I couldn’t help but think of Joe Biden’s phrase “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value” following the release yesterday of the governments draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport for 2018-28 (GPS).

Since being elected last year, we’ve been pretty impressed with the language and understanding of transport and urban issues Transport Minister Phil Twyford has shown. So we’ve been keenly waiting to see how that would translate into funding. With the release of their first GPS we’re even more impressed.

As the name implies, the GPS sets out the government’s transport policies and spending on transport and does so over a 10-year horizon. It breaks transport spending down in to specific activity areas and sets a funding range for them. Those funding ranges are then used by the NZTA and regional councils to come up with more specific plans for how that money will be spent. Those plans also have to be consistent with and give effect to the GPS. Here’s how they all tie together.

We had expressed concern before about how the previous government had focused most of the previous GPS’, including their draft for 2018-28, towards a handful of big roading projects. Spending on State Highways under them had increased to around 55% of the transport budget. One big immediate takeaway from this version is it’s a much more balanced policy. This is being delivered primarily through an increased focus in road safety, public transport and active modes.

The GPS sets four strategic priorities for our transport system, two key and two supporting ones. Safety and Value for Money were in the previous National GPS but Access and the Environment are new. These priorities are shown below.

The focus’ on safety and access are welcome the supporting text is positive. The details in access section are particularly interesting. Here’s their summary of it, showing that it’s a quite wide ranging and visionary view on how transport works in New Zealand.

Access in GPS 2018:

  • has a new focus that prioritises improving New Zealander’s access to opportunities and markets. The increased focus includes:
    • urban centres
    • regional development that supports thriving regions, for example through the Provincial Growth Fund
    • nationally important freight and tourism connections are safe, efficient, resilient and minimise greenhouse gas emissions
    • a continued focus on resilience of the land transport system, but places greater focus on resilience to climate change impacts.
  • The increased focus on urban centres is to ensure that transport and land use planning reduces the need to travel by private motor vehicle by:
    • transport and land use planning that improves access by reducing the need to travel long distances to access opportunities like employment, education and recreation
    • supporting a mode shift for trips in urban centres from single occupant private vehicles to more efficient, low cost modes like walking, cycling and public transport.


For as great as much of the text of the document is, as mentioned at the start of this post, it’s the budget that proves the intentions, and the numbers look good. The government expect spend around $4 billion on transport in the coming financial year, rising to $4.6 billion by 2023/24. The breakdown of this is shown below.

Spending is split into 12 different activity classes with the two new ones, Rapid Transit and Transitional Rail. Each activity area is set a upper and lower limit and it’s up to the NZTA to come up with the ultimate spending within that range so that it ultimately all matches the expenditure above. The classes are shown below with how they say the upper funding limit has changed compared to the 2015-18 GPS

  • Public transport – 46% increase
    • This will support an expansion in public transport networks.
    • This will support an increase in operating subsidies for public transport and some public transport capital improvements
  • Rapid Transit – New activity class
    • Allowing $4 billion over 10 years to establish rapid transit investment with an initial focus on Auckland. Note: While funding ranges show a decrease in rapid transit investment, in later years the intention is to continue with more investment.
  • Local road improvements – 42% increase
    • To support local road improvements and upgrades.
  • Regional improvements – 96% increase
    • To support investment in regional projects that improve safety, resilience and access for people and goods. How the NLTF interacts with the Provincial Growth Fund will be a key determinant of the activity class funding expenditure levels.
  • State highway improvements – 11% decrease
    • This decrease rebalances investment across the transport portfolio. The proposed activity class level will allow for currently committed projects to be completed and will enable the delivery of more safety improvements.
  • Road policing – 14% increase
    • To enable the NZ Police to maintain an effective road policing service.
  • Road safety and demand management – 81% increase
    • To continue road safety promotion, alcohol interlocks, and to include demand management measures that promote public transport and walking and cycling.
  • State highway maintenance – 18% increase
    • This activity class was capped over the last GPS period. It is now proposed to allow for an increase in the level of renewals of state highway pavement surfaces given additional heavy vehicle traffic and severe weather.
  • Local road maintenance – 22% increase
    • This activity class was capped over the last GPS period. It is proposed to allow an increase to cover the increased maintenance cost of additional heavy traffic and severe weather. However, it is also proposed to allow footpath maintenance to be funded from the NLTF. This is a scope change that reflects the Government’s desire to support the use of active modes.
  • Investment management – 31% increase
    • This increase will support additional transport planning of NZ Transport Agency and local government given the changes to transport priorities.
  • Transitional rail – New activity class
    • This activity class will support rail priority transport options for users and benefit congestion in our urban centres until a wider review of rail funding is concluded.
  • Walking and cycling improvements – 248% increase
    • To support an expansion in walking and cycling infrastructure.

