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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.

Kiwis want more spent on Public Transport

Well the title says it all really and it comes from a survey done by UMR Research, included in their Mood of the Nation Report for 2013:

New Zealanders are much more likely to support Government funding to go to public transport than they were 20 years ago. In 1992 they plumped for motorways by a 43% to 25% margin over public transport. In 2012 public transport is preferred by a 48% to 37% margin.

UMR Road vs PT poll

 

Going from 25% to 48% is a sizable change and ties in with how our transport preferences are changing.  The reality is that the government simply isn’t listening to public perception on this issue, as our current transport spending is woefully lopsided. Spending is dictated at a high level by the Government Policy Statement, the NZTA then takes that guidance when coming up with the National Land Transport Plan. Below is a breakdown of the NZTA’s share of transport spending for the 2012-2015 plan:

NLTP 2012-15 Investment Levels

And here is graph showing how much is going to roads and how much to PT (incl. walking and cycling):

NLTP 2012-15 Roads Vs PTThat is a big disconnect between what the public want, and what the government is doing.

 

Transport – It’s the Economy, Stupid

I came across a well crafted piece about the Government’s transport policies on Scoop, by Dr Glen Koorey (presumably the same person who comments here occasionally as “Glen K”) a senior lecturer in transportation at the University of Canterbury’s College of Engineering. Here it is in full:

In New Zealand, transport is a very hot topic in local government yet barely features at the national level. A number of mayoralties have been won and lost in the past on the back of controversial transport projects (road through Hagley Park, anyone?) but I have yet to see it become one of the defining issues in a general election.

It is ironic therefore that the majority of transport funding in this country is so tightly controlled at the central government level. Local cities and districts can talk all they like about what they and their residents would like to see for transport in their area, but they are ultimately beholden to the whims of the government of the day.

And so it is that the latest National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) just released (The Press, 30 Aug) continues to propose a distribution of funding that appears to be at odds with the wishes of the general population, and also best-practice international evidence.

When the current Government came into power in 2008, they made fairly sweeping changes to the pattern of transport expenditure. The revised Government Policy Statement (GPS) on transport substituted “Roads of National Significance” (RoNS) funding for many other sustainable transport and road safety programmes. At the time, the Government claimed that these investments were needed to address the economic crisis facing the country.

Last year’s updated GPS for the coming 10 years repeated the RoNS mantra even more strongly. Given the fact that the economy still needs some spending prudence, and the evidence for future constraints on oil supply and price is stronger than ever, it was incredibly galling to see that the new plan is essentially more of the same.

New state highway construction (mostly RoNS) already consumes 40c of every transport dollar (excluding policing). This is over seven times as much as is spent on local road construction, four times as much as public transport expenditure, and over 50 times as much as walking/cycling. But this is not a short-term blip: over the next 10 years the GPS proposes that half of all transport investment will be spent on new road construction, with worryingly decreasing proportions of expenditure in road maintenance and safety, public transport, walking, cycling and travel demand management.

The stated goals for the NLTP are “economic growth and productivity, value for money, and road safety.” Every Government agency is struggling to trim “fat” from their budgets, but still $9 billion of RoNS projects remain on the table. These seven major roading projects are touted as being needed to “encourage future economic growth”, yet the evidence doesn’t support that hypothesis.

The best performing RoNS project has already been built: Auckland’s Victoria Park Tunnel, returning $3 of benefits to the country for every dollar invested. Of the remaining six projects, five have benefit-cost ratios of no more than 2:1 and three of those don’t even have a ratio of 1:1. When most road safety or walking/cycling projects routinely have benefit-cost ratios of well over 5:1 (if not 10:1), it is difficult to see why we are investing in so many expensive projects with such poor returns.

A recent study at Auckland University found that completion of the entire Auckland cycling network (a cost of about $600 million, or one small RoNS project) would generate benefits in the order of 20 times as great, in terms of health (by far the biggest benefits), safety, and reduced driving costs. It’s not hard to envisage that similar investments throughout the country would have equally impressive economic returns.

