The new Government Policy Statement sets a bold and far more balanced policy direction for transport in New Zealand than we have seen for decades. Its strategic direction is based around four key objectives:
As well as setting the balance of funding across different areas, the other important thing the GPS does is identify the policy priorities that NZTA must give effect to through their funding decisions.
For NZTA to do this, they create a more detailed document called the “Investment Assessment Framework” (IAF). The document itself is a bit of a mind-numbingly boring read filled with jargon, but at its heart the IAF is the “GPS in action” and ultimately is the document that determines whether NZTA funding will go to one project or another. The diagram below shows how the IAF relates to other transport planning documents:
Previous versions of the IAF ranked projects based on a combination of Strategic Fit (how well aligned the project was with government priorities), Effectiveness (the extent to which the project solved the problem being faced) and efficiency (the cost-benefit ratio). This time around that has been simplified to just results alignment (essentially a combination of Strategic Fit and Effectiveness) and a cost-benefit analysis. The important “ranking table” is shown below:
Broadly, the ranking approach seems to look first for projects that are “very high” for either results alignment or cost-benefit ratio, before reverting to a typical “high/high”, “high/medium and medium/high” ranking process. This does create some strange scenarios where projects that might perform poorly on one of these will still be ranked quite high. Given the major issues we have with transport cost-benefit analysis processes, the potential for a misaligned project to still get funding because it appears to have a high BCR is a risk to keep an eye out for.
One useful element of the new IAF relates to how the GPS’s greater focus on safety is being turned into a reality. There are countless stories of how critical safety projects get knocked back because they create small delays for traffic, and it seems like the IAF is taking some first steps towards ensuring that does not continue to happen:
Ultimately it still seems stupid that safety gets traded off against other transport outcomes in this process. This doesn’t happen in other sectors – health and safety is seen as a critical requirement that must be met, and then other goals are considered. This baby step is certainly still not consistent with Vision Zero thinking, but it’s a start.
The heart of the IAF is the guidance for how “results alignment” is determined in the prioritisation process. This is done for each of the main investment types (public transport, safety, new roads etc.) The detail is a little bit tedious (because ultimately it does guide where millions of dollars is or is not spent) but ultimately you can see how things like the proposed rapid transit routes in ATAP would get a “very high” results alignment:
With walking and cycling you can also see how much of the proposed cycling network would also rank “very high”, especially critical missing links like SkyPath:
Overall the IAF is a useful step in the right direction, but one can’t help but feel it’s the bare minimum level of change to give effect to the GPS. In areas like safety there’s still a way to go, while also there’s a need to ensure the balance between results alignment and the cost-benefit analysis is correct. It would be great to be able to just use the cost-benefit analysis process, because it would do away with all the complex qualitative judgements in results alignment. But until the process for undertaking transport CBAs is improved, I guess we’re stuck with this hybrid approach.