There’s a lot to like here. Almost every area sees a potential increase in funding with the exception of State Highways, and even then the decrease isn’t that much. It’s also great we’re seeing dedicated for Rapid Transit. Both National and Labour agree that Auckland needs a rapid transit network and so it makes sense to dedicate funding towards delivering that.

The graph below boils down the activity classes to six key descriptions and shows how the funding ranges have changed over the various GPS’. This includes the first GPS by Labour in 2008 that was subsequently rewritten by National, like the new government have now done here. What is most noticeable is how much more funding is available for PT projects once you combine the PT, Rapid Transit and Transitional Rail classes.

Likely the biggest concern with the GPS is the announcement that fuel and excise taxes across the country will increase by 3-4 cents per litre for each of the next three years. While no one likes paying more taxes, it is worth noting that under the last government, fuel taxes increases by similar amounts quite a few times. In addition the government were keen to point out yesterday that the MoT have increases of 10-20 cents per litre over that time frame would have been needed even if National were still in government.

Overall the draft GPS is fantastic and the excellent text is backed up with the funding to support it. We’re entering into a brave new world.

We’ll covering this more in depth in future posts.

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    1. That maybe so, but its not so much what you have, as how and where you spend it.

      Better spending decisions – i.e. without the big ticket RoNS gobbling up the bulk of the State Highway funds will make a huge difference everywhere to safety and ongoing and deferred maintenance.

      Along with the rise in Fuel Taxes to help pay for the plans, I’d expect a commensurate rise in RUCs as well – to help non petrol powered vehicles pay their share for the damage caused by the [mostly heavy, diesel powered] vehicles damaging these roads.

      1. Yep. There’s lots of rural state highways that have been left to decline, or had important improvement works deferred and deferred again. I think shifting some of the state highway funding away from the cities (where it can actively harm the transport network by perpetuating congestion via induced demand) to the rural regions (where PT is much less viable anyway) is a great way of squaring the circle and ensuring that the regions don’t feel left out.

    2. Yes the holding of State Highway funding at current record levels is disappointing. I know that this will sound an anathema for a government department but it would be helpful if all the budget is not spent. Maybe the Skypath could be classified as part of SH1? That’s as valid as calling a
      road from anywhere to Puhoi a road of national significance.

  1. This is a good start; although it does feel like the regions are getting off lightly for the years of capital outflow from Auckland which has left us in the quagmire we’re now; and still having the cheek to complain about it.

    It would be good to see AT jump into the void with some further details about the Light Rail and how that’s all going to help people get on board.

    1. Twyford will quietly backtrack on light rail to Auckland airport promise.
      The corridor is needed for the Southdown heavy rail link.

      He very was foolish to promise it without doing his homework in the first place.

        1. No it was done by AT without any other consultation and the report was heavily questioned and criticised.

  2. just some typo notes- 1) missing word between “that” and “increased” in this sentence- “While not one likes paying more taxes, it is worth noting that increased fuel taxes by similar amounts quite a few times.” 2) “no one”, not “not one”.

