A couple of weeks ago the Government quietly released what’s being called its ‘Indicative Priorities for GPS 2024‘. While this isn’t a full draft Government Policy Statement (GPS), it gives some initial guidance around what the next GPS is likely to focus on.

A quick refresher first though about the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport. This is a really important document in the transport planning and funding system, providing strong guidance about what the government wants Waka Kotahi to focus on in its work, and placing a whole bunch of limits on how Waka Kotahi can spend and invest the National Land Transport Fund. The current GPS, which will expire on June 30 next year, had four strategic priorities – as shown in the diagram below:

GPS 2021 Strategic Priorities

We were largely supportive of the previous GPS, while making some suggestions around the need for it to guide all government investment (not just the increasingly small National Land Transport Fund), as well as some changes to the funding details of the document.

A lot has changed in the past three years though, and it’s good to see the initial priorities of GPS 2024 picking this up in a few areas:

  • Emissions reduction is elevated to an overarching priority, which should guide all investment in the transport system. Given the massive scale of change required to the transport system for us to meet targets set in the Emissions Reduction Plan this is a necessary and essential change.
  • The document makes it clear that the GPS should guide all government investment in the transport system, not just the National Land Transport Fund. This is a really important change as the NLTF seems to be an ever-decreasing proportion of all the money government invests in transport, and some of the biggest mistakes in recent years have occurred when the government has bypassed normal processes to cherry-pick projects like in the NZ Upgrade Programme that often contradict what they’re actually trying to achieve.
  • By providing much clearer direction that operations, maintenance and renewals expenditure needs to make a much greater contribution to improving the transport system – not just building back the same old unsafe and unsuitable infrastructure for another generation.
  • By elevating the importance of resilience, which obviously has been top of mind in recent weeks due to climate-induced weather events.

Here’s the complete diagram showing the proposed strategic priorities:

Diving into the details a little bit more, it’s notable how much emphasis the GPS will place on the VKT reduction programmes that are supposedly already under development in New Zealand’s largest cities.

Urban VKT reduction programmes

The ERP calls on Waka Kotahi to partner with councils and communities to develop light VKT reduction programmes for major urban areas. These programmes aim to provide better transport choices through improvements to urban form.

This new partnership approach to VKT reduction planning will reduce the need to travel by car, and deliver safer, more accessible, vibrant urban centres providing a range of attractive alternatives to travelling by car. Waka Kotahi and its partners will need to prioritise this planning work so that the new programmes can inform future investment priorities – which will be supported in GPS 2024.

It’s also notable that the ‘bar’ for funding transport investments that increase emissions will be higher than ever.

High thresholds for investments that do not support emissions reduction objectives

Meeting the targets set out in the ERP will require a significant change in the way that New Zealanders use the transport system. Over time, transport investments and interventions will make it possible for more people to walk, cycle and use public and shared transport, especially in our largest urban areas.

This is not to suggest that every individual investment will result in reduced emissions. Some interventions that result in increased emissions may be necessary to support the achievement of wider objectives – but there will be a high threshold for any such investments and the overall investment programme must deliver a reduction in net emissions to meet national targets.

We’ll await with interest the full draft GPS, which should be released in the next few months. The Ministry of Transport say they welcome feedback on this document, which you can send to gps@transport.govt.nz.

Of course, this could all change if the government changes later this year.

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  1. Whilst Councils can provide sorely needed & upgraded walk, cycle/scooter, & PT infrastructure and services, and reduce speed limits to safe speeds it will only shift the perceived generalised cost of travel between car and other modes by a limited amount.

    Land use changes slowly so trip origins and destinations are only going to shift slowly as well.

    It does not bode well for Councils to be able to make much progress on VKT reduction (an indirect measure of GHG reduction).

    Central Government / MoT hold most of the potential policy levers to get vehicle drivers to pay closer to their real costs of travel, not Councils.

    1. Pretty much all tier 1 Council’s have greenfield growth areas to accommodate the growth targets set.
      Yet all these greenfield developments rely on vehicles as the primary mode of transport, with PT and active modes as the add on.

      The private sector will be slow-ish to take up the increased allowances under the NPS-UD.

      I don’t really see the way Council’s can get VKT down & accommodate growth without major Central Govt interventions.

      1. Even without the VKT reduction targets … Many council’s don’t have the levers to pull like Central Govt does to reduce transport emissions.

        1. I don’t get it. Why make a worthy attempt at policy look so shabby by including VKT? I understand proxies, you use them as a hack in modelling so you can use linear regression when there is mutual causality. But who of sound mind uses proxies as an economic instrument? They just make the whole document appear lame.

        2. Yes they do. While government help is useful, the whole reason the C40 organisation was established was to help cities do it even if their national governments aren’t on course yet. And those that are trying are making huge strides forward; they too suffer from sluggishness at central government level.

          Decarbonising transport can occur through many pathways that councils have full control over. Have a good read of the TERP and you’ll see many.

      2. More specifically, VKT is difficult (impossible) to measure, model and monitor at a local scale to evaluate local projects. It can only be tracked at a large scale, so evaluating a small scheme for VKT targets/effects could end up looking like ‘reckons’ rather than measurable results attached. As a Regional KPI it might work, but a whole lot of different interventions and external factors will be at play in VKT change. I think we know what the intention is, but prioritising funding in a meaningful way might not be easy.

        1. I find this a strange comment. Currently, the business cases rely on travel time savings, which rely on modelling what the vehicles do. Are you saying that neither TTS nor VKT should be used in the business cases, because neither can be modelled correctly?

