Yesterday the Ministry of Transport released for consultation the Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) for 2018-2025. The GPS is refreshed every three years and as the name implies, it sets out the government’s policies and spending for transport over a 10-year horizon.

The single most important aspect of the GPS are the funding ranges for each of the 10 activity areas. The funding ranges set an upper and lower limit of how much money will be spent on each activity every year. These ranges are then used by the NZTA in conjunction with regional councils in setting the more detailed National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) and Regional Land Transport Plans (RLTPs) which will list specific funding levels. This is how the various transport documents are tied together and as you can see, other regional and national plans have to be consistent with or give effect to the GPS, meaning there aren’t a lot of options to stray from what the government wants.

In total, over $11 billion is expected to be spent over the six years from 2018 to 2024 but depending on circumstances that could be as high as over $12 billion.

And importantly, here are the individual funding ranges as a graph. This looks at the total range over three years and I’ve included the 2012-15 and 2015-18 figures as a comparison to show how they’re changing. Some notable things you can see:

  • There is another significant increase for state highway improvements. Many of the big Roads of National Significance projects will be winding up over that 3-year period but other expensive projects, such as the East West Link and Northern Corridor are expected to getting underway.
  • They’re lowering the bracket for local road projects saying it was consistently under spent but that the opposite is true of local road maintenance.
  • On top of the State Highways fund, there is a separate activity for regional projects which they admit are mostly state highway projects too.
  • Public Transport gets some improvements in range but it’s worth noting that this covers both services and infrastructure. Also with NZ’s weird funding rules, it isn’t allowed to be spent on rail infrastructure.
  • Walking and cycling does get a little boost but not a significant one.

To give an idea of where investment has been in the past, this shows the funding ranges for the 2015-18 NLTP and where within those ranges funding was allocated.

Much of the text within the document feels like it has just been copied and pasted from previous versions of the GPS but I went through (most) of it anyway and a couple of things stood out.

The document states that the GPS takes into consideration a range of government policies relevant to transport, this includes the Kaikoura earthquake and tsunami recovery. But oddly it makes multiple references to the fact it doesn’t fully take into account the ATAP work agreed between the government and the council as it’s waiting on funding decisions. This makes me nervous that the government are planning on picking and choosing from ATAP.

30. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project is a collaborative exercise between Auckland local government and central government officials. It has provided analysis to inform the development of the GPS. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project identified four key strategic challenges and a strategic approach to investment for Auckland. The strategic approach looks to make better use of existing networks, target investment to the most significant challenges, and maximise new opportunities to influence travel demand.

31. The draft GPS 2018 recognises the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and Kaikoura earthquake but does not fully take the funding implications of Auckland Transport Alignment Project into account. There is expected to be changes to the final GPS 2018 once funding decisions have been made.

Previous GPS’ have talked a lot about getting value for money from transport investment while at the same time promoting programmes like the RoNS and other government initiatives that assessment has shown to perform poor economically. Now they’re starting to drop the charade government projects will be good value and saying they’ll be done anyway, simply because the government like them. This is a massive double standard from the government who have for years berated Auckland for projects they claim have a low economic value.

36. It is expected that maximising value for money will automatically advance economic growth and productivity and road safety. However, there will be investments with a low benefit cost return that are necessary to advance Government policies. In these cases there will need to be a strong policy alignment (as expressed in the GPS) with Government policies and transparency about the reason for the decision.


61. For many investments it will be possible to obtain good benefit cost returns while providing the right infrastructure and services at the best cost. However to sufficiently advance some government policies, investments may require a lower than normal benefit cost return (i.e. less than the average Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP). Even in these cases, in general it is expected that the benefit cost ratio will at least exceed one.

One thing to remember about the GPS is that it only covers some areas of transport which seems short-sighted, even if they claim there will be integration with other modes.

39. Investment in movement of freight by road is covered by the GPS, but investment in movement of freight by rail, sea and air is not. However, coordination between the GPS and those responsible for different modes of transport can help to maximise the benefits of transport to the economy.

There are a few positive things to say about public transport and the role it has to play, such as:

115. Significant increases in public transport capacity have seen more people using and relying on public transport in the main metropolitan areas. These increases have occurred alongside increasing fare box recovery, indicating that the investment is resulting in more efficient outcomes.

116. The GPS will support this result by:

  • continuing to invest in public transport, including modal integration where appropriate
  • continuing the momentum set by GPS 2015 to increase the efficiency of public transport investment

Yet at the same time, they make some odd statements such as that forecasts are overly optimistic.

