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Looking closer at the GPS

There has been an impression over the past while about how the government has adopted a more conciliatory approach to transport in Auckland. In some respects this is true, as they’re no longer getting in the way of quickly progressing the City Rail Link, they stumped up the Urban Cycleway Fund which is delivering some fantastic projects, and through ATAP there’s now alignment between the council and government on Auckland’s future transport needs including expanding the rapid transit network and a more open mind to road pricing. These are all very good things that are a big step forwards from where we were 4-5 years ago.

However, in other respects it seems that relatively little has changed. We still see crazy boondoggle motorway projects being announced before a proper business case has been done. We still see the highly sensible proposal for a regional fuel tax being knocked back for no good reason. And, when it comes to the Government’s most important transport document – the Government Policy Statement (GPS) – we still see a very State Highways focused strategy for transport.

This is the fifth GPS created since legislation was changed in 2008 requiring the document to be prepared. Only four of those have ever actually taken effect though, as the GPS released by the Labour government in mid-2008 was quickly replaced in early 2009 by the new National government. Each GPS provides a variety of strategic directions, objectives and measures, but where the GPS really has “teeth” is in defining upper and lower bounds for how much NZTA can spend on different funding areas – known as “activity classes”. By way of example here are the “funding bands” in the 2015 GPS (we don’t yet have the full 10 year bands for the current Draft GPS):

The real impact of these “funding bands” is that they prevent NZTA from continuing to spend in an area once that “allocation” has been used up, regardless of the merit of that potential investment. So, for example, even if a public transport project had a fantastic cost-benefit ratio and aligned really strongly with the strategic direction outlined in the GPS (and how NZTA gives effect to the GPS through more a more detailed framework), if there are too many PT projects in any given year then NZTA will be unable to fund them.

Given that this is the 5th GPS to be released, we can track how the proportion of investment in activity classes has changed over time. This task is made a bit more difficult as some of the activity class names have changed (for example PT services and PT infrastructure used to be separate but were then merged). To get around this issue and to also simplify it a bit, I’ve narrowed things down to State Highways (both improvements and maintenance), Local Roads (also both improvements and maintenance), Public Transport, Walking & Cycling, Road Policing and Other. While GPS’ are 10 year documents, we only need to consider the first three years as that’s how often the GPS is refreshed. I’ve summed the upper and lower bands for each three year period which is shown as the lighter shade. The (L) and (N) signify a Labour or National Minister of Transport who released the document:

What immediately stands out is how massively State Highway investment has grown over the course of time, nearly doubling from under $4 billion in Labour’s 2009 GPS to over $7 billion in the most recent draft. This has primarily been to fund the government’s expensive Roads of National Significance. Other areas have either remained fairly similar (road policing), grown slowly (local roads) or declined (public transport). Public transport funding is only just getting back to the level originally proposed in 2009 by Labour in the new Draft for 2018-21.

What’s also important to remember is that the overall size of the NLTF grows each year, so it’s worth looking at how the proportions have changed over time. For this I have used the “upper limit” of the funding bands as they are the most crucial in determining what NZTA can and cannot fund.

The most stark change is for State Highways, which have gone up from 42% of total investment in the 2009 GPS to around 55% in the most recent. Public transport, on the other hand, has declined from 14% in the 2009 GPS to 10% in both the 2015 and 2018 documents. Even Local Roads investment has declined, from 25% in 2009 to 22% in the 2018 plan.

Regardless of arguments about modes, it seems like we have a strategic approach to transport funding that is continuously putting more and more eggs in the basket of State Highway improvements. Many of these large State Highway projects have struggled to generate good cost-benefit ratios (another way of saying they’re pretty crap value for money) so it seems odd that we keep shovelling more and more money into them.

Over the next few weeks we will gather some key submission points and put together something to help you make a submission on the draft GPS. Feedback closes at 5pm on March 31.

28 comments to Looking closer at the GPS

  • The most sincere thing a politician ever does is set their budgets. These are Joyce’s numbers, his sweet words earlier in the month were just a buzzing noise…

    It seems we have, especially under this government, a taxpayer encouraged and supported Highway-Sprawl complex, our little version of Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial one, and like the American version, it’s very much on steroids now…

    The future is not found, it is created, do these budgets create the best future for our cities? Where is the case being made for this? Isn’t it entirely backward looking?

    • brendonharre

      I think the worst affected city for this roads only bias is Greater Christchurch. We are getting RoN’s investment to our Northern and Southern motorways but no investment in rapid transit. Absolutely nothing which is crazy considering Canterbury is the second fastest growing region in the country. So Christchurch is a vessel with two funnels directing increasing numbers of automobiles at it at 100 km an hour. The cycling friendly nature of Christchurch is being destroyed as all those cars scare off the less confident cyclists. It is social engineering at its worst caused by how actual engineering is funded.

      • Yes poor Christchurch is a city sized experiment in visionlessness. A more retrograde programme and outcome is hard to conceive, and so especially sad after the brave and hopeful start to the rebuild as shown in that wide survey of what the people wanted…. crushed under the third quake of Minister Brownlee.

