Yesterday the government released the draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) for 2015-2025 and it continues the 1960’s thinking that we’ve been stuck with for years. As things are currently set up the GPS perhaps the most important document in determining what is invested in. The Ministry of Transport describe it:

The draft GPS 2015 sets out the priorities, objectives and funding levels for land transport, establishing funding ranges for land transport activity classes and identifying the results expected from this investment.

How the GPS is linked to other transport plans is in the image below.

2015 GPS - Document heirachy

Overall the GPS doesn’t seem dramatically different from the 2012-2022 one that it will replace so there are definitely no surprises in it, although it does provide a little bit more detail in some areas. Overall there are three high level strategic areas that are meant to be being focused on.

  • economic growth and productivity
  • road safety
  • value for money

The sections on Existing Demand and Travel Forecasts are perhaps some of the most interesting and are something that didn’t exist in the previous GPS. However they seem to be an attempt by the MoT to continue trying to justify spending the XX% of the transport budget on massive new motorways. They do seem to be finally acknowledging that traffic volumes haven’t grown but then push the argument that everything is just a blip and will recover again soon.

30. GPS 2015 (draft) has been prepared following a period of modest increases in freight demand and flat demand in light vehicle travel, measured in vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT). This is illustrated in Figure 2.

31. Demand grew strongly through the early 2000s, easing back through the middle of the decade. Following the global financial crisis in 2008, demand returned to close to 2005/6 levels and remained at these levels through to the end of 2013. A similar period of flat demand occurred in the aftermath of the fuel crisis in the early 1970s. In that case, demand remained soft for more than 10 years.

2015 GPS - Travel Demand & Fuel

The problem with this is that overall the economy has already recovered and improved yet we are still to see any upward change in VKT or fuel consumption. The difference in the graph above where fuel consumption started increasing again is likely tied to fuel prices getting cheaper and there’s no sign that’s about to happen again anytime soon. In fact there’s not even a single mention in the document of what might happen to fuel prices in the future which in my opinion is a massive omission. Fuel prices can clearly have a massive impact on driving demand and without increased demand the already shonky economic cases for the massive roading spend up will be even worse.

Another of the new additions to the GPS is to more specifically talk about congestion, particularly in relation to Auckland and Christchurch. For Auckland we do get one brief admission which I’ve bolded below however they also talk about the need for further capacity increases.

44. Since 2009, the Government has undertaken a major programme of investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure. By 2017, Auckland will have a completed motorway network and an upgraded and electrified metro rail network. This investment programme is delivering significant results, helping to hold congestion steady despite population growth.

In this GPS quite a large section is devoted to objectives and results with them being much more explicit than in the previous GPS. Of the things that caught my attention.

  • The Roads of National Significance continue to remain a key objective which is unsurprising however in the 2012 GPS the government also named four additional routes they said may be considered for future RoNS. They were Hamilton to Tauranga, Cambridge to Taupo, Napier to Hastings, State Highway 1 north and south of the current Christchurch motorway projects. The good thing is there is no mention of them in this GPS and the Q&A paper says it is due to the government wanting to concentrate on the ones still under construction. That will be because of the pressure they’re putting on funding sources which is being driven in large part by traffic volumes not increasing like expected.
  • For Auckland they talk about the need for liveable and connected cities being critical to economic and social prosperity however as we know a comparatively small amount is being spent to improve connectivity for anything but one mode.
  • On Public Transport they claim considerable amounts have been spent investing ahead of demand referring specifically to integrated ticketing, reconfigured bus networks and rail improvements. They say that a period of consolidation is needed where the focus is on securing the gains of that investment. In short that means they aren’t investing in any significant PT infrastructure. This of course ignores that since 2009 patronage in Auckland alone has risen by about 12 million trips or 20%.
  • On cycling the wording suggests a greater acceptance of the role that cycling has to play. It points to the positive results of the model communities initiatives as well as pointing out that in many places existing dedicated cycle facilities are often fragmented. It also notes that there are health benefits to having more people cycling but then seems to writes them off by basically saying cycling is dangerous. The real kicker with cycling is that the results talk about extending and improving cycle networks but only where it “can be achieved at reasonable cost, including impact on general traffic capacity”. This is a massive cop out and of course on the cost aspect the complete opposite of the approach taken with the RoNS where no expense is spared to get the best outcome. This is also at odds with the strategic focus the GPS says it puts on road safety.