To make matters worse, the economic predictions for the RoNS project have been based on typical historical assumptions about future traffic growth creating more benefits from growing congestion. However, since 2005 state highway traffic volumes have been stagnant. Traffic congestion isn’t growing, so why do we need to build more motorways?

The national cost of congestion (less than $2 billion annually) is considerably less than the annual cost of road crashes to our country – over $4 billion. Yet the investment in road safety initiatives pales in comparison with the amount of money being spent to save a few seconds of travel time.

Perhaps a focus on roading projects can be justified in terms of jobs created? Research from the UK and US however shows that investment in sustainable transport projects generates more new jobs than road construction, up to twice as many. Road maintenance was also found to produce more jobs than new road construction. Even the much-maligned NZ Cycle Trail has produced more jobs per dollar than the RoNS programme to date.

So why hasn’t all this attracted major news coverage and discussion? Is it because transport is seen as only a minor portfolio? This is taking the wrong approach, because the underlying problem is actually about our economy and how we reboot it.

Our highest categories of imports by dollar value are motor vehicles and the fuel to power them (which is currently causing plenty of pain at the pump). A roads-focused programme does nothing to reduce this reliance and help balance our deficit. At the same time it puts a huge burden on our health system. Unless something dramatic happens soon, that will mean a continuing strain on our country’s transport system and finances.

Maybe transport will finally become a big issue at the 2014 election?

How the regions fare from the NLTP, the Ws have it

Thinking about the NLTP announcements and Rudmans article yesterday I wondered, which regions are really doing well out of the funding announcements and which ones aren’t doing so well. It appears that if the name of your region starts with a W then you will be doing much better off. This is based on which regions are getting the most money on a per capita basis from the PR releases that the NZTA made the other day. I based the population figures off the Stats NZ estimates for 2010.

Based on this Auckland at least does better than the national average and it would be really interesting to see a historical breakdown of spending by region to see where it has gone. Aside from Auckland, there are some really interesting results. The west coast per capita spend is high mainly because of the extremely low population there and the need to maintain large amounts of roading infrastructure, the press release highlights that almost all of the spending is on maintenance alone. In Canterbury I am surprised by how low the spending is considering how much needs to be fixed following the earthquakes. Lastly the Manawatu/Whanganui region is really low at less than $1000 per person.

You will also notice that the total announced spending per region doesn’t match up with the $2.3b the NZTA announced in total. Some of that is due to things like road policing not being included but there does seem to be a bit missing. Perhaps that is other stuff that can’t be easily categorised into a single region.

Rudman rightly slams the NLTP

Brian Rudman was in fine form in yesterday’s NZ Herald, highlighting that behind all the fancy words of the National Land Transport Programme, both Auckland and public transport get a pretty raw deal:

In Auckland’s case, of the $3.37 billion Mr Brownlee plans to invest, $816 million comes from Auckland Council.

When this shared funding is taken into account, the Government’s claimed love affair with public transport – support up 21 per cent, according to NZTA – suddenly looks rather weak. Of the $802 million expenditure highlighted for Auckland public transport, nearly half ($365 million) comes from ratepayers. As for building and maintaining local Auckland roads, it’s almost a dead heat, with NZTA paying $301 million and Auckland Council $295 million.

Wading through the small print, it quickly emerges that expenditure on vital public transport infrastructure over the next three years nationally will be a miserable $115 million, a 31 per cent drop on the previous three years. What enables NZTA to claim a 21 per cent increase in public transport spending is they’ve combined this low infrastructure spend with a 35 per cent increase in payments for public transport “services”. This $830 million covers investment in new rolling stock, “and increased track access charges”, the latter being the Government’s way of gouging more money out of Auckland ratepayers for the hire of the public railroads we need to run our trains on.

NZTA really has tried to be quite sneaky in their reporting of PT funding, by lumping together PT services and PT infrastructure, then saying that together their funding level has gone up. While that’s true, it masks a really big drop in PT infrastructure funding – with most of the services increase being eaten up by EMU loan repayments and increased track access charges.

