Anytime there’s a new government minister, the associated agencies produce a Briefing to the Incoming Minister (BIM) to help them get up to speed. With a change of government that obviously necessitates briefings for all ministers and the briefings given to the new Labour led government were released yesterday. In this post I’m going to look at the transport related briefings.

Ministry of Transport

There are two BIMs from the Ministry of Transport. One covers the ministry itself and the other the wider transport sector.

In my view, transport is one of the most important portfolios in government because of its ability to influence so many other major portfolios. As such, I like that the ministry acknowledges this right upfront in their BIM along with some metrics to highlight this. These metrics are shown below (click to enlarge)

However, the very next few pages makes you wonder if the author/s were awake or just copying and pasting information from old documents. For example, when talking about trends for vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) on roads, the data is only up to 2014/15. This is despite two more recent years of data having been available publicly for some time. A similar issue exists with the cycling numbers too, where the latest data is from 2014, before the Urban Cycleway Fund emerged. Further on the VKT, there’s no mention that per capita it remains flat at best.

Next the MoT presents a timeline of “matters that will need your attention during your first 100 days” which is followed in subsequent pages with slightly more detail. Many of the documents/discussions listed look also like they’ll need to go on our list of things to OIA.

Moving on we get to the most interesting section, “Strategic challenges and opportunities”. Unsurprisingly Auckland features strongly in this. For example, while this was comes from ATAP, it’s good to have it restated.

It will become increasingly difficult to manage congestion in built-up urban areas by expanding roads.

We are reaching the stage where expensive land acquisitions or tunnels would be required to expand major transport corridors, making these developments prohibitively expensive or disruptive. In Auckland, there are few opportunities to build or expand transport corridors due to its challenging geography. Auckland’s motorway network will be largely complete once the Western Ring Route is constructed.

This leads to the need to make better use of existing infrastructure, by increasing the number of people or goods that can travel through key routes, and by looking for opportunities to influence travel demand.

One set of comments I quite like are these under a section about responding to growing cities and then discussing the possibility of road pricing.

Road pricing systems only work if sufficient people can shift their travel without significantly limiting access to jobs and other opportunities. To increase people’s ability to adapt, and society’s willingness for road pricing to be implemented, good quality alternatives to private car travel (e.g. public transport and ride-sharing) need to be available.

Transport and urban planning also need to be better integrated to improve access and safety. High density urban developments tend to enable more travel choices, as people can more readily access what they need by walking, cycling, and by using public/shared transport services as well as travelling by car. Urban planning also needs to ensure that these different transport modes can co-exist in shared spaces safely.

For new urban growth areas on the outer edges of cities, it is important to consider a mix of transport infrastructure. Otherwise residents can become entirely dependent on cars for travel, leading to increased vehicle movements across the whole road network. Over time, this pattern of development can reinforce ‘path dependency’, with growing pressures to expand road capacity to deal with increasing traffic.

It wouldn’t be the Ministry of Transport without a healthy dose of technology boosterism and this BIM doesn’t disappoint on that regard. While looking to the future is the Ministry’s role, it’s notable how much they talk about the potential but none of the impacts or potential downsides of technology changes.

A similar issue above also exists in the section on Climate Change. The BIM spends most of two pages discussing the issue, the role transport emissions play, and how widespread adoption of electric vehicles are the solution. They include only one sentence opportunity other modes play.

Additional future emissions could be avoided by making it easier to access places by walking, cycling, or using public transport as alternatives to private car travel.

The BIM then talks about our car culture becoming ingrained and use comments such as

Cars are popular because they are very convenient to use most of the time. They give people access to many social and economic opportunities.

They do however note that PT and bike growth has been strong in Auckland and cite infrastructure improvements as enabling much of that. They also link that to the health benefits that come with alternative modes.

A five percent increase in cycling and walking for trips of 2km or less in Auckland would bring health benefits of $225 million per year, as well as reduce traffic.

Active travel can be encouraged through infrastructure investments (e.g. cycleways) and urban design.

The availability and quality of public transport is also significant. About half of regular public transport users walk for more than 10 minutes per day, compared with just 13 percent of people who do not use public transport. One of the side effects of free or subsidised public transport for elderly people is that it encourages more active travel, supporting personal and public health.

That last one is notable for discussions on the SuperGold card.

One thing that surprised be about the BIM was the almost complete lack of discussion about the road toll. It seems it was primarily pushed to one of the documents listed earlier but it feels like more discussion would be appropriate. I also can’t help but wonder if the MoT had two briefings ready depending on the election outcome. Some of the language and comments feel almost tailored for the new government.