The really key part of the GPS however is the funding section which puts in place funding ranges for each transport activity. This time the MoT has decided to make a few changes to the funding activity classes, joining some together. To me this is actually a fairly logical thing and should allow more flexibility. As an example in the 2012 GPS public transport services and public transport infrastructure were two different things and funding from one couldn’t be used for the other. The change should mean that within the funding class what delivers the best outcomes could be built regardless of whether it was a service or infrastructure improvement.

One new funding class has been added to specifically pay for regional infrastructure projects. Probably a way to try and combat the perception that Auckland gets all the funding.

Here are the draft funding ranges. The actual amounts to spent in each category won’t be known until the NZTA releases its National Land Transport Plan.

2015 GPS - Funding Ranges

To see how they compare to what was in the 2012 GPS I’ve taken the midpoint of the results and compared them to the midpoint of the 2012 GPS. The midpoint isn’t exactly the same as what the NLTP suggested but is useful for an indication. I’ve coloured the numbers green if they’ve gone up or red if they’ve gone down for the parts that overlap. Interesting that there’s actually a slight decrease in State Highway spending after 2018 from what was previously planned.

2015 GPS - Funding Ranges 2012 vs 2015 2

So using these midpoint figures I’ve also grouped the spending into high level categories

2015 GPS - Spending graph

All up this plan is very much a continuation of what we’ve had for the last 5-6 years which is hardly a surprise. A heavy focus on rural motorways with very little attention being paid to any other mode. It’s blinkered thinking that comes straight from the 1960’s.

Share this


  1. “On Public Transport they claim considerable amounts have been spent investing ahead of demand…” *cough* ahead of demand? Who wrote that? From what I and I’m sure a lot of us see daily and photograph/tweet often, they can’t even keep up.

  2. They’ve been running the “PT investment ahead of demand” line for 5 years now with huge growth and modeshare shift in the 2013 census.

    Its just a bullshit excuse line.

  3. Nothing that’s been done in Auckland is ahead of any demand, people have wanted and needed a integrated ticketing system for years, we still don’t have it, the new bus network is also something that’s been needed for an extremely long time, and the EMUs have also been needed for decades. Letting a system be run into the ground as has happened here such that no one uses and then spending some money on it, is hardly investing ahead of demand it’s simply money slowly restoring something that’s been basically unusable. To now turn around and say nothing more for PT for the next decade is exactly what I’d expect from this government who are ideologically fixated on more motorways. The sooner National are gone and we get some sanity in transport planning the better it will be for NZ’s future.

  4. “31. Demand grew strongly through the early 2000s, easing back through the middle of the decade. Following the global financial crisis in 2008, demand returned to close to 2005/6 levels and remained at these levels through to the end of 2013. A similar period of flat demand occurred in the aftermath of the fuel crisis in the early 1970s. In that case, demand remained soft for more than 10 years.”

    Now that is a spectacular piece of piece spin-doctery. The driving inflection point was 2005/06 before the GFC, as crude prices rose, and as Matt says now the economy has recovered, but we are not returning to driving manically no matter how many billions they spend trying to make it easier.

    The implication of that chart with its emphasis on the 1970s is that driving Kilometres will always rise forever, and any change to this can only be a temporary aberration. That is clearly impossible and is not supported by the evidence both here and overseas.

    This document, by failing to even consider that there is the possibility that a significant change in behaviour and preference is underway, shows an underlying failure of objectivity.

    1. Yes, ignoring the fact that VKT flat lined 2 years+ before the GFC (evidence indicates up to 4 years before GFC in fact but we’ll say 2 years only).

      So government and their spin-doctors are treating that graph like its the path a multi-stage rocket heading to orbit would generally take.

