So the government has decided to review its transport policy, and fairly unsurprisingly the result is masses of money for roads and bugger all for everything else.

Thanks to I have tracked down the 2009-2019 Amended Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding. At the moment it’s just a draft, and you can give your feedback on it up until 2 April.

Written feedback is preferred and can be provided: by e-mail to by writing to GPS Development Team, Ministry of Transport, Novell House, 89 The Terrace, PO Box 3175, Wellington
For contact by phone: Ian Stuart (04 439 9369) or Aidan Smith (04 439 9251) will be available between 8am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

The full GPS can be viewed here:

For some reason it doesn’t seem to be publicly accessible on the Ministry of Transport website – perhaps they’re trying to limit who can provide feedback, I don’t really know.

The GPS seems to be the “political spin” that governments can apply to transport funding and initiatives, so no real surprises that the amendments are “rrrrrrrrrrrrrroads, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads and more rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads!” There has been some hooplah about the loss of funding for coastal shipping, although I think there are some bigger issues with the GPS than this.

Let’s have a look through it in some more detail, starting with the overall objectives.

The Minister of Transport is amending the GPS 2009/10 – 2018/19 to align investment in the land transport sector more closely with the new government’s priorities of national economic growth and productivity. The Minister’s main reasons for changing the GPS are:
1) to reflect the government’s priority of investment in transport infrastructure for economic growth
2) to reflect the modal choices that are realistically available to New Zealanders.

Gotta love how there’s no mention of the environment, future oil scarcity, any attempts to change the current roads-centric nature of transport or anything of the like  🙁

So what is the GPS? What effect does it have?

The GPS outlines the government’s objectives and funding priorities for the land transport sector for a 10–year period with detail for the first 3 to 6 years. The GPS outlines what the government expects to achieve in the land transport sector over this period, how it will achieve this by funding certain activity levels, and how this funding will be raised. The Minister of Transport issues a GPS every 3 years.
The GPS signals to both the NZ Transport Agency and regional transport committees what type of activities or combinations of activities should be included in regional land transport programmes and the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).
The NLTP is a statutory document prepared by the NZ Transport Agency that describes transport activities or packages of activities expected to be considered for funding for the 3 years from 2009/10. The GPS outlines the funding central government will make available through the NLTP.
The GPS sets the funding ranges that the NZ Transport Agency can allocate to particular activity classes, such as maintenance of local roads and State highways, construction of local roads and State highways, passenger transport services and infrastructure, and road policing. The GPS provides a national picture. The allocation of funding is the responsibility of the NZ Transport Agency, which must give effect to the GPS and which will also take regional land transport strategies and programmes into account.

I am still kind of trying to get my head around all the different transport policy documents, but this one does seem particularly important. It outlines the funding priorities of government, and as they’re the ones with the cash – if it’s not a government priority it’s unlikely to happen. It also outlines the “objectives” that government seems to want from transport. I assume that this will guide Regional Land Transport Strategies to some extent as well.

The summary of key changes are outlined below:

The government’s priority is to achieve economic growth and productivity in New Zealand. The GPS will ensure that the use of land transport funding supports this goal. This will mean investing in high quality infrastructure projects that support efficient movement of freight and people. There will be a particular focus on the State highway network, which is critical to the efficient movement of freight and people. There will also be a strong emphasis on value for money, and the economic efficiency of projects.

So a particular focus on State Highways, nothing new there I suppose.

The Minister of Transport proposes that the amended GPS replaces the outcome targets in the current GPS with a list of impacts that the government wishes to achieve. This list would include specific impacts the government expects to contribute to economic growth and productivity. For example:
1) Improvements in journey time reliability.
2) Easing of severe congestion.
3) Improving transport connections to areas that have economic growth potential.
4) Increasing access to markets.
5) Improving transport efficiency.
6) Improvements in road safety.

Wow, so nothing about reducing reliance on oil, nothing about reducing greenhouse emissions from the transport sector, nothing about creating a more balanced transport system, nothing at all about public transport.

Now let’s look at funding:

The total level of expenditure through the National Land Transport Fund is expected to be approximately $2.75 billion in 2009/10 rising to $3.75 billion in 2018/19.
The amended GPS will need to reflect that $258 million of capital commitments for Wellington rail infrastructure will be funded from the Crown account and not from the National Land Transport Fund, freeing up more revenue generated from road users for road–related activity.
In addition, approximately $660 million additional funding will be provided over 6 years to compensate for the removal of regional fuel tax schemes as announced by the Prime Minister and Minister of Transport on 16 March 2009.

Kind of weird that Wellington’s rail infrastructure gets removed out of transport funding, but Auckland’s doesn’t. It’s also amusing that particular move is justified on the grounds of “let’s get those annoying rail improvements out of the way so we can focus on building rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads!”

So now let’s look at state highway funding – the big beneficiary here:

The current GPS signals a reduction in investment in State highway construction over the term of the GPS. This reduction equated to a nine percent decline in investment in State highway construction over the first 3 years of the GPS relative to the last 3 years of actual expenditure.
The Minister of Transport proposes a significant increase in State highway construction. Increasing funding for State highway construction will bring benefits for national economic growth and productivity, particularly given that State highways carry most inter-regional freight and link major ports, airports and urban areas. In particular, it will help address strategic ‘bottlenecks’, and may allow new economic growth areas to be better connected into the national network.
The State highway network represents only 11.6 percent of the total road network yet accounts for almost half of all the kilometres driven each year by New Zealanders. The heavy use of the State highway network highlights its importance for moving people and freight, which is essential for economic growth.

