This is the fourth post in a series on the Ministry of Transport’s working paper on New Zealand’s capital spending on roads, which was prepared as an input to the 2015/16 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport Funding. It was released to Matt under the Official Information Act just before Christmas. Previous posts:
- Part 1: Future demand forecasts
- Part 2: State highways and economic efficiency
- Part 3: Alternative ways to spend the roads budget
In the last two posts, I took a look at MoT’s analysis of benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) for new state highway and local road projects. They’ve found that BCRs for state highway projects have fallen significantly since 2008, meaning that we’re spending more money for road with fewer benefits. Consequently, if the Government were focused on getting the highest benefits out of its transport budget, it would have to de-fund most large state highway projects that are currently underway.
This week, I want to take a look at a slightly different issue: Which regions are doing well (or badly) out of road spending? The MoT report includes some in-depth analysis of “regional equity” in NZTA’s expenditures on road maintenance, construction, and public transport over the period from 2002/03 to 2011/12.
Here’s the key chart. It compares the total revenue that NZTA has raised from each region against the amount of money that NZTA has spent in those regions.
A few things jump out from the chart. The first is that NZTA’s spent slightly more than it raised from fuel taxes, road user charges, and other sources. The second is that there are some big disparities between revenue and expenditure in some regions. In particular: Auckland and Wellington are getting about 20-25% more in NZTA expenditure than they pay in revenue, while Canterbury is getting only slightly more than half as much expenditure as it pays in revenue.
Here’s a summary table of which regions are doing well and badly out of NZTA’s funding criteria:
This can’t be explained by a few major projects or funding calls in one or two years. MoT’s analysis of spending over time shows that “where regions either received significantly more in expenditure or significantly less in expenditure, that accumulation was fairly constant over time. Differences are not due to changes in single years.” In other words, the regions that got less spending in 2002 were also likely to get less expenditure in 2012.
The MoT report goes on to take a look at some potential explanations for disparity in spending, such as differences in population, GDP, vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), etc. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to draw robust conclusions from their analysis as there is likely to be endogeneity, or simultaneous causation, between these variables. (Perhaps MoT should consider using an instrumental variable approach to control for this?)
Here’s one view of the issue, which compares NZTA expenditure with regional population. It tells a similar story – Auckland, the Waikato, and Northland attract more funding than their share of the population would imply, while Canterbury gets less.
One thing that MoT didn’t cover, unfortunately, is the relationship between projected future population growth and spending. It’s reasonable to spend more to enable future growth rather than pouring money into declining regions. This could help to explain the high level of spending in Auckland and the Waikato, which are picked to grow faster than NZ as a whole. However, it doesn’t explain the low level of spending in Canterbury, which is expected to be the second-fastest growing region in the country over the next three decades, or the high level of spending in Wellington, which is not expected to grow rapidly.
Lastly, it’s also instructive to look at the relationship between NZTA’s regional expenditure and the share of national VKT travelled in those regions. This is a useful measure because VKT per capita varies considerably between regions. According to MoT’s data, people drive less in Auckland (10% less than the national average) and Wellington (almost 25% less than the national average). While major urban areas require fewer roads per capita, they may need more spending on public transport infrastructure and services. Canterbury, by contrast, is pretty close to the national average in terms of VKT per capita.
As you can see, this comparison continues to show that Auckland and Wellington are over-funded relative to their driving behaviour, while Canterbury is under-funded.
Because so much of NZTA’s expenditure consists of road spending, this suggests that recent Governments may have misunderstood the needs of New Zealand’s major urban areas. In effect, they have spent a lot of money on roads in cities where public transport, walking and cycling are growing rapidly. Motorway extensions at the edge of town – e.g. Puhoi to Warkworth and Transmission Gully – are not especially useful for meeting transport needs in urban areas. They may be useful in regions like the Waikato where people and freight travel longer distances, but cities are different.
The data also suggests that Christchurch is getting under-funded. As the data series stops in 2012, it’s difficult to tell whether this trend has reversed since the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, which damaged a fair chunk of the city’s infrastructure. The earthquakes also created space for residents and the city council to push for innovative ideas like a frequent bus network and a network of major cycleways. It would be great to see the region pushing on ahead with these ideas, but past under-funding makes me wonder whether there are institutional barriers to funding projects in Christchurch.
What do you make of MoT’s data on regional transport spending?