Transport

Public transport wins in transport strategy

Public transport is the big winner in the Government’s final transport strategy announced on Thursday.

The final government policy statement (GPS) on land transport, released on Thursday afternoon, outlines the Government’s strategy for the next 10 years.

This GPS is the successor to the previous government’s 2015 statement, and follows a draft version sent out for consultation in April.

The big winner from the final statement is public transport, which has seen its funding increase rise from the draft plan. It will now see a 68 percent increase in funding from the 2015 GPS.

Walking and cycling projects will see an increase in funding of $85 million from the draft plan. A Ministry of Transport error in calculating spending increases meant the proposed 246 percent increase in spending touted in the draft plan had to be revised down to 116 percent, although no funding was actually cut.

The Government had previously talked up its increase in local road funding as part of its shift in focus away from its predecessor's Roads of National Significant projects towards roads where most journeys take place. Up to $6.2 billion will be available for regional road and local road upgrades.

The 11 percent decrease in funding for state highway improvements is unchanged. This equated to $9.5 billion in funding for state highways.

Pain at the pump

The GPS allocates funding from the Government’s Land Transport Fund, which is paid for by petrol taxes and road user charges, rather than general taxation. Local governments and central governments together contribute $1.5 billion on top of this.

The Government had announced with the draft strategy that fuel excise would be increased by between 9 and 12 cents per litre. The final strategy shows the final figure coming in the middle of the range at 11.5 cents when fully phased in.

Petrol excise duty will still increase as planned, with the first 3.5 cent per litre jump slated for this September and further 3.5 cent increases in 2019 and 2020.

Road user charges are also slated to increase. Aucklanders will still pay an additional 10 cent per litre regional fuel tax.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford stood by the increase, saying they were needed to fund the plan.

“This will cost the average family 83 cents a week this year, rising to $2.50 a week by 2020,” he said, although economist Sam Warburton told Stuff the figures took no account of the fact that poorer people drove less and averaged the funding increase across everyone.

Poorer people who drove would therefore be hit harder than Twyford claimed, Warburton said.

Overall, the Government will increase transport investment from $3.6 billion a year to $4 billion in 2018/19. It will rise to $4.7 billion a year by 2027/28.

Responses to draft statement

The Government received 942 submissions on the draft statement.

In a response to the feedback, the Government said there was support for the concept of mode neutrality, but some felt the draft statement favoured public transport, rail and active modes over vehicle travel.

Increased funding for public transport and the drop in funding for state highways, along with a reduced funding increase for local roads, suggests the Government has not taken this particular criticism to heart.

The Government said local government submitters were concerned about the decrease in state highway improvements, which they felt could lead to a drop in safety and access outcomes.

Concerns were also raised about the cost benefit ratio used to evaluate projects potentially being inconsistent with some of the strategy’s goals.

The current method of evaluating the cost-benefit ratio for roads places a large emphasis on travel times. This means that safety improvements, including those which slow traffic, could have low cost-benefit ratios because they increased travel time.

More to come

The Government will release a second stage GPS in 2019/20 which will develop some of the Government’s goals further. The current GPS suggests that this document could include measures to address the efficiency of the New Zealand vehicle fleet, which is old and inefficient.

Newsroom reported in April that the average age of a car in New Zealand is 14.2 years, nearly twice that of the UK.

And New Zealand continues to import old cars. A report by economic consultancy BERL done for MTA found 4083 cars built between 1992 and 1997 were imported last year.

Of these, over half were diesels that would not meet minimum emissions or frontal impact standards.

The second stage GPS could also push mode neutrality further, by looking at enabling funding relating to coastal shipping, which could take trucks off the road and improve the resilience of freight networks in the event of a catastrophe.

Future iterations of the GPS will also take into account the recommendations of the Independent Climate Change Commission and the Government’s overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

* This article has been corrected to show that funding to walking and cycling projects increased between the draft and final GPS. The error was due to the Ministry of Transport comparing the draft GPS to the the 2015 GPS (issued in 2014), while the final GPS included funding comparisons between the 2015 GPS amendment (issued 2017).

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