Auckland also gets a pretty raw deal when it comes to our share of the funding pie – getting a lower proportion of the transport spend than our contribution and a lower in terms of our population:

What’s worse, Aucklanders have been dorked again. Despite talk of Auckland doing well out of the new transport budget, the truth is we’ve been short-changed. Again. As the home of roughly one-third of New Zealanders, and the payers of at least 33 per cent of central taxes and petrol imposts, the $2.6 billion of NZTA cash to be spent in Auckland represents 28 per cent of NZTA’s funding. On a per capita basis, we should be getting another $500 million at least.

Another thing to consider is population growth. Between 1996 and 2006, over half of all New Zealand’s population growth was in Auckland:
In the future this dominance of the country’s population growth only increases:
With population growth being one of the most important arguments for “more transport infrastructure in the future”, the fact that Auckland gets only a quarter of the country’s transport spending becomes even more unfair. Sadly there’s nothing new in the story of Auckland missing out when it comes to transport spending. Rudman continues:

But what’s new. In 1991, after an earlier battle for a light rail service, regional councillors calculated that Aucklanders then paid $150 million a year in fuel taxes but only got $84 million back in central transport funding. More recently, Green Party researchers have calculated that in the 15 years to 2005, Aucklanders paid $7.022 billion in fuel taxes and the like but only got back $3.222 billion in transport-related expenditure – less than half what they put in.

In the past year or two of the Clark Labour Government, government transport funding finally started to match Auckland’s contribution. This week’s proposal is a retreat to the short-changing of past years. It is also a refusal to accept the Government’s own evidence showing that Aucklanders – and New Zealanders – want a greater emphasis on public transport.

And finally, perhaps the greatest irony of all that Rudman points out relates to the fact that in most parts of the country, traffic simply isn’t increasing.

 The big ticket item is once again the maintenance and building of state highways. Together that comes to just over $5 billion. That’s more than five times the public transport spend. This despite NZTA graphs, based on more than 100 survey points across the highway network, showing that motorway traffic has plateaued. NZTA’s own gurus have discovered motorway traffic peaked around 2003 after steadily climbing since the monitoring began in 1989. A year or two later, heavy traffic followed suit.

So let’s summarise:

  • Public transport infrastructure spending is down 31%, even though PT trips have increased by 7% across the whole country in the past three years (and around a 20% increase in Auckland’s patronage growth in that time)
  • The biggest chunk of the NLTP funds are being spent on new state highways, even thought traffic growth rates are negligible since around 2005
  • Auckland gets 28% of the transport spend, even though we’re 33% of the population and well over half the country’s population growth

Rudman’s article really highlights that, despite all its pretty words and big numbers, the NLTP is bad news for public transport, bad news for Auckland just a further example of how utterly stupid our transport policy is in this country at the moment.

Warkworth-Wellsford: in or out?

Yesterday NZTA released a map of their projects and priorities in Auckland, as part of the National Land Transport Programme release of information. The whole map (in case NZTA remove or update it) is shown below: As Cam’s post yesterday noted, there’s something in the way Puhoi-Wellsford is shown that really stood out – showing the Warkworth to Wellsford section of the road as a “possible” Road of National Significance. This is compared to the Puhoi-Warkworth section which is (presumably) a “definite” RoNS.

This is pointed out a bit clearer in the image below:

Labour’s Transport Spokesperson Phil Twyford picked up on this issue in parliament today, and in a press release. Here’s the parliament exchange with Gerry Brownlee:


But just recently NZTA have come out to say that the map was wrong, and in fact Warkworth to Wellsford still is part of the RoNS – not just a ‘possible’ RoNS:

The NZ Transport Agency has confirmed that there is no change to the status of the Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance north of Auckland, and apologised for any confusion caused by an error in a pamphlet published yesterday as part of announcements for the 2012-15 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).

NZTA Chief Executive Geoff Dangerfield says it is planned to upgrade the entire route, but the preferred alignment and timing of construction of the Warkworth to Wellsford section of the road of national significance is yet to be determined.