      And the two flat lines are where the 1st and 2nd stages burned out and dropped off – great, so far, the rocket is going upwards like it should, even if not quite as fast as they assumed.

      Except the elephant they ignore with their prediction of “upwards again soon” is that they only had a 2 stage rocket to begin with.
      Basically their “demand” rocket has run out of boost/stages without reaching orbit and probably has got about as high as it will likely ever get.

      It also ignores the fact that during the 70;s and 80’s oil (and thus petrol) was relatively expensive – yes a comparison with today will show the “real” price of petrol then versus now per litre is about the same.

      But what that ignores is that the mileage difference – 40 years ago a car getting 20 MPG was considered pretty good mileage. Nowadays we get more mileage for the same $ (easily double that on modern cars, average NZ fleet more like 30MPG though), so petrol prices in terms of “distance you can travel” is cheaper now than then – yet we collectively still drive less VKT per-capita than in the 70s.

      Anyone in the Government thought about why **that** actually might be and what it means when the Oil price (like their VKT “demand” predictions) heads skywards again.

  5. “By 2017, Auckland will have a completed motorway network” no more motorways for Auckland, that’s quite an announcement!

  6. Here’s a convenient executive summary: Motorways? Motorways! Motorways motorways; motorways. Motorways motorways? Motorways motorways motorways motorways!

  7. I know that this is a politically non partisan blog It would be brilliant for Auckland if the Labour Party came out with an avowedly pro Auckland / pro national public transport stance. The number of votes that could be harvested from Aucklanders, in all areas must be in the many thousands. Enough to turn a election.

  8. Not just Labour, but the other parties as well. At least New Zealand First are pro electrification extension to Pukekohe and beyond. They will be the king-maker, so important NZ First is pro – public transport and rail development. I see New Zealand First will be announcing their “Railways of National Importance” programme on July 13 in Gisborne at a public meeting.

  9. The GPS reinforces the apparent commitment of the current government to promoting climate change. For example on p 6 the draft says co-ordination between rail and coastal shipping is outside the parameters of the GPS because of the competitive model used. Yet this ignores the potential emissions benefit of using rail and particularly coastal shipping for longer distance freight. Given transport’s contribution, any national atmospheric carbon emissions goals remain unattainable without integration of modes, reinforcing the current lack of commitment to reducing emissions. More roads, more emissions, more climate change. QED.

  10. It is a horrifically imbalanced document.

    However, it does illustrate one thing very well: roads are expensive. They aren’t just expensive to build, they’re also very expensive to maintain.

    Because of the requirement for continual injections of public money, they’re more like other forms of subsidised transport than people realise.

    The amount available to maintain state highways and local roads has been heavily constrained by the RONS projects, and anecdotally the quality of roads has been deteriorating. You can feel it when you’re driving in an NZTA region where there is a RONS being built. This has been noticed around the country, and pressure from local councils and residents around the country is almost certainly part of the reason that the maintenance budget has been increased, and new state highway spending has been cut.

    1. +1 George D
      I like this quote:

      ‘However, it does illustrate one thing very well: roads are expensive. They aren’t just expensive to build, they’re also very expensive to maintain.
      Because of the requirement for continual injections of public money, they’re more like other forms of subsidised transport than people realise.’

      The “no carbon emissions” trolley bus network in Wellington is currently being readied for shut-down primarily due to the extra money it costs to repair and maintain the overhead wires and sub-station network.

      There are increasing hints that the national rail freight network is under review. The current economic model doesn’t appear to allow the rail network to generate enough income to maintain its current network including a return on capital, let alone the upgrades to axleloads etc necessary to maintain a long term competitive position against its main competitor – trucking companies operating in part along the new RoNS.

      Interesting therefore to see that roads also carry significant long term maintenance costs.

      1. “Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday highlighted increases in money for walking and cycling, as well as the acceleration of Auckland motorway projects, in a d[r]aft three-year land transport funding policy statement.”

        Looks like another Herald typo, putting an “r” where it doesn’t belong.