  3. The pie chart gives a quarter to safety and a quarter to environment and maybe one twelfth to ‘increased economic and social opportunities’. Which is rephrased as: “has a new focus that prioritises improving New Zealander’s access to opportunities and markets. ”

    So on the face of it half the effort will be trying to stop use of delivery vehicles and private cars. For every six dollars spent with that in mind they will invest one dollar in building and maintenance of roads. Somehow I doubt it.
    Maybe it does prove that pressure from activists on blogs like this are now out-muscling the road lobby and so our planners are beginning to talk the talk. I’ll believe they are walking the walk when the road budget is used to remove level-crossings and repair and maintenance of our rail network matches the effectiveness of repairs and maintenance of our motorways.

  4. Congrats Phil twyford and Julie Anne genter, nailed it. Very impressive.
    Now just need to make sure you get a lot of spades in the ground before next election in case the fun police get re-elected.

  5. This looks great. I hope the negative perception around the fuel tax doesn’t bite too much. Also it will be interesting to see the coverage this gets in the regions, it should be positive with the increase in spending on local roads but the early reaction seems to be negative.

    1. I think this is a good time to announce it really – voters have 2.5 years to forget about it and/or see the benefits.

  6. Safety is a big issue. Driving north to pick up nephews yesterday the non-confidence of the young female Asian, most likely a student, driving a large SUV – a Toyota something or other – was not helpful in the SH1 traffic.

      1. When I came home to NZ in January and drove Cape Reinga to Wellington, I could not help but notice how poor kiwi drivers are. We like to blame Asian drivers but having driven in Korea, Malaysia, Brunei and Japan we are much much worse.

        Most kiwis would never get a drivers licence in the UK and EU.

    1. I get the feeling that when Ardern and Genter talk about safety they aren’t stereotyping drivers of particular genders or ethnicities.

        1. It was not a wise move. But my memory of that time was a National government that refused to take foreign investment in Auckland’s housing market seriously and deliberately was not recording foreign buyers. I clearly remember when I came to NZ in 2003 and was looking at the housing market with hopes of bringing my family if I obtained residency being told by an estate agent that I could buy without having residency. It astonished me. Labour’s very rough and ready count was stupid and measured ethnicity not citizenship or residency. It also had problems with names such as Lee. However what they reported (40% Asian sounding names) did reflect exactly what was being said in the auction rooms at that time – in fact it asserted less than half and many in North Shore auction rooms were saying over half so it actually calmed the issue down in my part of town.
          However this use of the China card is not restricted to Phil Twyford in 2015. Only last year at a talk given by Paul Spoonley our leading expert in NZ demography to U3A in Northcote he finished his talk with “you shouldn’t complain about Chinese immigration because it is their money that has made your houses so valuable”. He and Phil both have the same problem: an inability to admit an Chinese face or name may have a 100% proud Kiwi behind it.

    2. Even ignoring the stereotype of the tourist drivers: I’ve encountered a few SUVs in the weekend, doing various stupid things. One of them almost had my passenger killed by crossing the centre line in a bend. Another one went full-throttle at a green light and almost ploughed into the back of the car in front of it, twice.

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to as non-confidence, but if you mean driving too slow or waiting for a really large gap, that would be the least of my worries.

      1. +1, it’s so odd that we perceive caution as incompetence. In many causes caution is awareness:

        Actually maintaining a following distance;
        Recognising that there is an intersection on the straight, therefore, you cannot pass;
        Obeying the speed limit;
        Cornering at a comfortable speed, rather than the maximum;
        Waiting for opportunities to pass cyclists with a safe clearance.

        1. The number of times I get passed on my bike on a blind corner where the motorist has to cross the centre line to do so beggars belief. A significant minority of drivers have very poor skills and way too much confidence. In almost all the cases I see these are local people. An increased focus on safety and better infrastructure for vulnerable road users cannot come soon enough.

        2. Yes we constantly hear about how cyclists break the road rules, but the overtaking rules are broken by cars constantly. I doubt there is any car driver in the city that always applies the road code overtaking rules when passing cyclists.

