The Government again boasts of ‘record investment’ in transport infrastructure, but it must tread a fine line between building roads, and building systems to keep cars off them.
Analysis: The $18.5 billion in the land transport kitty has today received a top-up from the Transport Minister. Michael Wood has announced $2 billion to provide financing to boost road maintenance and public transport.
Soaring construction prices have made elements of some regions’ wish-lists unaffordable, as the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi announced the National Land Transport Programme for the next three years.
Because of the different alert levels across the country, the programme, Ngā Kaupapa Huarahi o Aotearoa, was published via a Zoom press conference.
Waka Kotahi’s decisions on how its spends its fuel tax income ($13.5b for 2021-24) are arms-length from Government, but guided by this year’s Government Policy Statement on Land Transport and regional land transport plans. And it is co-funded to the tune of nearly $5b by local government.
Infrastructure industry representatives are welcoming news that the Government will chip in $2 billion more as financing – essentially a loan to get projects started. The question is whether the Government has found a way to attach strings to its new financing to ensure it is not embarrassed by any impolitic road-building announcements.
“Our Government has listened to the concerns of local government and communities and we have stepped in to provide $2 billon of financing to boost road maintenance and public transport,” Wood said. “We couldn’t accept our roads deteriorating.
“We know we have to keep driving down emissions and congestion by giving Kiwis more transport choices. This National Land Transport Programme marks a step-change with nearly $6 billion being invested in public transport and walking and cycling – a nearly 40 percent increase compared to the previous three years.”
“Done well, the potential of congestion charging in a city like Auckland would be to have school holiday levels of traffic, which obviously is a significant improvement.”
– Michael Wood, transport minister
Waka Kotahi’s programme also includes $1.3b towards implementing the NZ Rail Plan, and $30m to support coastal shipping.
For the Government, this announcement is a preface to its response to the Climate Change Commission. Newsroom has learned that later this month, it will publish a consultation paper, seeking public views on its first emissions budget and how it should get there.
According to Climate Change Minister James Shaw’s office this week, “the final plan will provide a direction for the whole country to work together towards meeting our climate targets”.
Transport is integral to that – and so, Minister Wood must tread carefully between the pavement and the carriageway.
Business is calling for integrated solutions. “The key question is: what transport benefits is this going to deliver?” asks Barney Irvine, coordinator of the Auckland Business Forum. “The forecasts show that Auckland’s congestion is going to get significantly worse over the next decade, in spite of the planned investment. That’s bad news for productivity, liveability, and emissions – Auckland needs better.
“Record amounts of transport spending count for little if it’s not shifting the dial on the issue that matters most to Aucklanders – that issue is congestion.”
And yes, Auckland Transport does expect $16.3b from the National Land Transport Fund over the next 10 years for everything from upgrading roads to extending rail to electrifying buses – but there are some initiatives that won’t yet cost much at all.
One aspect that does not yet require much funding, but rather political commitment, is to support Auckland Transport’s bid to progress congestion pricing in central Auckland.
AT was clear in the regional plan that it was not yet ready to implement congestion pricing, but it is seeking support to develop its plans further.
“Spending half the annual revenue from the proposed road pricing scheme on public transport operations would upgrade Auckland’s bus, train and ferry network to a comprehensive connected system with turn-up-and-go services running frequently through practically every neighbourhood in the region, from early morning to late evening, seven days a week.”
– Nicolas Reid, MGCagney
In a blog post this morning, MRCagney public transport planner Nicolas Reid argues some of the equity issues around road pricing could be partly addressed by investing its revenues in public transport.
“Spending half the annual revenue from the proposed road pricing scheme on public transport operations would upgrade Auckland’s bus, train and ferry network to a comprehensive connected system with turn-up-and-go services running frequently through practically every neighbourhood in the region, from early morning to late evening, seven days a week,” he says. “This would easily give Auckland the best ‘all day every day’ transit network in Australasia.”
The proposed implementation of an electronic pricing cordon around the CBD was backed by a transport select committee inquiry last month, and is being closely watched by Wellington and Tauranga transport leaders, too.
Waka Kotahi chair Sir Brian Roche says congestion pricing is part of the search for a longterm solution to fund the land transport system. “From a board perspective we’ll remain very open until that work is completed.”
Michael Wood says he is very encouraged by the strong cross-party consensus manifested in the report of the transport infrastructure select committee. “We had a unanimous recommendation that the Government moves forward with this piece of work. I think there is very, very strong potential,” he says.
“Done well, the potential of congestion charging in a city like Auckland would be to have school holiday levels of traffic, which obviously is a significant improvement. It’s a complex topic but it’s one which we’ll be looking to explore further through our work in the emissions reduction plan, which will be getting released relatively soon. I’m signalling strong interest in this on the basis of the select committee’s report.”
So, as much as the Government’s financing will help build roads, it will equally – and ultimately – build systems to constrain the use of those roads.