Labour’s resounding election win on Saturday means it can govern alone and without the ‘hand brake’ of NZ First. The result also means they now have no excuses for not delivering and gives the opportunity for some transformational change, but the fear is they won’t make the most of that.
Once the new government is officially formed in the next few weeks, one of the first things we’ll be looking to see is who holds the various transport and housing portfolios that exist. Phil Twyford has received quite a bit of criticism over the past few years for failing to deliver some of Labour’s flagship policies. While some of that criticism was clearly warranted, I think not all of it is and where he’s done a good job is around implementing some of the lower-profile, sometimes boring, but significant policy changes. The National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) and changes to the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) are some examples of that.
Thinking forward to the next three years, here are some of the areas we think the government will need to deliver on, especially if they’re going to live up to their rhetoric on climate change. And they’ll need to live up to that if they also want to deliver long term on other stated priorities, such as child wellbeing. After all, many of the changes that are needed so that we don’t cook the planet also have more immediately tangible benefits for children, like being able to freely and safely walk and bike around local streets, like we experienced during the first lockdown.
To start with, as noted in our election policy roundup last week, Labour went into the election with almost no defined transport policy other than implementing their GPS, as well as the projects in the NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP) and their post-COVID shovel ready projects. The only real new policy is to require all buses be zero emissions by 2025 and to reform the RMA. But even within that there is a heap that they can do.
Follow their own GPS
One of the big things the government could do would just be to ensure that all transport decisions follow the GPS. The GPS has four overarching strategic priorities and some of these have overlaps, shown below.
The issue is that while the GPS represents a solid policy for the country, it is often simply ignored or at best, elements of it are cherry picked to support something that doesn’t deliver on many of the priorities and outcomes being sought. For example the government’s NZUP appears to sit completely outside of the GPS and many of the large motorway projects included in it don’t deliver on priorities like providing better travel options, and will encourage more driving, thereby contributing more to climate change.
Within the Better Travel Options priority, one thing that stands out 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.
Having mode shift plans will be good but like the wider GPS, they will need to be adhered to. The Auckland mode shift plan was delivered late last year but like the wider GPS, seems to be being ignored by the likes of AT, NZTA and the government when it comes to decision making.
All of this suggests that an important step over the coming three years would be for the government to:
- adhere to those plans in any decision making
- start holding the various central and local government agencies to account for delivering on the myriad plans that already exist. Currently there seems to be no consequence for these agencies ignoring plans and doing their own thing.
At this stage it looks like the preference for a more metro style solution is now going to go ahead. The outcome of the competition between Waka Kotahi NZTA and NZ Infra, the joint venture between Superfund and their Canadian partners, ended with the NZ Infra proposal being preferred but NZ First blocking it. What was agreed was that the Ministry of Transport would come up with a public sector delivery model. At this stage that appears to involve the MoT buying some of the IP from the bidders and coming up with a way to deliver it. One risk here is that with NZF out of the way, they just choose to go back to the NZ Infra proposal and push that through.
Light metro is going to be a massive project so If the government are as serious as they claim about delivering this project then over the course of the coming term we’re going to need to see at least the planning and design/consenting works completed for it.
As well as mode shift plans, we also need rapid transit plans for not just Auckland but other major centres too. We need for the government to start deliver these plans and to start the more detailed work around the planning and design on them over this term. These networks are going to be increasingly important in delivering the levels of mode shift that will be needed in our response to climate change.
Furthermore, one of the big factors in why we keep seeing the government pulling out big road projects to build is that those are often the only ones where planning/design work has previously been progressed – sometimes this is also tied to the issue above of agencies ignoring policy and progressing these things behind the scenes. Having these RTN plans more progressed will mean than when governments suddenly look for more projects to deliver, they’ll have these options.
In addition to these longer term plans, it would be useful if the government could pick up the Greens policy of looking to use proposed improvements to the Northwest as a template for delivering the rest of the RTN in Auckland within the span of this electoral cycle.
Build for bikes
We need commuting routes that let people bike to work, local streets that are safe for kids to walk and ride and scoot on and arterial roads that allow people to make the low-carbon travel choices. We also desperately need to ramp these up now, not in a decade’s time.
One major issue that we really need the government to help address is how we get local authorities to prioritise street space and consult on projects. For example, perhaps we need something like the NPS-UD to require local authorities to prioritise walking, cycling and safety over on-street parking on arterials.
Bring forward PT fleet electrification
Labour’s plans to require only electric buses be bought from 2025 needs to be brought forward and there is not really anything stopping that from being next year. An ambitious government would also look to push to electrify other parts of the PT fleet, such as ferries and longer distance trains.
Simplify Transport Planning
We have way too many, often duplicative plans – it’s no wonder that even most staff at transport agencies don’t know what’s going on.
Labour’s plans to reform the Resource Management Act will likely also require changes to the Land Transport Management Act. This provides a good opportunity to look at the LTMA in more detail and consider some changes that could simplify planning, such as:
- Find a way of integrating things like ATAP and removing the duplication between it as well as Regional and National Land Transport Programmes – just have a single plan.
- Properly integrating rail, something I understand NZ First prevented in the changes last year
They should also change the purpose of LTMA to include stuff like emissions reductions.
Simplify Transport Funding
As well as simplifying planning, we also really need to simplify our funding/financing models. The issues aren’t easy to quickly express in this post – thought we did see some of them expressed here.
Simplifying funding is going to be even more important in the wake of COVID where councils don’t now have the revenue to fund their share of projects, especially for PT and active mode projects. This will mean improvements to those modes will struggle to get or maintain any momentum, further locking us in to higher emissions along with worse safety outcomes and travel choices.
Coordinated Urban Renewal
We’d started to see some elements of this under over the last 3-years but over the coming three we really need to see the government step up further to deliver coordinated urban renewal in our major cities. This needs to include both planning and financing
There is obviously much more that will need to be delivered but this will do for now.