  7. The GPS is, overall, good news.

    What’s a mixed bag is the government decision to strong-arm AT over the light rail project (ref: The Herald, Stuff). I agree that AT has been too much a law unto themselves for too long, however I have a hard time believing that central govt can do any better. Look at the cup village to see an example of central being too slow and lacking in agility.

    Additionally, the govt has either done a poor job of advertising the changes, or the media has done a fairly comprehensive job of negative reporting. – Reading comments on Stuff (I know, stupid thing to do) shows that most seem to think that rapid transport = high speed rail. Jargon is fine if the target audience understands it, but come on… Joe Public simply doesn’t know most of the jargon in the statement. Hence the widespread misunderstanding that you see in the kind of people who comment on Stuff articles…

    I note that most media is reporting the increase in fuel excise as the Y3 total, rather than the per year amount as you did here.

    Frustrating because I know that this govt is making the right kind of unpopular decisions that get a lot of people angry, only for their attitude to change when the changes are in place.

      1. Remember that AT is required by law to take heed of what the Government’s agenda is re transport. Under the previous government that was roads first

    1. Matt writes these articles pretty much in his spare time and I imagine late into the night. Sometimes a few typos will get through. I’m not sure it’s very helpful pointing them out, especially as the meaning remains clear. Unless you are volunteering to be subeditor? The pay is terrible and the hours very anti social.

    1. Advertisers, which means the goal is clickbait and riling people up, not facts. No matter who is in government, sites like Stuff and the Herald will report with a slant designed to make as many people as possible angry in the hope of getting more page views.

  8. Yes, certainly a good start, but watch the fight that will now erupt, with transport becoming a major dividing issue. It seems the media has mainly attacked the proposed speed limits and extra costs. Both of those are really straw arguments, as any government needed to address them.
    The really new and exciting part of this GPS is the move of funding from Highways to public transport and rapid transit.

  9. Just imagine how much better funded, and thus better able to work for us all, our health system, schools and social housing [as obvious beneficiaries of such a policy] would be, if this country didn’t have to put so much money into ACC and Health Boards to fund them continuously dealing with the endless volumes of road accidents and other road trauma caused by decades of bad prioritisation of transport spending. Which put safety last.

    Putting the focus on road safety like they do in Nordic countries, should be front and centre of this, and all future governments GPS’ around transport.

    Do it like that, and many of the other desired goals will naturally flow from there as well.

    When they do, the compounding benefits and results will speak for themselves.

    This sort of proposed spending, long overdue – and provided its done with improving safety as one of its primary drivers, will be shown to have been money well spent in the fullness of time.

    So its a great start from the Government, but its a long term direction we need to be moving in, for a long time to come.

    I suspect that quite a few folks in NZTA, MoT and elsewhere (AT), whose views had been ascendant under the previous GPS directions (RoNS for Africa, Gold-plated expressways over simpler and more effective safety improvements – Puford being one such example of this) are probably just settling quietly down down, getting their heads down, and beginning a long waiting game – waiting for the next change of government so their pet projects can get a look in again.

    We need to ensure that the benefits obtained with this new direction are both measured and attributed to the change of spending direction. Or else all will be undone at a stroke of a pen, whenever the next National led Government is formed.

  10. Best to avoid the Stuff comments section at the moment. The National party is having a hikoi in there at the moment screaming blue murder that they will be sent into poverty because of these “taxcinda” tax hikes to pay for “Auckland’s trams”.

    Pretty funny because National hiked the fuel tax by 17 cents in 9 years whereas what is currently proposed is a 10-12 cent hike in the next 10 years.

    1. Stuff comments should have a warning before scrolling down: ‘all hope abandon, ye who enter here’ 😉

    2. If the Stuff comments are truly representative of New Zealanders’ views then we have a large number of very childish, very low-IQ citizens. “Don’t you dare take away my lollies you bad bad lefties. The sky will fall in if I can’t drive fast, boo-hoo.”