Passenger numbers have increased recently and are forecast to increase in Auckland and Wellington over the short term (and in Christchurch in the medium term). Although forecasts of increased passenger numbers have typically been overly optimistic. Auckland and Wellington public transport plans are based on an increased public transport task.

Fare box recovery rates have improved in Auckland and Wellington. Currently expenditure is in the middle of the funding range.

The proposal is for a gradual increase in the funding range to cover forecast passenger growth and for some public transport infrastructure work (such as park and ride facilities).

There is a need to keep focus on value for money, and ensure fare box recovery rates are at the expected levels.

Over optimistic forecasts, that’s a bit rich coming from the MoT, for example remember this graph showing actual vs forecast vehicle travel.

Of the big investments in PT in the last decade, the rail network and the busway, in both cases they are performing ahead of expectations. In the case of the rail network, we are ahead of those expectations despite the trains taking about 2 years longer to fully enter service like the earlier assessments had identified. We’re also performing ahead of the MoT’s expectations when it comes to ridership for the CRL. At one point, they claimed we wouldn’t meet the 20 million trips by 2020 yet at current rates, we’ll hit it this calendar year.

Consultation on the GPS is open till the end of March.

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  1. I’m really disappointed by this document. I thought that Simon Bridges was much more enlightened than his predecessors on transport but this just comes across as the same old shit.

  2. This government, like right wing governments across the Anglosphere, is completely owned by the petroleum and associated road building industries. Trump, for all his talk about re-building infrastructure, just torpedoed electrification of the Bay area rapid transit system for purely political reasons (the Californian Republican minority outrageously lobbied the federal government to stop it’s funiing, their contempt for democracy is unbelievable) and various right wing state governments in Australia have declared war on PT as well.

    For some reason, opposition to PT is now built into the DNA of the right, and a bizarre hatred of the public good is worn as a badge of honour.

    1. I feel that Key was actually a moderate/rational voice in the transport debate, having experienced the necessity of mass transit in many of the great international cities.

      Now that he’s gone you’re seeing a return to the old blinkered, provincial mindset that sees cars as expressions of freedom, and public transport dreary socialism.

    2. Chilling. Note though, BART (Central SF and east to Oakland, further suburbs, now SFO) has always been electric; Caltrain (South from SF to San Jose + Silicon Valley) is likely the diesel-fuelled (and very slow, though with very good provision for bringing your bike!) service.

  3. So. Business as usual, only more so. And Joyce’s words the other day about cities were just that, words. The enormous missed opportunities of this infrastructure building government continue. They and the mandarins at the MoT continue to treat the country as if it has one condition, as if what is needed in one part of the economy is exactly the same as in others. Why have the government pick modes anyway? Shouldn’t problems and opportunities be identified, and the most appropriate solutions be pursued without predetermining what the answer is? This straight-jacket of spending by category forcing almost every transport penny on State Highways is why we get NZTA thrashing about in cities shoving what are essentially super-sized rural highways through urban communities; worsening traffic congestion. It entirely stifles innovation, openness to technological and social changes. All the funding bands achieve is to prioritise much lower value State Highway projects ahead of more worthy solutions. Rail is explicitly excluded. And the PT band essentially is also zero for capital works, the sum simply covers operating costs. And is on a par with the road policing figure!

    Where is the long term view, these investments last for decades, what about Climate Change, all the other terrible externalities of this rush to double-down on one already dominant mode? Where is the understanding of transport investments relationship with land use change, with urbanisation? This is a policy to continue to build the wrong pattern of city to compete and thrive in 21st century conditions. The Highway/Sprawl Complex from last century grinds on… Could someone from Treasury please pop over to MoT and explain the terms Opportunity Cost, Path Dependency, and Group Think to the nice chaps there…?

  4. We have an election coming up, we need a change of government one that takes the long term view of climate change and a lowering EROI, all our eggs in the road transport bucket is foolish.

  5. “Over optimistic forecasts, that’s a bit rich coming from the MoT, for example remember this graph showing actual vs forecast vehicle travel.”

    It would be interesting to see an updated version of that graph, with a few more years’ data.

    The focus on investing in regional roads is welcome, but Auckland is a beautiful city destroyed by motorways, and it seems that mindset continues.

    To be fair to the folks at MOT and NZTA, the law prohibits NZTA spending its funds on rail. So until the politicians change the law, then NZTA cannot spend a single cent on rail tracks.

