With the release of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) it once again got me thinking about a funding anomaly in our transport system, the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), or the Proposed Future Strategic Public Transport Network as ATAP calls it.


The general way in which we fund transport in New Zealand hasn’t changed for decades, if not close to a century. State Highways are fully funded by central government while local roads and public transport (except rail infrastructure) are funded roughly 50% by central government with the other half coming from local governments (by way of rates) – there are a few exceptions that sit outside of this but by in large it hasn’t changed.

One of the reasons for State highways being fully funded is that they are considered a strategic network. They’re the key roads linking regions, cities and towns together throughout the country. Within cities like Auckland they, primarily in the form of the motorways, do the same thing but also link disparate parts of the city. Here’s what the NZTA say about them:

The state highway network provides a strategic roading link between districts and regions. State highways help to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the entire length and breadth of the country. They link main centres of population to industrial hubs and tourism destinations. State highways also play an important role in delivering public transport solutions. In our planning, we work to build connections with local networks and maintain the functioning of the state highway.

As mentioned above, ATAP has described future strategic PT network to go along with a strategic road network. This is important as it’s a recognition that high quality PT has a key role to play in Auckland’s future. Here’s what ATAP says about them both:

Auckland’s strategic road, rail and public transport networks are the most critical elements of the city’s transport system. It is essential to maintain and develop strong, safe and resilient strategic networks that can cope with increased demand.

Further information in ATAP describes these strategic networks as the “Backbone”, linking major locations and providing for highest volumes of movement. Here is the proposed future strategic road network. Most of the Tier 1 routes are already state highways or proposed to be them (East West Link) with the biggest exception being Te Irirangi Dr and Ti Rakau Dr.


According to the NZTA as of 2015, across the country state highways make up just 11.5% of all roads (12.7% by the number of lane km) but in Auckland this is just 3.9% of roads (6.6% by lane km). Yet these roads are responsible for a large portion of traffic with as much as 48.5% of all vehicle km travelled estimated to be on state highways. These figures are shown below.


Because of their strategic status, state highways also get a lot of funding. In the current 3-year National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), across New Zealand state highways are allocated $4.2 billion for improvements and another $1.7 billion for maintenance. By comparison just $465 million is allocated for improving local roads, $1.7b for maintenance of local roads while public transport gets $1 billion, mainly for services – and around half of these figures are paid for by local rates.

A big question going forward is how we’re going to pay to develop that strategic PT network. One fear I have is that the deal for City Rail Link, where the council and government share the costs 50:50, has set a precedent in how we fund the rest of the PT network. Auckland needing to fund 50% of all PT, regardless of how important or valuable it is, while even every minor state highway project gets 100% funding will continue to lead to even more perverse outcomes than we already have.

So, given both the strategic road and PT networks are serving essentially the same purpose, why shouldn’t they be funding the same? Why should it matter what mode is being built if it’s considered a strategic network?

I feel this is going to become a greater and greater issue, especially with the upcoming completion of the Western Ring Route. Once Waterview early next year is completed we will have all the key inter-regional links in place. From that point out any motorway projects within the urban area are just about increasing capacity for local movements.

Ultimately, I think a wider funding discussion is needed. ATAP doesn’t break down the costs of developing transport too much but does suggest that over all modes there is a funding gap of up to $400 million annually. There will obviously be a lot of future discussion about how to close that gap and those discussions could go on for many, many years. In the interim perhaps it’s time for the government and council to rethink how funding is structured. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • The strategic PT network is treated the same as the strategic road network and funded 100% from the NZTA out of the NLTP, this includes rail infrastructure which is funded directly by the government.
  • Perhaps combined with 100% funding, the development of the strategic PT network is handed over to the NZTA
  • Another option could be that Auckland is given bulk funding for transport and Auckland Transport’s role expanded to including the development and maintenance of the local state highway network and local rail network. This would allow all transport projects in the region to be assessed, prioritised and funded under the same conditions.

What do you think, should strategic PT corridors be funded the same as their corresponding road networks and how would you do it?

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  1. At minimum upgrades regarding rail freight should be 100% Funded by Central Government such as the third/fourth mains.

    The issue is you can’t use interegional freight & traffic as a justification for many of the motorway improvements being done in Auckland, as many of them are about enabling greenfield growth or capacity increases that primarily serve intraregional freight & traffic.