      Hopefully they are not representative of the wider populace and merely reflect the views of a trolling minority who have a very warped idea of what social responsibility is all about.

      1. Making real reform is always difficult. At the start all those who benefit from gaming the current flawed system complain because their rort is coming to an end. The many who will benefit will not notice and say anything until the impacts of the change start taking effect, which may take years. But if the new government sticks to this benefits will begin.

        Increased PT service funding will allow the infrequent network to begin running decent off peak services. Many people will benefit from that. So to with rural Councils when they start getting increased road maintenance funding, which will help regional employment.

        And as with CRL, when the public sees a genuine alternative with the RTN being built, that will change perceptions too. As the northern busway has proven, Aucklanders will catch public transport if given a decent quality service.

      2. if the stuff comments represent a majority view then I am a weirdo in most definately the wrong country. I seriously hope its just angry whaleoilers and mike hosking lovers.

        1. I find Stuff comments dominated by frustrated National supporters but not entirely. Then again this Greater Auckland website although more in line with my own opinions and generally more intelligent (my opinion) has a distinct bias.
          1. The sheer pleasure many Aucklanders get from owning a car is rarely expressed. Especially the young. The sense of freedom school leaversexperience when they get their first car is not adequately echoed here. BTW I am currently trying to persuade one of my daughters in her late twenties that she can save plenty of money by not owning a car – she is fortunate to live and work in Takapuna and can borrow a family car whenever she wants but despite being highly educated the status of being a car owner it strong.
          2. Very little mention that a sizeable portion of our population loves having a garden. I’m still waiting to read comments like the one made by a retired Chinese acquaintance: ‘I was brought up in a high rise apartment in Hong Kong; I will never go back to living in an apartment, it reminds me of poverty ‘.

        2. +1 I really agree with you Bob. Having a garden and outdoor space is also a huge motivator for many people living in South East England to migrate to the USA, Canada, Australia and of course NZ.

          Young Brits like us also aspire to owning cars. My young colleagues at Heathrow (male and female) all drive “boy racer” cars that many kiwis can only dream of owning, despite having decent transport here. So as you say, many on this site are blinkered as to what car ownership means for them.

          I can’t afford to buy property in Auckland or London so own a decent car as a substitute.

        3. Bob Atkinson, I don’t think many on this site begrudge people owning cars. The simple reality is that there is less space to drive them due to congestion and that from an environmental aspect they are harmful. It therefore seems reasonable for those driving to pay the costs of ameliorating these issues which is the construction of PT networks.

        4. Martin the world is unfair as you may have noticed. I bought my house when I arrived in 2003 and it CV has quadrupled and if I had arrived a year or so earlier it would have been considerably cheaper.
          You can learn from this website: when you do buy there are locations that will disproportionally increase in value and others will comparatively sink and your best guide is proximity of green space (Auckland council is consuming not creating it) and transport.
          Having property my cars rarely cost more than $2000 – they are useful but I don’t really like them..

      3. Typical leftie response.
        It’s blue collar workers in South Auckland who’ll be hardest hit by the COL’s tax increase.
        They depend on their cars to get to their jobs.

        1. Car-dependence sounds like the issue, and it is a much bigger financial burden on the young and less well off. From the published reports the new plan is going to mean lower taxes
          and introduces new travel options for a large number of South Aucklanders (considerably more than a RONS on the urban boundary) so unless the blue-collar worker is an inter-region truck driver why would they be against this?

        2. Oh look at this: “typical lefties response”.

          Gee this is just what’s needed here: One-eyed political partisanship and innuendo (en sarc).

          And before you begin: I am completely apolitical and would say something similar to anyone from the left who behaved like you are.

    3. It’s South Auckland factory workers who’ll be screaming blue murder every time they fill their cars up.
      No PT available to them when they finish the night shift.