  11. I do wonder how much the roading lobby(civil engineering and trucking/transport companies) have given to the National Party over the years.

  12. As the Greens also note, this is a document that refuses to acknowledge the reality of climate change and the necessity of addressing it.

  13. I do wonder about National to be honest. Even with a large majority, with MMP it’s never a sure thing. I’m typically a National voter, usually agree with most of their policies, and have no faith at all in Labour’s ability. However, with their dated ideological approach to transport, it almost feels like John Key is bending my arm behind my back and forcing me to vote for a Labour/Green coalition.

    1. A labour/Green coalition is an unknown quantity but I think it needs to be given a chance. If they let us down then in 3 years they can be shown the door. But if we carry on with National then it seems a virtual certainty that excessive-dependence on road-transport and all that goes with it will be greatly increased for a very long time and rail will be left to wither away. The coming election is likely to be the point of no return.

  14. This policy would be hilarious if it wasn’t just so tragic.

    Paragraph 66 sets out that “[a] land transport system that is capable of adjusting to changing demand reduces the costs imposed on other parts of the economy and enables New Zealand to compete more effectively in the global economy.”

    Well, apparently that means only the adjusting to changing demand when they like it (VKT growth), and not to changing demand when they don’t (lower VKT, as is).

    Meanwhile, paragraph 33 claims “New Zealand’s major urban centres are more densely populated than most cities in Australia or America. Comparative congestion data suggests our urban road networks are under more pressure than cities with more roading per person.”

    How often do you hear the myth that Auckland is too sprawling and has too low a density to support quality public transport and cycling? I bet the Minister himself said it once. Apparently, it’s now too dense to do anything but build more roads.

    In road safety news, Tables 1 and 3 repeatedly aim for “[r]eduction in deaths and serious injuries at reasonable cost”. Yes, “reasonable cost”. The Ministry of Transport: Lowest prices are just the beginning? Where everyone gets a bargain?

    Finally, being more charitable, it seems the policy does nothing but double down on a holding pattern. But to what end? Perhaps paragraphs 21-23 give a clue: “Future developments in networks and vehicles”. With such popular science miracles as, “collision avoidance technology, autonomous vehicles, and in-vehicle telematics […] lane control technology and automatic breaking [sic] systems”, we might as well expand the road network, since our electric robot vehicle overlords will need them anyway. Why bother with 19th century technology like bicycles and trains, right?

    And speaking of 19th century technology, there is an admission in paragraph 35 that “growth in personal vehicle travel will remain more muted”. Instead, they see “recovery occurring in freight demand” (paragraph 38). Which, of course, “is
    critical to the economic health of an exporting nation”.

    No smart, digital economy here, says paragraph 40: “The majority of growth in tonnage by 2041 is expected to be in building materials (102 percent) and waste (70 percent), with Auckland and Canterbury accounting for the bulk of movements and growth. Growth in transportation of general agricultural products (62 percent) and dairy products (60 percent) is expected to lead freight growth in regional New Zealand.” They’re betting the farm on it.

  15. while I don’t disagree with many of the critical comments above, I am seeing this GPS as something of a victory because – unlike the last GPS – it does not identify the need for further expansions in the RoNS programme.

    That suggests to me that even this Govermnent is beginning to re-think the wasteful and (deservedly) derided RoNs programme. The GPS may not be quite the turning point which is warranted based on underlying changes in travel demands, but it is at least a hold point in which we can catch our breath.

    I’m confident already committed investment in Auckland’s public transport network, for example, will drive sustained patronage growth for the next 3-5 years at least. And with increased patronage generating additional revenue, we can hold fares and/or improve services which in turn will support further growth.

    Some of you will say it’s a pyrrhic victory and you may be right, but for now I’m looking on the bright side of this sordid document.

    1. Agree. The even crazier next set of RoNS have quietly been dropped. Of course the cupboard is bare, they’ve wantonly blown the fund and are now borrowing. This policy cannot be sustained.

  16. The GPS will change if WE the citizens change the Government. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the traffic jams.

Leave a Reply