While all of the material released as part of the 2012-15 National Land Transport Programme give emphasis to the activities planned for the next 3 years, one pamphlet relating to Auckland contained an error with a map refering to the Warkworth to Wellsford section as a “possible” road of national significance.

The NZTA announced in April this year that it had determined the preferred route to build a new motorway between Puhoi and Warkworth.

“We said then, and repeat now, that the new route will form part of the whole Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance,” Mr Dangerfield says. “We also said that an indicative route for the Warkworth to Wellsford section was not being announced at that time, because we have not yet done the necessary work to determine where this section of the highway will go and do not expect to do so within the next 3 year period. That was what the dotted line was meant to convey,” says Mr Dangerfield.

There is no change to the status of the Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS.

The government and NZTA find themselves in a really difficult position when it comes to Warkworth to Wellsford. On the one hand, the project clearly doesn’t make economic sense – with a much more basic upgrade providing far better value for money than a whole new alignment. However, on the other hand cutting the project back to Warkworth would really undermine the way it’s being sold as a connection between Auckland and Northland. A project ending at Warkworth would really come across as being largely for the benefit of those travelling to the beaches east of there during the holiday periods.

Of course the sensible approach would be to just build the Warkworth bypass section and do some safety upgrades on the existing road to buy us a decade or two until we really need to build the whole thing (assuming we ever do). That should free up well over a billion dollars for spending on more useful projects. I’m pretty sure NZTA know this too.

NZTA Fudging the Figures on the NLTP?

The NZTA has announced their three yearly National Land Transport Programme 2012 – 15:

Spending on roads and public transport by central and local government over the next three years will increase by almost 13 per cent with much of the additional cash coming from fuel tax and road user charge hikes, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

Mr Brownlee and NZ Transport Agency chief executive Geoff Dangerfield this afternoon announced $12.3 billion in funding under the 2012-2015 National Land Transport Programme, a 12.8 per cent increase on the 2009-2012 programme.

Mr Dangerfield said the programme had a particular focus on growing Canterbury and supporting the recovery of Christchurch after the earthquakes.

The programme also prioritises continued work on the Government’s “roads of national significance” and work in Auckland “where there are significant opportunities for improved transport to support the city’s contribution to New Zealand’s economic growth”.

However Mr Brownlee said the Canterbury earthquakes, reduced growth forecasts and the tighter fiscal environment had put pressure on the National Land Transport Fund which contributes most of the funding – $9.38 billion in the new programme.

The “at a glance” document contains a chart showing expenditure for the next three years:

So what about public transport?  The NZTA release states:

There will be significant increases in the level of investment for many activities, including:

  •  $4.1 billion investment in local roads (14% increase from 2009-12 actual spend)
  • $5.1 billion investment in state highways (7% increase from 2009-12 actual spend)
  • $1.7 billion investment in public transport (21% increase from 2009-12 actual spend)

Wow! 21% increase in PT spend sounds impressive.  But dive into the detail, and we see:

Also included in this NLTP is provision for the loan repayments on the introduction of 57 electric trains, public transport related rail improvements, such as station upgrades, and introduction of integrated ticketing across all the city’s public transport modes in Auckland.

Eh? The $1.7bn figure includes rolling stock loan repayments from Auckland. Surely that can’t be right?  Well, yes it is apparently, because page 12 says:

A total of $1.74 billion will be invested in New Zealand’s public transport system during this NLTP period – a 21% increase on 2009–12 actual spend. This figure includes a local share of $780 million from local authorities.

So NZTA are actually investing  $960m in PT, not $1.7bn as the press release implies. And there is no breakdown of infrastructure spend vs spending on operational services.  For comparison, the last NLTP allocated $630m to PT services and $269m to PT infrastructure.  So on the face of it, there is a possible 6.8% increase in NLTF expenditure on what was budgeted previously.

