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
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.