rail and public transport, and still the establishment insists that roads and cars should take most of the cake. Many people younger than myself (like Key and Joyce) who I would expect to know better, still seem fixated on this approach. This is in spite of having every opportunity to open their eyes and re-assess some of the shaky assumptions upon which the ideology of ‘universal car ownership’ is based.

    Had I known as a teeneager that 40 years later the tide would still not have turned I would have been incredulous. But that is the reality that has transpired, at least in the English-speaking world. I passed up the chance many years ago to live in a saner part of the world (Scandinavia) where they have charted a significantly better course. Instead I came to New Zealand where they simply and proudly copy all the mistakes of Britain and the US. And so I continue to wait, and wait, and wait for the penny to drop that we have made some really dumb choices over the past few decades, and now is a seriously good time to consider changing direction. Surely it can’t be long now. . . . ? Perhaps atfer one more election. . . . . ? I am counting the sleeps and will not give up hope!

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