The NZTA BIM is primarily about explaining the NZTA functions and relatively boring with a couple of exceptions. First up, these comments about Skypath, Airport access and an Additional Harbour Crossing.

That last one flows on to the final section which looks at things happening over the first 100 days of the new government (to the end of January).

The following projects, both in Auckland, are awaiting final decisions from Boards of Inquiry, which are expected within the first 100 days:

  • the East-West Link
  • the Northern Corridor Improvements.

The following high-profile projects will be undergoing investigation, consultation or consent applications in the first 100 days:

  • the additional Waitematā Harbour crossing in Auckland
  • SeaPath in Auckland
  • the Mount Messenger Bypass in the Taranaki region
  • Ōtaki to North of Levin in the Manawatu
  • the Petone to Grenada Link Road in the Wellington region.

These projects are expected to attract significant media interest. We will provide you with full briefings on these projects.

We’ll be watching closely to see just what is proposed for the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing.

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  1. I think most of the government departments have been caught out by the change of government and had put together bland statements. The exception is housing where they decided on 25 October that we had a housing crisis. In that case I think the staff flipped from pushing the previous governments line of ‘nothing to see here’ to writing what they saw as useful to capturing a good chuck of the next budget. Somehow these people have moved from being independent of politics to delivering what they think their masters will like.

    1. +1

      I realise that public sector work is very hard, but it is incredibly disappointing that the housing crisis has been so willfully ignored even by advisors within the ministry.

        1. Is it just me, or did Mr Smith look dazed and confused?

          It’s as though he was blind sided, yet he angrily told the NewsHub reporter that he’d read the report and that it “didn’t say that!” with regard to the dire situation.

        2. I suspect from his point of view that statement is correct.

          House prices are rising, investments in housing and land banking are yielding a great return. The system works as desired.

          It all depends on what you want to achieve.

    2. I’m reminded of an MoT officer in the late ’90s who said “we are but the servants of the government of the day”.

      In my view public servants need to offer a range of views and implications or consequences to a government or council, while recognising that the probable choices will align with a predetermined view, particularly the cloth eared denialism of the previous government.

      1. The worm will turn. You watch what happens – you’ll have NZTA talking about public transport networks and walking and cycling projects to appease their new political masters. Too good a wicket there to have any independent thoughts, just go with the political flow.

        1. Or perhaps many might no longer talk about motorways to appease their previous political masters. They can’t all be road crazed petrol heads.

  2. I am sure minister Twyford, and the associate Ministers including Ms Genter will make a short shrift of all that recycled “advice” from their departments. Seems to me that the Senior Management teams who presumably signed off on this crap, need a good shake up given the “quality” of this advice that they are giving.

    Basically in a nutshell it’s all a load of cock. As you say many stats are out of date by 2 years.

    On the road toll they say its going up again based – on road toll stats from 2013-15, for which the previous incarnation of the Ministry and NZTA would only say back then “it was a temporary spike”.

    Now they say the road toll seems to be developing into a full blown issue.
    But the BIM shows no new data in the BIM to back that up. You think theyd make sure the pictures and the words agree?

    Several of the BIMs waffle on about greenhouse gases, but just about always pegs most of the issue with agriculture [about 48% of our total] more or less saying “well we can’t do anything about that so as a result its really too hard to do much at all”.

    As for electric cars, while they might aspire to promote personal EV use as a solution for the Greenhouse gases issue in transport, they completely overlook the much more beneficial options we can implement right now of using Rail and Coastal freight for more long distance transport. And the longer term ones of electrification of PT and freight parts of the transport sector.

    They simply seem to believe that Transport [or Mobility] as a Service will soon magically arrive and solve all our problems with zero side effects. With no effort needed on their part.

    A glib one liner about why business are not using more rail or shipping is in essence “well many business rely on just in time delivery for their goods so they can’t wait for the slower transport times of rail and shipping”.

    Of course its because business have discovered they can get away without needing to keep as much inventory in hand as they used to, because they are in effect externalising the costs of not having to do so while reaping the benefits of lower holding costs of inventory.

    Anyway as far as EV uptake goes its all words, the only agency who actually does anything about practical steps towards electrifying our transport sector is EECA, and they have a mere pittance of a budget compared to the likes of MoT and NZTA. And their approach consists of running a website and some community outreach events [like the ride in or test drive someone elses EV events they run]. Hardly a bold approach to what the Ministry says is a big answer to the problems of transport GHG emissions.

    On road user charges for trucks they claim they we have a world beating system of accurately allocating costs across the vehicle classes that cause the damage, but they then acknowledge the system is completely imperfect as to where and when these trucks actually go. Which is in essence saying trucks have carte blanche on our roads – they can go where they like and when they like as long as they pay something towards the repair costs.

