Yesterday we passed two significant milestones for a better transport future.
Government Policy Statement (GPS) Confirmed
Yesterday Transport Minister Phil Twyford released the confirmed 2018-28 GPS. The GPS is a critical piece of the transport puzzle as it sets the direction for the country’s upcoming transport investment, both through what it focuses on and the overall funding band for different activities.
The GPS has been tweaked but remains largely the same as the draft that was released in April and is a significant and welcome improvement over what the previous government had planned – which saw ever increasing amounts of transport spending funnelled into a handful of big state highway projects. By comparison, this GPS is far more balanced through big improvements to public transport, local roads, even though State Highways are still get the single biggest share of transport spending and more than they did from 2015-18.
Cabinet has approved a new 10-year plan for transport which will unlock record investment in the roads, rail and public transport for our growing regions and cities, and save lives on our roads, Minister of Transport Phil Twyford has announced.
The Government Policy Statement 2018 on Land Transport increases investment from $3.6 billion in 2017/18 to a record $4 billion in 2018/19. It will continue to rise to $4.7 billion a year by 2027/28. Additionally, the Government is also investing $1 billion this year in specific projects, such as the City Rail Link, and councils will invest a further $1 billion a year.
“The Government, through the National Land Transport Fund, will invest more than ever in transport, to boost the economies of our cities and our regions, while making travel safer for everyone,” Phil Twyford said.
“Auckland alone loses $1.3 billion a year in productivity to congestion. We will tackle gridlock in Auckland by giving commuters options through major road projects and upgrades such as Mill Road and Penlink.
“Throughout New Zealand more commuters will be able to leave the car at home because of investment in public transport, walking, and cycling.
“This investment will unleash the potential of our cities. It will complete the expressway projects begun under the previous government and allow for future state highway upgrades, with up to $9.5 billion for state highway improvements.
“Regions are set to gain through investments to help freight flow faster and more efficiently. Up to $6.2 billion will be available for regional road and local upgrades, along with more funding for rail upgrades and a big boost to maintenance after years of neglect. The majority of regional councils made submissions in support of this plan after suffering funding cuts under the previous government.
Some of the key changes between in funding levels between the draft plan and the finalised plan are:
- There is a significant increase to the public transport category which primarily covers the operation of services. This is to ensure the package agreed as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project can be funded while also funding public transport across the rest of the country. This increase doesn’t show up in my graph due to….
- What appears to be a decrease in funding for Rapid Transit. I say appears because the funding has just been spread out over the 10 year period more evenly than assuming it would all be spent within the next five or so years.
- There are some slight improvements to the minimum investment for walking and cycling.
- Some small tweaks to the funding bands for Road Safety Promotion and Demand Management activity as well as the Transitional Rail activities.
The graph below shows how the GPS’ have evolved over the years from Labour’s never implemented 2009 draft (the first GPS). The solid bars represent the minimum spend while the lighter areas the funding range.
Perhaps one of the important changes is this comment from the press release.
“The New Zealand Transport Agency will increase their share of costs for certain high and very high priority locally-led projects, meaning councils can get more transport investment without asking more of ratepayers.
This will really help local councils in delivering projects. It’s unclear if it also means that there will be a reduced farebox recovery target which would help in ensuring Auckland Transport can put more services on to grow PT use.
Overall this GPS is a huge step forward and the versions we saw under the previous government and it represents much of what we’ve campaigned on for many years.
Next we await the release of the NZTA’s National Land Transport Programme – which is what sets the exact actual funding level within the GPS bands.
Council approves 10-year budget
The second piece of the puzzle to fall into place yesterday was the council approving their 10-year budget (formerly the Long Term Plan). Previous discussions between councillors, the mayor and staff had been tense over it, particularly the introduction of a 10c per litre regional fuel tax. But that largely faded away in the final vote with 15 councillors voting in favour of it and just two opposing.
Auckland Council today struck its 10-year Budget, beginning a decade of transformational infrastructure investment that will improve Auckland’s transport network, support the provision of housing and enhance our environment.
“Our 10-year Budget delivers transformative infrastructure investment needed to respond to Auckland’s unprecedented population growth.
“It’s a build-it budget in every sense of the word. We are embarking on the largest ever infrastructure build in Auckland’s history and doing so while keeping rate rises low and reasonable,” says Mayor Phil Goff.
The 10c per litre regional fuel tax comes in on Sunday and it will be fascinating to see what impact, if any, it has. Will we see more people on public transport or riding a bike, will it impact on what kinds of cars people buy and drive? The introduction of the RFT should also make it easier in the future to bring in proper road pricing, which would replace it. The council and government continue to look at options but it’s unclear when we’ll hear more about it.
With these plans now adopted, one aspect I think both the council and government need to drastically improve is their communications around what is being funded and what’s in the plan. They need to do more than just a couple of project pages on AT’s or NZTA’s website.