      • That is sad to hear about Christchurch, don’t’ much about what’s going on there but would of thought it a perfect cycling & PT city with it’s flatter environment, less humid climate (than Auckland say) & more square urban shape & grid like layout?

    • mfwic

      It is interesting that Eisenhower, a right winger warned of the risk of the military industrial complex but it was Kennedy, the left winger, with McNamara that turned the US into a major arms exporter. Some legacy.

      • Yes there is a long tradition of bellicose Democrats, the theory usually being that they are always having to fight off accusations of being ‘soft’. But also i think they also tend to be internationalist than isolationist, and the US is a bit like a bull in Chinashop in its international relations. Not enough talking softly and too much wielding of the big stick… but then Bush doubled down on warmongery…

  • Chris O

    Speaking of submissions: I see the call for submissions for the Boards of Enquiry for both the East-West Link and Northern Corridor have gone out. Will Transportblog and/or Generation Zero be providing some advice on making a submission?

    As for the GPS itself – still incredibly skewed towards highway mega-projects. A reminder that to a government, the motorway network is never ever *ever* complete.

  • Matthew W

    I hope they have more than “an open mind” about road pricing. ATAP showed it was the most beneficial intervention by a country mile and ranked it as a decade 1 priority. I see little evidence for road pricing in the GPS that I have looked at though, although Stu thought road pricing initiatives would be funded separately through the MOT.

  • Harrison

    Feedback sent; not going to lie, it was fairly scathing.

  • Sailor Boy

    Can state highways improvements include RTN? ie is the northern busway extension a state highway project? Could a stand alone SH20B busway be a state highway project?

  • David B Rogers

    Really? what do you actually have against cars and roads that makes real sense? The vast majority of people want to travel in comfort and not on a bus or a bike. You need to understand how very far away you are from what the majority of NZ’s want.

    • If this vastly increased roading expenditure, especially in cities, was making a huge difference, you’d have a point. But it isn’t. Every time a new lane is added at great expense, it is already congested. Auckland especially has roads. Now it needs the alternatives. Building transit is cheaper and more future proofed than expanding the existing roads.

    • It’s clear that what there is now is not perfect. You may have heard of traffic congestion. Building ever more roads at the expense of everything else is to simply make an already imbalanced situation much much worse. Just cos it is how it is now does make that any kind of ideal. And it takes real leadership and intelligence to understand the possibilities of change and the steps to get there. Doing what we’ve always done, only more so, will not have any outcome other than more of the same, more intensely. So if you love sitting in gridlock, prefer a forever sprawling and increasingly inaccessible and inefficient city then this GPS is the road map for you.

      For example you know why everyone uses a Qwerty keyboard, right?; cos that’s all there is, and because that’s all there is; it goes on. Those facts in no way prove it is the best or most productive keyboard layout…. smart analysis steps outside of the status quo and examines other possibilities as well as old habits… And with urban transport systems there’s no mystery about what to do, and it ain’t more of the same, but faster.

    • Daev B (Wellington)

      Remember Steven Joyce’s rationale? “Aucklanders love their cars so much that you’ll never get them onto public transport”. “94% of Aucklanders drive to work, therefore 94% of the transport budget should be spent on roads”.

      Of course the reality is somewhat different. Folk are now flocking to public transport, now that it has at last been improved sufficiently to be considered an option. And the mess that Auckland got itself into through 50 years of single-focus on roads and cars, is testament to the fallacy of Joyce’s view.

      David B Rogers, you seriously need to open your eyes, look around and adjust your thinking. This is not about being “against cars and roads”, but about recognising that this single mode cannot adequately meet all the needs of a modern society. What makes sense now is to right the gross imbalance that has occurred and is still occurring in the funding that the various transport-modes receive.

    • Sailor Boy

      “Really? what do you actually have against [bikes and PT] that makes real sense? The vast majority of people want to travel in comfort [] on a bus or a bike. You need to understand how very far away you are from what the majority of NZ’s want.”

      Survey after survey shows that the majority of Aucklanders, if not New Zealananders cycle, want safer options to cycle, and want to cycle more often. Similarly for PT, the majority of Aucklanders and New Zealanders want better PT that allows them to catch it more often.

      Perhaps it is you who is out of touch.

    • Jon_K

      David reminds me of how a lot of 30+ kiwis think. I’m going to suggest that _if_ David lives in Akl, it’s in an affluent area, however his attitude is more akin to one “from the provinces”.

      My brother visited me last year and wanted me to drive him from Manukau to the CBD at 5pm. I told him where the transport center was – “I’m not taking a bus!”… “Who said anything about a bus? Our buses are nice but I was thinking you should take one of our nice fast, comfortable and air conditioned trains. Be in the CBD in 45m or less.” His response: “I’m not that kind of person!”