On top of that, it turns out the 2009-12 actual spend on PT was down on forecast:

Public transport services and infrastructure spend was down about $94 million due to the Canterbury earthquake, which meant that a construction of the new Christchurch transport exchange could not commence and that Canterbury bus services were disrupted, as well as projects impacted by the moratorium on new funding approvals to help manage cash-flows in the latter part of the NLTP.

In short, NZTA have made it really hard to tell exactly how much central Government is allocating to PT infrastructure and services, and the other activity classes as well.  It was shown quite clearly in the old NLTP.

And of course, absolutely no mention of the City Rail Link.

The other things which is perhaps most interesting is to see that the Warkworth to Wellsford section of the “holiday highway” seems to have been cut back to a “possible RoNS”, compared to the “actual RoNS” of the Puhoi-Warkworth section. While this is a sensible economic approach, it highlights that the sales pitch for Puhoi-Wellsford – that it’ll transform Northland’s economy – is just a lie. It’s more to do with getting people to the beaches east of Warkworth during holiday periods a bit quicker. Here’s the relevant map:

I’m sure Brownlee promised parliament the other day that no further RoNS would be cut back like Otaki-Levin was. It’ll be interesting to see how he wriggles out of this.

The Upcoming NLTP: trying and failing to put lipstick on a pig

There will be a lot of discussion over the coming weeks and months about transport funding – how much is going to be spent on what types of transport projects over the next three years. This is because NZTA’s “National Land Transport Programme” (NLTP) is in the final phases of being put together, and it is the NLTP which guides how NZTA spends your petrol tax and road user charges over the next three years. The NLTP is a very important document for listing all the projects that they will, and won’t, help fund between now and 2015. But it’s not really a political document in the same way that the Government Policy Statement and the Auckland Plan are – rather something that focuses much more on the details of what does and doesn’t happen within the funding constraints already set by central government.

It seems likely that much of the debate around the NLTP will be based around a few key issues:

  •  is enough money being set aside to maintain and renew our current state highway and local roading network?
  • how much of the “new state highways” budget will be eaten up by the various Roads of National Significance (RoNS) and how much will be left for smaller, generally more cost-effective, projects?
  • what is the actual increase in funding for public transport services and where’s that money going?
  • what’s happened to funding for public transport infrastructure?

A background document on the NTLP provides a few answers to the questions above. First, in relation to looking after the current network:

Greater efficiencies will be required because in many cases the allocations for road maintenance and renewals will not keep up with inflation and growing networks in some regions, and may therefore be reductions in real terms.

This investment will achieve the highest possible return for New Zealand road users if road controlling authorities continue to set clear priorities across their networks…

…The Road Maintenance Task Force will complete its work mid-year. It is expected to identify opportunities for longer term efficiency solutions. We’re looking for a step change in the approach to maintaining networks to deliver a long-term benefit.

The following factors might deliver a step change:
• Road Maintenance Task Force.
• Better targeting of network levels of service.
• Asset management planning.
 • Collaboration.

It’s about learning from others who are doing it well, and thinking about maintenance costs when scoping out project affordability.

We have targeted renewals to roads with heavy dairy, forestry and delivery freight. This is in response to some industries who told us that they could grow faster if we invest even more money into the routes they need to get their product to market.

I do get a bit worried when the funding of looking after our existing roading network, what arguably should come before pretty much anything else, has to rely upon yet to be identified efficiencies to ensure our roads don’t fall to pieces. Also, bits of ‘bureaucratise’ like the better targeting of network levels of service sounds like ‘pointy-head-speak’ for allowing parts of the network to fall into disrepair. I sincerely hope we don’t fall into the trap the USA finds itself in, where politics leads to new roads being opened so ribbons can be cut in front of cameras, while behind the scenes the existing infrastructure crumbles into complete disrepair.

The document also provides some further detail on the public transport funding numbers that we saw reported so inaccurately the other day. It would seem as though Lane Nichols, writer of the original Stuff article, didn’t get past NZTA’s heading of “Huge Increase in Public Transport Funding”. If you do get past that headline and dig into what’s actually happening to PT funding, it’s a little bit more complicated:

At a minimum, investment in all public transport networks is being maintained at current levels. Funding is being boosted to cover increased rail charges in Wellington and Auckland, and all other funding increases are targeted at peak services that help to relieve severe congestion.