    At least they acknowledge there is an issue there – something I think a lot of regional councils will agree with from having to spend megabucks on fixing up infrastructure to be able to take or deal with the damage from, HPMVs who clearly never pay their way no matter how much the Ministry boffins think so.

    All in All, a truckload of claptrap, and I think it shows that the Public Servants clearly the expected the National Government to get back in, so didn’t bother with anything more than a quick refresh of the last set of BIMs.

    I sure hope they’re feeling the cold winds of reality blowing at their backs right now.
    We simply must have better and more meaningful advice from our “experts” than this rubbish.

    1. “well many business rely on just in time delivery for their goods so they can’t wait for the slower transport times of rail and shipping” – Hmm, perhaps they need to tell KiwiRail and Mainfreight that. KR is a big player in FMCG logistics and Mainfreight is a big user of rail and sea.

      From a KR briefing for shareholding ministers (2014 sadly), KR says on Auckland-Christchurch FMCG: A rail trip takes 24 hours compared with 18 for typical road journey.

      On JIT manufacturing and inventory, I have a hard time believing that many large companies in NZ are adopting the theory any further than lip service. I expect that most small businesses use JIT inventory principles, but even though the combined value of the small businesses likely exceeds that of the large, I can’t imagine that’s relevant due to the simple fact that you’d be talking about last mile delivery. IOW: The ministry is being lazy and inaccurate.

      As you say, a truckload of claptrap.

      1. “well many business rely on just in time delivery for their goods so they can’t wait for the slower transport times of rail and shipping”

        If businesses are relying on just in time manufacturing, then reliability is much more important than overall time. If your parts don’t turn up when you expect then you pay workers to sit idle. If you expect your goods to arrive later, then you don’t roster workers to use those goods until you expect them to arrive.

        Due to congestion and network resilience, rail is probably already more reliable, so surely just in time manufacturers prefer rail?

        1. This is the sort of feedback we get from industry. They don’t much care whether their supplies take ten hours or fourteen to make their way across the island, their only concern is that shipment X of class B widgets will be there at 8am on Tuesday when the production line is fired up.

        2. I agree that rail is already more reliable however, regardless of if we’re discussing inventory management or manufacturing, most companies are not able to demand one transport mode over another. The ministry appears to have missed that point and simply made stuff up.

          A bit of devil’s advocate follows, sorry.

          The largest manufacturer I’ve had experience with ordered months of stock at a time. Their inventory was dictated by long leads and unpredictable customer demand. In cases like that, what’s a day or two?

          This is something that nullifies the NZ mode argument, it doesn’t matter whether an import is via air or surface, there is variability in the transit time. I’ve had printed circuit boards take two weeks to hit NZ via express courier. The same supplier and courier have also delivered in three days. When faced with this variability, our own concerns around which mode is used internally is small fry.

          End of devil’s advocate.

          Of course once the product is manufactured the mode question gains relevance, but it’s really only those companies producing a large volume (either in terms of units or physical volume) that have any real say. I know that you can go direct to KiwiRail – They’re happy to deal with small companies, but I’ve not heard good reviews of the process. Not having tried myself, I can’t really comment.

          I think though that the ministry was referring to JIT inventory, as done by mechanics and the like. For these guys/girls, I expect that reliability is very important but I also doubt that they’re in a position to influence the transport mode choice. Also, as New Zealand is very small there is already a good degree of reliability around transport times regardless of mode.

          I’m frustrated that the ministry sees rail as slow or unreliable, as it is most definitely neither. Rail does however have an image problem around viability for transport of FMCG and general goods for small companies. You wouldn’t expect the ministry to be perpetuating the image.

    2. All really good points, Greg.

      “Several of the BIMs waffle on about greenhouse gases, but just about always pegs most of the issue with agriculture [about 48% of our total] more or less saying “well we can’t do anything about that so as a result its really too hard to do much at all”.”

      It’s so frustrating. We can make huge reductions in our carbon emissions with good transport strategy.

      Incidentally, for anyone interested, we can also make huge changes to our agriculture and convert it to being a carbon sink. I organised a talk by Canadian professor Phil Gregory recently, who detailed the recent information about soils and carbon sequestration. (Despite the short notice and limited advertising, the room was full!) There are loads of great books about the research by Elaine Ingham, Allan Savory, and others (currently I’m reading “The Call of the Reed Warbler” which is about the Australian situation) but Phil’s slide show is quite a good summary:

      But the fact is, transport is such an obvious one to start with, as the benefits of changing strategy are so far-reaching in other ways.