      Not that kind of person… This is how most outside of Akl/Wlg/(to a lesser extent)Chch think. I think that David is a good reminder of this. I also think that my brother’s experience is a good reminder that a “recalibration event” could change David’s viewpoint – We spent approx 60m to travel to Ellerslie (where we had to collect somebody), with Google Navigation advising of the fastest way, complete with course updates and verbal advice of how many minutes would be saved… An hour in traffic and still ~8km from the CBD. We pulled over by the train station and I had my brother walk with me to the pedestrian bridge over the motorway. Tuesday evening, 6:00pm, traffic dead stop in each direction as far as you could see. A six car train pulls up, coming in fast – Train disgorges about 20-30 people, some in suits, some in shorts and tees. My brother’s response was simple and powerful: Whoa!

      Followed by: So, everybody takes the train?

      My brother was in Akl for training. He was here with a colleague who “escaped” (his term) five years ago. His colleague has been telling him how Auckland was then, as though it was still a valid expression of how Akl is now.

      Buses (even in the provinces) are quite nice now. They all have air conditioning and the seats are comfy enough, though I admit a little small for me (I work out and am quite broad). It’s not how they used to be in the 80’s or even early 2000’s.

      A good case study in roads vs cycleways is actually Hastings/Napier. Napier has spent a great deal on cycleways that are now very popular and has seen the vibrancy of the city grow and grow.
      Hastings (the Hastings District Council not the City Council) has focused on roads and tearing down a sports field to create an open mega mall with high through road priority. The result, the CBD is dying fast and is full of suspicious looking lurkers and the new mall is uninviting and businesses not doing as well as they expected.

      • That’s something you observe in Auckland too. One time somebody told me I shouldn’t take the bus because that’s for homeless people only (sic).

        Judging from traffic rules and general behaviour of drivers I suspect the same goes for cycling and walking, even in heavily populated places like Hobson Street. It’s only “those” people who walk, and they have no right to interfere with the “Decent People” in their cars. That’s why we can’t have zebra crossings on Ponsonby Road. That’s why we need research and reports to implement a traffic rule change which would be bleedingly obvious in the rest of the world. Or see the situation in Mount Albert. It’s changing, but it’s a deeply ingrained culture.

  • Additionally. Some claim that cost is the reason we shouldn’t bother adding or improving the missing Transit Networks to our cities, yet look at that chart above; how expensive is this auto-only model? Add this doesn’t include the ratepayers funding of all non-State Highway roads, nor the user costs of vehicle and fuel, let alone the huge externalities of death, injury, ill health, environment degradation, and community severance that big roading projects also cost us. And remember this covers the period after the completion of the entire Auckland Motorway system, so while this is the whole nation, the most expensive place to build with the fastest growing population and economy is actually done already. This is a picture of huge waste and inefficiency.

    The much needed pivot to urgently building the complementary alternatives to this network is cheaper both financially and economically. Particularly because of the fortune saved in not trying to squeeze even more lanes for the peak of the peak. Peak smoothing is a powerful money saver; and good Transit, especially really good Transit is driving management and enables congestion pricing too…

  • Jennifer

    In this entire section including comments, the word “rail” appears just once, and the word “railways” also appears once only – in one of Patrick’s comments. Is “rail” in some kind of terminal decline wrt the GPS?

  • Tony

    OMG road taxes spent on roads! Who’d of thought.

    • Yeah and alcohol taxes must be spent on building more pubs and tabaco taxes spent on growing tabaco and encouraging smoking….

      • Tony

        It would be typical of you to try to call RUCs a sin tax.

        • To grownups it is known as a transfer to cover negative externalities caused by the activity, for example; death and maiming, that sort of thing, but we can keep the discussion to three letter words if that’s your level.

          Even they are too hard for Ken Shirley to grasp, but then like all libertarians he’s just looking for a hand out, so that’s no surprise…

          RUCs don’t get close to covering the damage heavy vehicles cause to roads, let alone any externalities, you’d be wise not to draw too much attention to the massive free such being handed out here if you’re road freighter.

          • Tony

            Typically condescending too.

            I don’t drive trucks. I drive a car on roads payed for with RUCs or PEDs. Maybe trucks don’t pay enough but it doesn’t change the fact that these taxes are to primarily pay for road construction and maintenance.

            Also typical of you to only concentrate on the negatives and not the positives.

          • Sailor Boy

            You only ever drive on a state highway?

          • Tony you are one that set the tone of this conversation; you, as is your habit, come in with a one line declaration without any evidence or argument. Your over simplifications call for a dismissive response. As a regular visitor here you know we put energy into thorough and evidenced argument. But as this typically doesn’t match your prejudices you only engage splenicly. So it goes.

            Anyway, you can see from the post above that nowhere is there any call to stop using the NLTF for maintaining our roads, nor even is there a call to stop adding new ones. There is simply a call for a balanced funding of all transport systems, and particularly those of the highest value. Instead we have an unwise over-funding of low value congestion inducing urban highways, and an underfunding of all other sectors, including local roads, which as a rural road user you have expressed anger about in the past….

            Why not try engaging with the substance of the conversation rather than lashing out in anger at a distorted caricature of it? You may find more commonality in our positions than you first assume….

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