A significant increase in funding for passenger rail operator services will improve the reliability and punctuality of commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington.

Much of this increase is for existing additional commitments, including running costs associated with the Auckland integrated fares system, rail operationalised rolling stock costs and rail track access charges. 

So once we dig a bit deeper we find out some real truths. Firstly, that basic PT funding is being held at current levels. Secondly, that most of the increase in funding for PT services is actually going into increased track access fees (which is just a giant money-go-round back to KiwiRail) or into paying off Auckland’s electric trains (another giant money-go-round back to the government). Thirdly, we find out that all non-rail increase in PT service funding is being targeted at providing more services on the road at peak times – even though we know providing peak services are extremely expensive (you gotta buy that extra bus or train), whereas it would actually be way smarter to provide better off-peak services to encourage more people to travel outside the peak periods and make better use of existing resources. My word NZTA are stupid at times.

The whole “PT funding is increasingly hugely” looks like a misleading lie in the end, with pretty much all the “extra” money finding its way back to the government – either through increased KiwiRail track-access fees or through repayments for the electric trains the government takes credit as supposedly having funded (even though they’re actually making a profit off the repayments).

At the end of the day it’s a bit unfair to blame NZTA for too much more than trying (and I think failing) to put lipstick on a pig when it comes to the two key issues in this NLTP: insufficient funding to look after the current network and insufficient funding to respond to growing public transport usage (especially in terms of PT infrastructure funding). These big decisions were made by the government almost a year ago in the Government Policy Statement, and it’ll probably take a change of government to fix them. In essence, everything is being squeezed to build the Roads of National Significance – kind of weird when so many of them don’t make economic sense.

The final NLTP gets approved by NZTA at the end of August.

PT Funding Announcement Full of Spin

The NZTA is out busily spinning stories about how much money it is going to be spending on PT in the next three years  but as usual the the reality isn’t quite as good as they make it out to be. An article on Stuff (most likely written for the Dom Post) states:

Frustrated Wellington rail commuters will benefit from a massive Government investment in public transport designed to reduce congestion and delays.

The announcement of nearly $900million for national public transport projects will buoy proponents of Wellington’s costly proposed light-rail system.

The New Zealand Transport Agency announced yesterday it would pump $9billion into upgrading existing local transport systems over the next three years.

The money includes nearly $900m – a 33 per cent hike – devoted to public transport, “with a particular focus on improving the reliability and punctuality of commuter rail services in Auckland and Wellington”.

NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said it was the biggest investment in public transport under the National Land Transport Programme.

The investment followed discussions with councils about their transport priorities over the next three years and would give them certainty as they prepared long-term infrastructure programmes.

Details of exactly what would be funded would not be released for several months. But the increased spending on public transport was targeted at “improving peak-time services which help to reduce severe congestion”, Mr Dangerfield said.

$900 million is obviously a lot of money but it seems that it might be a case of someone not knowing how to round properly as the Radio NZ story on this says:

The agency’s board has outlined investment levels for five key areas in its $9 billion National Land Transport Programme for 2012 – 2015.

Public transport will receive $830 million in the next three years, an increase of 33%.

Its a bit odd to round $830m up to $900m but I guess it helps them to make it sound better and they know that journalists don’t bother checking the facts of these things.  You will also notice that this PT funding is out of a total pool of $9 billion so only really represents about 10% of all transport spending. But where does this money come from, the funding comes from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and spending of the money is dictated by the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which sets a funding range for various transport activities. This old post by Josh explains the GPS but here are some of the key tables:

Current GPS funding ranges

The NZTA has to fit funding into the various activities into the groups above but one of the key things is that the exact figure for each category isn’t set in stone but rather a range is set.  To try and make a bit of sense of that Josh took the midpoint of each activity and grouped them together which gives us the table below