  3. I love Heavy Rail its the only way.

    Would you have light beer – No!
    Would you have light milk – No!
    Would you want to be lightweight – No!

    If it isn’t heavy it isn’t chevy son < 3 < 3 < 3

    1. Is heavy rail not mass transit? In many situations it will move more people than what you have described as mass transit.

    2. Come on! Surely you know that LRT can and does travel almost as fast as HR, when run with the same corridor protection.

      Also, why use the word “trams”? It’s such a loaded word. I know that the word is accurate, but the image that it conjures of bumbling heritage trams is out of step with reality.

    3. If I got more alcohol in the same time for a lower price, I’d happily drink light beer. Because whether it is called light or heavy isn’t important to me.

  4. What a depressing post. Such a lack of vision from the Ministry.

    “In Auckland, there are few opportunities to build or expand transport corridors due to its challenging geography. Auckland’s motorway network will be largely complete once the Western Ring Route is constructed.”

    Fact is, it was necessary not to build or expand transport corridors a long time before the challenging geography started to limit options. Taking more land for transport has reduced our permeable land, our land available for housing, ecological areas and public spaces. Wider transport corridors sever communities and make living, connecting, walking, cycling harder. More efficient use of the transport corridors should have been the priority for many decades now.

    Widening the transport corridors was a failure to understand urban planning, and indicates that the MoT should never have had any control over this.

  5. Here’s another stupid statement: “Transport infrastructure enables new housing developments.” Well, yeah, duh! How about adding what’s really important:

    “However, new roads to new developments create traffic that adds to congestion city-wide. Instead, dense housing developments in existing urban areas provide enough density of people to make public transport frequent, efficient and cost-effective.”

  6. “Additional future emissions could be avoided by making it easier to access places by walking, cycling, or using public transport as alternatives to private car travel.”
    This statement is so self evident that one has to wonder where it has comes from? An analysts child’s school project? And an even more fundamental question – how did it manage to survive into the final version?

    Surely the Transport Ministry should have as one of their primary objectives to reduce greenhouse emissions and have targets for this? (When you look at the Ministry for the Environment website they have no targets).

    I understand from a piece on this blog that transport emissions make up 18% of national greenhouse emissions. In Auckland I suspect that proportion may be 40%. How is the city going to achieve those targets. When is it going to start given that significant targets are imminent? Surely we don’t believe that the answer is just to export less cheese and milk powder?

  7. A multi modal crossing with a portal at Esmonde is bad for North Shore PT because it isolates the two main PT flows from each other of the Busway/LRT and Onewa. An Onewa Station is in ATAP so this is dissapointing. It doesn’t need to emerge at Esmonde for PT reasons, it is the road footprint which has pushed this.

  8. 1 could we see another attempt to raise parking in Auckland as a means of reducing congestion. Pricing parking so that 15% of Auckland Council controlled spaces are available at any time with the charges being increased for the longer they are used. Could this be considered please?
    2 How soon will we see something concrete on the connection between and the Airport via Punui or at least planning for the Puhinui interchange?

  9. Additional harbour crossing should be rail tunnels.
    Maintaining and planning for the expansion in use of electric locos Wellington-Auckland-Tauranga is something I want to hear about. And the plan for 100% renewable electricity generation.
    Clearly travel demand management is the next step, beyond that ride sharing can be further encouraged by using the Singapore model for limiting the total number of cars. This system might also be used to encourage the shift to hybrid and electric vehicles, e.g For every 100 vehicles taken off the road, 50 new hybrids, 25 electric and 25 other vehicles are allowed to be registered for use on the road.

  10. Petone to Grenada is going to be an interesting one to watch. Anecdotially it always gets a good reaction from people when I mention it.

    The current choice for traffic between Porirua/Tawa & Hutt Valley of going south to Ngauranga gorge then all the way back up, or to the north with State Highway 58 over the Haywards Hills then around slowly snaking round the inlet is pretty lousy.

    Transmission Gully will *kinda* solve the problem (it’ll take that pesky & prone to tides/flooding inlet drive out of the equation), but a direct link road between the Hutt and Porirua is the missing piece of the puzzle we’ve needed north of Wellington. Especially if it means better bus services between those population centres.

    A shame there’s no chance that a train line is being considered to run alongside it to link the two arms of that network.

  11. Anyone got a link to reports on Waitemata second harbour crossing? I am particularly interested when the NBW is at capacity and what capacity means.

    1. Google is your friend. On my phone at present but think a previous post has a link to a north shore rapid transit report that is also now public anyway.

  12. Interesting cover on the Govt transport sector BIM: a jogger, a cyclist and some yachts (Auckland CBD and port in background). Are these images about transport as opposed to recreation?

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