      1. Three quarters of the budget is for roads.If they are screaming filling up the tank, three quarters of those screams should be for the roads they are driving on.

      2. Valid point. Although lower-middle income NZ has received a lot of welfare support over the years which to me balances that out a bit.

    4. To be clear its 10-12c plus Phil’s 10c plus GST, so somewhere around 25c/L over 3 years.
      Congestion charging would be a much better way of raising money.

    5. There are members of the National party who fulfilled their party membership obligations by trolling the comments sections of stuff articles.

        1. LOL at how you even jump to ask for that.

          It’s not like it isn’t overwhelmingly obvious…

  11. I must congratulate the new government on the new policy. This cannot have been easy. There would be a lot of vested interests, both within bureaucracy and within industry, wanting the status quo retained. But the previous capital spending on new roads was far too high, at the expense of PT capital and ordinary road maintenance.

  12. To me, this is great news, no more vested interest road building on mindless replication of failed models. Actually a logical intelligent way forward and who would have thought a government could think like that?

    But dear oh dear, the negative headlines MOST ESPECIALLY from the NZ Herald, are all that is leading the way. No rationale argument for, just bullshit and wanky comments from the eternally self centred.

    As Tamaki Drive slips beneath the waves thanks in part to climate change, just to remind Nationals core voters things will never be the same if we keep burning fossil fuel , does the bloody Herald and Stuff and more of late the very politically motivated RNZ, ever stop and think? Is it 9 cents, is it 20 cents, do I hear a bid for 25 cents???

    The Herald, part of the warped Newtalk ZB empire, part of Mike Hosking et al and no surprises National Party friendly since way back when, are currently consumed in an anti government, more likely anti Ardern campaign and its getting as embarrassingly obvious as the proverbial bits that hang off the end of a male dog.

    We all moan at the dire state of Auckland’s gridlock for example and yep it is bad but like good little infantile Kiwi’s some think someone else should pay. We were all told a petrol tax was coming to fund alternatives, but to read the headlines the world as we know it is ending, not just through climate change.

    Just a reminder to the NZ Herald, the no new tax National Party raised fuel tax 6 times since 2008, plus raised GST, 2.5 on top of all of that. That is just in that area alone. Where was Armageddon then?

  13. Raising fuel taxes these days is starting to be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic – more fuel efficient vehicles and electric vehicles means fuel taxes are going to have to keep increasing just to maintain existing costs. They’re having the same problem with electricity with solar PV, batteries and electric vehicles coming online; Transmission and distribution costs are becoming harder to recover, hence that’s why they’re reviewing the pricing structures.

    1. They’ll have to move to RUCs for all vehicles at some stage. New cars run off the smell of an oily rag, its basically poorer people with older cars that are subsidising transport spending at the moment.

      1. I suspect you are right. My new car uses just over half the fuel of my last one but is way more powerful.
        I don’t have a big problem with the tax hikes as I am lucky enough to live in a central suburb so will benefit the most from the spending. I might even take the bus one day.

  14. That last graph is hard to follow. Shouldn’t it be chronological? You have 2018-2021 (N) followed by 2015-2018 followed by 2018-2021 (L). Or is the legend wrong?

    1. Struggling to work out how you have grouped the figures. 2018-2021(L) shows ~$6.5B upper limit funding to State Highways. Adding the Activity Classes for SH Improvements and SH Maintenance together it doesn’t get to $6.5B- am I missing something?

  15. “Almost every area sees a potential increase in funding with the exception of State Highways, and even then the decrease isn’t that much”

    With the cancelled RoNS, that decreased amount will actually be an increase over 99% of the network. In short, state highways will be better funded.

    1. Yes. Could that funding have instead been put directly into “Safety”? Better clarity, perhaps, if that’s what they’re intending? The lion’s share is still going into roading, yet at some point we’re going to have to admit that decades of road building has left us with a massive maintenance bill. The more we can halt the roading spend and just focus on sustainable modes the cheaper it will be later.

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