Today the government have released the draft of their new Government Policy Statement on Land Transport for 2021-31 (GPS).
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 – although is refreshed every three years. It breaks transport spending down 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 the Minister’s press release.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford released today the Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) 2021 on land transport which confirms that the Government will invest a record $54 billion in its balanced transport policy over the next decade.
The GPS is how the Government guides Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to invest more than $4.5 billion a year raised through the National Land Transport Fund; and how it expects them to allocate funding towards roads, rail, walking and cycling infrastructure, coastal shipping and public transport.
“This GPS shows our Government is putting the pedal to the metal on our balanced transport policy while committing to a massive infrastructure spend over 10 years,” Phil Twyford said.
“Alongside the historic $12.1 billion COVID-19 economic response package and the $12 billion NZ Upgrade programme, this transport investment will make a real difference to New Zealand’s economic recovery.
“The Draft GPS 2021 signals that we will make a record investment in transport of $48 billion on top of our $6.8 billion from the NZ Upgrade Programme, which will help give the transport construction industry certainty during the current global economic headwinds.
“We are not proposing to raise petrol tax as we are making good progress addressing the infrastructure deficit the last government left with the revenue from GPS 2018.
“Safety remains our Government’s top priority and we’re planning to invest $10 billion in our strategy to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on the road by 40 per cent.
“In the first three years alone, Road to Zero will invest nearly $3 billion in safety infrastructure like median barriers, safety campaigns and road policing.
“The regions will get an extra $1.2 billion in road upgrades through Road to Zero in the first three years, more than double the amount for regional improvements under GPS 2018.
“We’re taking climate change seriously through unprecedented investments in public transport and walking and cycling improvements. Compared to the previous government, public transport investment is up 163 per cent and walking and cycling is up 227 per cent.
“Given how both rail and coastal shipping help take pressure off our roads and produce less emissions, we are looking to fund both in GPS 2021. Building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the Government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” Phil Twyford said.
Let’s look at the actual document.
As with the current GPS, there are four strategic priorities. This year they’ve changed again but while they’re largely the same, they seem much more focused on specific outcomes. For example, in the current GPS we have the vaguer sounding Access but that has become Better Travel Options while Environment has changed to Climate Change. So in both cases they’re much more explicit in what the priority is which I think is a good thing. The one major change here is Improving Freight Connections which replaces Value for Money, a holdover from the previous government’s GPS and has been shifted into a separate section on how they’ll make investment decisions.
As they point out, many of these overlap, for example, building a protected cycleway improves safety but it also delivers better travel options and by moving more people emission free it helps in addressing climate change.
Within these priorities, one thing that particularly stands out in the Better Travel Options section is this:
Implement mode shift plans for Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. The NZTA will take a more proactive role in accelerating mode shift by partnering with local government and other agencies to shape urban form, make shared and active modes more attractive, and influence travel demand and transport choice. This includes progressing work that is already well underway on developing a public transport system in Christchurch.
These four priorities are meant to contribute to five key outcomes.
One of the most important aspects of the GPS is how it sets out funding priorities. This is done through a series of funding ranges for each specified activity. The NZTA then sets the exact level of funding for each activity within that range. The range also exists on an overall level and in addition there is an annual expenditure target which the NZTA are required to match – although whether they can will depend on things like the amount of fuel tax collected. The overall range and target are shown below and shows the government are expecting to spend $13.7 billion over the 2021-24 period (after that a new GPS could change it all so there’s not too much point counting it).
One thing that isn’t clear is that there’s actually going to be enough money coming into the National Land Transport Fund from fuel taxes and road user charges to pay for all of this, especially as the government seem to be ruling out changing those in the next three years. This is likely to become even harder to meet given current events.
Perhaps the thing I look for most when looking at the GPS is the funding bands for each activity class. Every GPS there are slight tweaks to the funding bands, consolidating a few here, creating new ones there etc. For this GPS the government have made quite a few and significant changes which make direct comparisons with previous GPS difficult.
The most significant of these is the new ‘Road to Zero‘ activity to support road safety. This seems to pull together some funding from state highways and local roads, as well as the previously separate Road Policing and Road Safety Promotion activities. I’ll talk more about this shortly.
Also changing this time is that the Public Transport funding has been split up to separate services and infrastructure again. These were previously separate activities but National combined them in 2015. There are some good theoretical reasons for doing this but in practice, particularly the last few years, we’ve seen the NZTA using the PT budget to pay for big infrastructure like the Northern Busway extension of the transit lanes they’re building on SH20B – both of which should have come from the Rapid Transit activity. This meant despite the government talking a big game on improving PT, little new money was actually made available to increase services. The Rapid Transit class was new in the current GPS but that has been folded into the new PT Infrastructure class.
There is also now a rail network class, replacing the Transitional Rail one introduced in 2018 – although it is noted that any approved projects or operating funding from it for the Auckland and Wellington PT networks, such as double tracking to Upper Hutt, will now be shifted to the PT classes mentioned above.
The upper and lower bands for each activity class is shown below
As mentioned, because of the changes it’s difficult make direct comparisons with previous GPS, however with a few assumptions I think it’s possible. For this I’ve only focused on 2021-24 years. Then using the figures in the current GPS, I’ve assumed the forecast funding ranges 2021-24 for Road Policing and Promotion of Road Safety remains the same. That gives us a figure for infrastructure spend and I’ve split that up proportionally between State Highways and Local Roads.
It’s also worth noting that this is funding from the National Land Transport Fund and so doesn’t include the government’s NZ Upgrade Programme. That is expected to add just over 3 billion to the expenditure over the next three year period and as we know, includes a lot of motorway projects. So while we’re spending a lot more on public transport than we have, given we’re still spending so heavily on state highways suggests the actual balance hasn’t changed all that much.
The draft GPS will be open for feedback till 27 April.