  6. The apparent misalignment between central and local government priorities is just as large in some of the regions as it is in Auckland. For example, from Queenstown:

    “The council wanted to make public transport the ”no-brainer” default mode of transport, aiming to double the number of passenger trips to a million a year within 12 months. The mayor was optimistic it would change the way residents and visitors travelled around the Wakatipu. ”Wherever possible, we have to move away from a dependence on private cars. Public transport is essential to ensuring our transport network doesn’t come to a grinding halt.” (

    Meanwhile this GPS says very little about public transport outside of Auckland and Wellington, and instead proposes the complete opposite approach:
    “There will be an increased focus on regional roads including improvements to transport connections (including local roads) that get tourists to their destinations. As more tourists are choosing to self-drive this means more routes have larger tourist demand and need to be at a standard to cater for them.”

    I know there’s a lot of smaller places around the country starting to make noises like this. Hopefully these misalignments can be sorted out somehow.

    1. Good article that. I’ve been in Queenstown a couple of times in the last year or so, it’s booming of course. The tourist market is flat out and the town centre is packed with people.

      But it’s also packed with cars, as many it can take and there’s no room for more. So they really do need to invest in the more efficient transport modes, i.e. buses (and cycling too), to get more people where they want to go.

      1. Yep queenstown and it’s absurd bus prices – Frankton road is the ideal width (most of the way) for bus lanes. Transport between the airport and the town centre of queenstown really needs a dedicated bus route. There’s space for it for most of the way.

    2. For F’s sake … the “as more tourists are choosing to self drive” … As if you have much of a choice!!!!

      “there will be investments with a low benefit cost return that are necessary to advance Government policies”

      That sums up the article perfectly – we will do what we want regardless of whether it makes economic sense.

  7. I think that the GPS simply shows that they know who the boss is. Any positive PT aspects I would expect to have been coached, so as not to conflict with government policy of the day/hour/minute…

    For me the most annoying thing is the bold-faced lie about passenger projections being overoptimistic. Annoying because here you’re preaching to the choir, yet the “unwashed masses” will never know (or probably care, since apathy appears to be on the rise)…

  8. I actually thought raod spending would start to wind down as 2 of the 7 RONS are complete, and most of the others are near completion. Anyone know much on what all this extra money will be spent on (the East-West link, Tauranga Northern Link and Petone-Grenada link road in Wellington are the only notable post RONS projects I know of)?

    1. $2b on Puhoi-Wellsford, $2b on Tranmission Gully, $0.5b on northern Corridor Improvements, $1b on Western Belfast Bypass and Christchurch Southern Motorway Stage 2.

  9. I write from Kapiti where 20,000 people (out of a population of 50,000) attended a walk through on our about-to-be opened expressway, nearly all of which runs through one of the most marginal electorates- Otaki.
    All the local papers have been running features about the road being the most significant economic event in the area’s history.
    MP Nathan Guy has written opinion pieces saying just that. He notes that work on the next expressway stage 13km from Waikanae to Otaki will start very soon.
    At the same time local efforts to extend electric units to Otaki have not yet been successful. It is clear many people from Otaki, and Levin would use the train.
    But.. the default position for many voters is that new, big roads are good: they must be and they look good too. And this is in the greater Wellington region
    which probably has the best integrated public transport system in NZ.

  10. You would think the only graph they would need is one that looks like this: iiIii because they aren’t doing much more than showing us the middle finger as usual. Why do we have to fight so hard for our trains? Suburban roads should very low priority, creating the infrastructure to reduce wear on the roads is where we should be. I guess the money-go-round wouldn’t fill so many pockets if logic prevailed.

  11. “In total, over $11 billion is expected to be spent over the six years from 2018 to 2024 but depending on circumstances that could be as high as over $12 billion.”

    I presume you mean over the THREE years from 2018-21?

  12. I suspect the funding allocations going forward are influenced by the relative previous actual vs budget spends, but there are some systematic flaws in this approach. New State Highway funding always seems to be near the top of their funding bracket; meanwhile we have new local roads near the bottom – hence we see one funding bucket go up (again) and one go down. But only one of them is fully funded by the Govt (who don’t seem to blink too much if the price comes in a bit higher than hoped), while the other is constrained by what the local council is able to afford for their share of new stuff – and this is after they have paid the bills for their existing road maintenance that doesn’t really go away. Walking & cycling used to have the same problem of local councils struggling to spend their indicative funding until the Govt came up with their urban cycleways programme that offered a 2:1 subsidy.

  13. The votes who drives is still more than votes who use PT. So the political party will impress the majority of voters.

    Also most people are not smart enough to understand how having better PT takes cars off roads.

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