    Therefore I think either motorway improvements that primarily benefit intraregional freight & traffic either shouldn’t be funded 100%, or the the strategic PT network should be funded close to 100%, I say close because not sure something like the New Lynn-Onehunga section would be in the mix for 100% funding, however something like Rapid Transit to the Southwest/Airport should be 100%

    Though we know what the semi-proposed FAR’s are because they are in Appendix B of this http://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Land/Documents/ATAP-Revenue-and-Expenditure-Report.pdf

    1. Could you just reclassify all of the urban state highways as local roads, and then with all the money you’d save increase the ~50% NLTP funding rate for local projects?

      I think central funding makes sense when the benefits are mainly to people outside the region (as they are in rural areas), but like you say, urban motorway projects are almost all about intra-regional trips. I can’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be assessed on a level playing field with local road, PT, walking and cycling projects.

  2. Calling them “Proposed” & “Future” allows the anti PT brigade to shroud these parts of theATAP in some sort of vague cloak of unreality that means they don’t need to be taken seriously and funded properly such as more motorway lanes that everybody knows are needed NOW! And by the way all NZTA’s funding comes from road taxes that trains don’t pay so get your hands off my motorway money!

  3. “why shouldn’t they be funding the same?”

    Because it wouldn’t work for PT projects. The state highways are by and large funded by their users. If the same were applied to PT as you suggest it should, we would see massive fare increases.

    Unless by “funded the same way”, you mean having motorists pay for both. The answer for why that doesn’t happen, and never will, is that it is political suicide.

    1. Except that as a motorist, I am likely to reduce my commute by a greater amount per dollar by funding public transport than I am by funding more motorways.

      If I live in Papakura and drive to the CBD, then the more of my fuel taxes went to PT rather than roads, the quicker my drive would be.

      Simplified: it’s of benefit to drivers to fund PT.

    2. Society at large, including motorists, are the greatest beneficiaries of pubic transport. For example the fact that 8,000 commuters use the busway each morning means there is literally half as much traffic on the harbour bridge, SH1 and all the approach roads either side of the harbour as there would be otherwise.

      Why shouldn’t ratepayers, taxpayers and indeed motorists share the cost? It’s like the police, we all pay for it and it is law abiding citizens that are the main beneficiaries of the service. It would be absurd to say that only criminals should pay for the police because they are the only ones that use it, why treat transport the same way?

    3. Of course the government could make motorists pay for the deaths and pollution they create, and they could make motorists pay land rent and rates on roads. Even better, they could expect a return on investment like they would with any other state asset.
      But while roads are getting such a major subsidy, its hard for PT to compete without one.

    4. The transport system should be considered holistically. Sure, you can debate that road users pay road tax etc and try and split everything up into pieces but its not the way to go – you end up with perverse outcomes as everyone pushes their own barrow. NZTA should be a ‘transport agency’ and fund all strategic road, freight and PT networks. As a first step, NZTA should take over Kiwirail…

    5. BS, state highways are heavily subsidised by local road users as evidenced by the fact they get billions more spent on them despite having fewer vehicle kilometres travelled. If you consider fuel/road user taxes as revenue then most of the big state highway projects (especially outside Auckland) wouldn’t generate enough usage to cover their construction costs, let along ongoing maintenance.

      1. “If you consider fuel/road user taxes as revenue then most of the big state highway projects (especially outside Auckland) wouldn’t generate enough usage to cover their construction costs, let along ongoing maintenance.”

        Agreed Matt, but SH’s are funded as a network. With the exception of RONS, the SH network is self-funding.

        The unfortunate reality is that no government in New Zealand is ever going to divert road income to non-roading expenditure, whether it makes sense or not. The AA and roading lobby are powerful enough to stop it, which they have for decades now. Successive National and Labour governments have distanced themselves from the concept. The Greens are the only ones who say they’ll do it, but then that’s a good example of why they languish around the 12-15% vote mark.

  4. “One fear I have is that the deal for City Rail Link, where the council and government share the costs 50:50, has set a precedent in how we fund the rest of the PT network. Auckland needing to fund 50% of all PT, regardless of how important or valuable it is, while even every minor state highway project gets 100% funding will continue to lead to even more perverse outcomes than we already have” – really good point Matt. Agree with the need for a rethink on how funding works.