Just another example of the government living with its head in the sand. NZTA studies last year showed declining traffic volumes are likely over the next 10-20 years. So it’s no surprise that funding for state highways was to decline. Furthermore, much of the funding of state highways in recent years has been a huge “catch up” by the previous Labour government for transport projects that were neglected throughout the 1990s. I don’t think anyone really expected that “catch up” level of funding to continue forever…. well clearly except for National.

On page three we finally see that public transport gets a mention:

It is important to rebalance current investment to better reflect the modal options realistically available to New Zealanders now, given that 84 percent of journeys to work in urban areas are by car and 70 percent of freight tonne-kilometres are by road. Our major cities of Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch will need to continue to increase the use of other transport modes. This is why the government continues to place emphasis on ongoing investment in public transport, both within and outside the National Land Transport Fund.

Ummmm…. so the “rebalancing” means that the government is taking money away from public transport to spend on roads. Doesn’t really sound like much of a balance to me. But it’s good to know that government is not going to completely stop funding public transport – which seems to be what the final sentence is saying we should be grateful for.

The real result of this becomes obvious in the table below:


So out of $8.559 billion of total transport funding, we see that public transport services and infrastructure only gets $767 million – that’s around 9% – utterly pathetic! When it comes to “new infrastructure”, which is what we’re really talking about as necessary you end up comparing $134 million for new public transport with $3.496 billion for new roads. Wow, twenty-six times the funding for new roads than new public transport. How is that balanced? The interesting thing also is that the national petrol tax is clearly NOT funding Auckland’s rail electrification. In fact I don’t see where funding for Auckland’s electrification or electric trains is within the GPS. I guess its funding must come separately – which means that the national petrol tax is JUST going into more roads. One must hope that funding for rail infrastructure will be funded separately than from this mechanism – as clearly there’s absolutely nothing in here for rail.

The main features of the proposed reallocations are:

The revised GPS would increase the level of funding for the New and Improved Infrastructure for State Highways activity class by almost $1 billion over the next three years by: reallocating approximately $420 million over 3 years from non-State highway activity classes freeing up $258 million over 2 years for road–related activity by moving capital investment in Wellington rail infrastructure outside of the National Land Transport Fund providing approximately $660 million over 6 years from Petrol Excise Duty and Road User Charges as an alternative to proceeding with the Regional Fuel Tax Scheme.
Forecast State highway expenditure is lifted to remain at around 34 percent of total NLTP expenditure.
Forecast expenditure on local road construction is maintained at the same level as that in the current GPS. Road maintenance expenditure will still increase relative to the 2008/09 level.
Forecast expenditure on Public Transport Infrastructure differs considerably from the 2008/09 forecast, primarily because other capital commitments for Wellington rail infrastructure funding will be funded outside of the National Land Transport Fund.
Demand Management and Community Programmes and Walking and Cycling will receive funding allocations near their 2008/09 expenditure levels.
Changes in forecast expenditure for Rail & Sea Freight and Domestic Sea Freight Development reflect that the Minister wants to focus on other non-monetary interventions that will help increase the market competitiveness of rail and sea freight transport.

This really is roads, roads and more roads. I don’t even know whether Maurice Williamson would have been this bad.

This is why I say our government is stuck in the 1960s with its thinking on transport.

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  1. “I am still kind of trying to get my head around all the different transport policy documents, but this one does seem particularly important. It outlines the funding priorities of government, and as they’re the ones with the cash – if it’s not a government priority it’s unlikely to happen. It also outlines the “objectives” that government seems to want from transport. I assume that this will guide Regional Land Transport Strategies to some extent as well.”

    The GPS is the mechanism Labour came up after the transport select committee repeatedly blocked every attempt to remove the clause “when preparing the NLTP the board shall act independently of the minister” from the Transit NZ Act and it’s successor the LTMA and to insert something a bit more precise than “when preparing the NLTP the board shall have regard to government policy”.

    The reason they were so determined to do this was because when they cam to power they discovered that Transfund’s 1999/2000 budget had allocated most Transfund’s non-maintenance funding to a number of major projects that would continue to absorb three-quarters of Transfund’s non-maintenance funding for the next two years, thus gazumping the government’s plans to divert a big chunk of that money to PT. Hell hath no fury like a politician scorned so it’s no great surprise that the government ‘declined’ to re-appoint the chair of Transfund, banned the 70 year old practice of approving funding for multi year projects without having all the money in the bank at the start of the project, then subsumed Transfund into the LTSA (whose only connection with transport funding was it’s Chair, Dr Jan Wight who is now Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and has a degree in sustainable transport), then they introduced the LTMA with it’s expanded priorities. Then they finally introduced the GPS requirement last year.

    That was definitely one step too far as the original reason for placing the highways scheme under the control of a board rather than a government department was that voters in the 1920s could still clearly recall disastrous consequences of the way that the Seddon government had abused rail construction funding to influence marginal electorates and they didn’t want a repeat of that with the new transport rural system.

  2. Yes I always figured that the whole point of Transit/NZTA was to separate the decisions on what projects go ahead and get funded from politicking. Specifically, this was done to avoid “pork-barrle” politics of the kind you see in Australia. I guess Labour messed with it so they could direct funding more to where they wanted it, and now National’s taking that and running with it.

    The GPS does seem pretty dumb – like it’s specifically set up as a way for the government to meddle in transport decisions.

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