We see that based on the GPS the midpoint of PT spending over the next 3 years was $925 million, the NZTA has now decided that it will spend $830m which is almost $100m less than what the midpoint number is and as a percentage is actually about the same as what we spent in the 2011/12 year. My reading of this $830m of funding is that it is also to cover all PT infrastructure and services

I also notice that in the Radio NZ report they mention that funding for maintenance and renewal of State Highways and local roads will increase by about 2% to $2.7b however that also is less than its midpoint of $2.9m. Most likely these activity classes are being squeezed to help prop up the money for the “New and Improved State Highways” group which doesn’t even get a mention yet is the biggest single category. I wonder if that is because if the general public saw just how much more we were spending on a handful of motorways vs everything else then perceptions will continue to change.

Blowing the motorways budget

Yesterday I received from NZTA all the board papers from their May meeting. There are probably a few posts to put together over the next while that share information from those papers, but one that stood out as particularly interesting was an update on how actual transport spending is tracking against expectations laid out in the 2009-2012 National Land Transport Programme. You can read the whole paper here. The NLTP is the most detailed and ‘projects focused’ of the various transport strategies and programmes that are produced: outlining which projects NZTA is to fund over the three year period and how much they expect to spend on each of those projects. Up until recently there was no such thing as a three-year NLTP: but rather budgets were done on a year-by-year basis.

Turning to the update document, the paragraphs below highlight the critical issues: that spending (especially on new state highways) has tracked quite a lot above expectations over the past couple of years, meaning that the money still available for spending in the final year of the NLTP (that is, the current 2011/2012 financial year) is pretty limited:

 Along with falling fuel sales (as I outlined in this post recently), it would seem that the ‘above expectations’ spending on new state highways over the last couple of years is the likely reason why projects such as the Hill Street intersection works in Warkworth are now being delayed. This is further expanded upon in the paper:

 The second paragraph outlined above is potentially somewhat worrying – that if money from other activity classes (like local roads, roads maintenance, PT spending and walking/cycling spending) isn’t full utilised, then it could be redirected to building more motorways – rather than simply deferred until a later date. From what I’ve read previously, an underspend in public transport, walking and cycling is incredibly unlikely (in fact rumours are that if anything there’s likely to also be an overspend in those areas), so it might be local roads or roads maintenance that misses out.

So how much money are we talking about here in terms of the ‘blown’ state highways budget? Well the graph below sheds some light on that, and as you can see they are some pretty big sums of money:

 The dotted line indicates the level of expenditure that was anticipated by the 2009-2012 NLTP, while the grey shaded blocks show the level of spending that actually occurred in 2009/2010 and is what’s anticipated to happen in the subsequent two years. In order for the totals to match up over the full three years there will have to be a pretty dramatic reduction in what gets spent this year: from $1.177 billion down to $908 million.

I suppose that the natural cycle of many of the large motorway projects should assist this process. The big spending on the Victoria Park Tunnel is now largely complete, as is the big spending on the Hobsonville Deviation – which is due to open in the next month or two. While the Waterview Connection is due to start construction within the 2011/2012 financial year, the big expenditure won’t kick in for a couple more years – when the real tunnelling work gets underway.

If we look longer term we really start to get an idea about how tight NZTA’s cashflow is, with any surpluses they once had completely disappearing – it would appear largely as a result of the RoNS projects as time moves on:

 What this ultimately means is that if their revenue is lower than expected (as has been the case in recent times) due to higher petrol prices encouraging people to drive less, there’s almost no wriggle room for NZTA to take a bit of a short-term financial hit yet still keep pushing forward with all their projects in the timeframes originally hoped for. We will have to see further projects drop off, with the money simply not being there from NZTA to make them happen.

Which projects or subsidies get the chop and which retain their funding, should revenue from petrol taxes and road-user charges be lower than expected, will be interesting to follow. By blowing the motorways budget in the past couple of years NZTA have certainly left themselves in a bit of a funding predicament for the foreseeable future.