    1. But remember the purchaser has power to make a choice. If something is funded 100% locally the government won’t take any interest in it. But if it is funded 100% by central government then they have all the power to decide. If we made PT like CRL 100% a central government project then they probably wouldn’t have decided to do it. We would just get another RoNS instead.

      1. Yeah, under the current system, you may well be right. But imagine if the central govt Transport Agency was responsible for the strategic movement of people and goods regardless of mode, I’m sure we’d start to get them looking at things from a different angle (at the moment all they can do is designate land for roads hence thats inevitably what they end up doing). Any time they try to go multi-modal (i’m talking about rail here in particular), they have to call in their dysfunctional cousins at AT or Kiwirail to assist as they are the ones with designating authority.

  5. “Because of their strategic status, state highways also get a lot of funding.”

    State highways get a lot of funding because of the funding mechanism and the amount fuel burned on them. Strategic, in the context of state highways, is a meaningless bullshit word much favoured by NZTA and the government. It implies a strategy; the fundamental question to be asked is what is that strategy.

    1. The ‘strategy’ was more about getting farm goods to ports. There would be a good argument nowadays for considering communication networks alongside transport ones and funding whichever does the best job of connecting people and businesses with value.

  6. I think there’s a logical issue that requires teasing out.

    I can see an argument for funding the rail network as the rail line continues north and south of Auckland i.e. it is clearly a strategic national network; the issue in that case is simply an increased focus on a particularly busy section of that strategic network.

    That argument is less tenable with other parts of the PT network; the busways stop at Auckland’s boundaries.

    Of course, if rail were funded 100%, AC/AT would have a lot of spare money to spend on bus and trams.

    1. Its the same argument for state highways too of course, Sh16, 18 and 20 are entirely within Aucklands boundaries, and 95% of trips on SH1 within Auckland never leave Auckland.

  7. As we learn with every earthquake the mode is very important. When rail etc is disrupted the quickest recovery and source of help, supplies, etc is from repaired roads, and heavy duty vehicles. Like it or not roads will always be core.

    1. Please point out in the post where it suggests that roads shouldn’t be funded. Perhaps you could also explain why you think we should design our transport system just in case of a one off event

    2. The first relief to Kaikoura was by air and sea, not road, so by this argument we should be even more heavily investing in those modes…

    3. We need a race. 5000 tonnes of freight from Auckland to Wellington, simulating major disaster response. Road vs rail.

      Would you be willing to bet $100 on road winning that bet, Ricardo?

      1. Only $100? Lets make it $1000 and we will even give you a head start, the trucks will first get the 5000 tonnes of freight to rail before they start because if they don’t the first of the ‘relief supplies’ will be getting delivered before the train gets shunted from Southdown ready to leave Westfeild. Also remember under true disaster response the rail would most likely be impassable, there were no trains south of Palmerston North all day Monday and part of Tuesday last week and the quake was not even centered on the area of your simulated major disaster.

    4. A little feedback for you and be aware that the points below are very general in nature –
      It s fastest to do a quick patch up to road, air and sea compared to rail but:
      A 75% to full repair is fastest and easiest with rail because the sub-structure is straightforward to deal with…..add ballast, add sleepers and rails, tamp down, job done. Yes, there is ongoing movement (after shocks) that needs to be dealt with but that is the nature of rail anyway and an easy and straightforward part of its ongoing maintenance
      With a road, the on-going movement, and on-going damage to underground services means months and years of patch ups, pot holes, re-surfacing and repairs. Any roading engineers with involvement with Christchurch will be able to verify this.
      These issues also apply to airport runways.
      Shipping? Yes the ships are resilient but the ports most certainly are not. Repairs in the port of Lyttelton have taken years and many millions of dollars to fix, and now Centreport will be facing the same costs. Considering the damage done by earthquakes to the ports, the idea that shipping is resilient is certainly not as clear-cut as coastal shipping advocates make out.
      In conclusion, all 4 modes have pluses and minuses that make them together a good combination for New Zealand.

  8. There’s an additional harbour crossing on that map. Looks like that one is going the same way as that east-west link.

    They’re really going to build that one, aren’t they.

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