          Perhaps that’s the case, in which case – what would you recommend as the basis for the business cases?

          One option is using much rougher VKT reduction estimates based simply on road capacity reductions. This wouldn’t require such modelling. Do you think that should be suggested in the GPS?

          Another option is improving the modelling. Project designs could start using vision-led planning – ie deciding what we want the mix of modes and share of space to look like on a corridor, and what we want the surrounding neighbourhoods to be like. Then modelling this environment, using something without the deficiencies of the four step model, eg that actually:
          – reflects traffic evaporation from reduced road capacity
          – reflects changes in land use from transport system changes
          – models active modes well
          – reflects the shift to local living (which is currently fully within nodes of the model and don’t count)

          In this way, the business cases would no longer be full of inaccurate travel times savings, emissions estimates, agglomeration benefits, etc. Instead, they would be able to estimate the change in vkt – perhaps it won’t be perfect but it’ll be a whole lot better than what we have now.

        2. You are dead right on each point Streetguy. It is actually easier to measure carbon emissions directly from fuel sales data than it is to measure VKT. So VKT actually diverts us from the real goal rather than helps us.

        3. Nothing wrong with measuring both fuel use and VKT.

          EV’s are useful to mop up the emissions of the remaining vehicle trips that are hard to mode shift. Electrification doesn’t solve the fundamental problem that cars take up too much space and demand too much land, money and time be devoted to them.

        4. You are absolutely wrong Heidi. GHG emissions from transport come directly from fuel burn. That includes fuel burnt to make the electricity that EV’s use.
          The central government should have pressed ahead with the biofuel mandate and obligated the fuel companies to reduce GHG from a minimum biomass percentage in every drop of fossil fuel used in NZ. Given that biofuels have roughly a 90% GHG reduction vs fossil fuel, it is very easy to count the reduction. The only problem with the proposed mandate was it was too small. NZ was proposing 3% and it should have started at 10% (in line with most of the first world).
          VKT is a nonsense way to calculate transport GHG.

      3. Designing to reduce vkt is a focus in many of Europe’s successful SUMP plans. I’m not sure why you think it wouldn’t work in NZ. I mean I know NZ is **different** but sometimes we can learn from overseas. Actually.

        1. Reducing VKT is the objective. But a policy also needs measurable targets that have a causal relationship to the projects and programmes that are to accomplish the objective. what do you measure to be sure that one project is more effective than another, when prioritising funding? Regional VKT may report on progress to a target, but measures useful for RLTP programme planning and approval of funding needs to be sound, so Business Cases can be as simple and real as possible.

        2. Yes I realise that, and a bit of this problem comes down to why we don’t already have better monitoring of VKT. Auckland Transport has been tasked with reducing VKT since at least 2014.

          I’ve not seen them badgering on government’s door to get the technology and methodology to achieve this all this time. Do you know any more? Or, is my impression correct that they’ve been sitting on their hands? I know they’re looking into it since the TERP was released – but that was about 8 years later than it should have been, and appears to simply be a way to keep delaying the VKT reduction targets.

        3. The issue is not how can you improve measures of VKT but why would you bother. Why would you seek to favour the use of very large petrol engine cars driven short distances by one occupant slowly through the most congested area over the the use of EVs with four people in them driven longer distances in less congested areas?

          Essentially VKT ignores congestion, ignores efficient speeds, ignores occupancy and ignores engine efficiency and ignores EVs. If people don’t like cars then they should just write that as a policy and see how it flies rather than dress it up in pseudo-technical nonsense like VKT.

        4. Increasing occupancy is a mugs’ game though. It is the most slippery of behaviour changes to try to encourage, and higher occupancy is usually a result of chauffeuring.

          Measures of VKT ignore all those things and yet, because of the impact that VKT reduction measures have, they STILL are effective. It’s a technique that works.

        5. But nobody actually cares what the total vehicle kilometres traveled is. Nobody. Some people would prefer fewer cars and fewer trips made by cars. So they should say that and advocate for that as a policy. Some people want destinations and origins closer- advocate for that. VKT is anti car policies camouflaged as something else. It is meaningless of itself and deceitful as a public policy.

        6. Lol. It’s a pretty funny conversation. I think you’re over-thinking it.

          Lots of people want to reduce VKT. This is because reducing VKT reduces the number of km that vehicles are driven, which translates to reducing the number of cars typically being driven in the system. 🙂 And fewer cars being driven makes for nicer, cleaner, safer, quieter places, and more active, healthier people. Reducing VKT is effective at achieving these outcomes even though some of the VKT being reduced is from short trips, some long trips, some sole occupant, some multi-occupant, and whether part of the success is from managing to improve proximity.

          Measuring VKT helps discover how well the implementation of the policy is going.

          I think calling it deceitful is… um, energetic of you? I think it’s a policy that contains exactly what it says on the tin.

        7. Heidi I can’t any other reason in having a a third best policy that requires a reduction in something that is practically impossible to measure. Nationally you can do it from the number of kms recorded from Warrants of Fitness inspections. No other direct measurement options exists. Everything else requires a model and all the coarse assumptions that entails.

          It is easier to focus on the issues that actually matter and they are all easier to measure than VKT. Who cares what the number kilometres travelled is? Should we do that with trains? Buses? Bikes? Why do it to EVs?

        8. I accept your criticism of modelling in general, and I know you’re being consistent about that. Note, they are trying to measure and monitor km travelled for each mode, too.

          What measure of accessibility, improved public health, and of all the other elements of healthy streets do you think should be used in the business cases to replace vehicle travel time savings? Or do you think we should ditch the business cases altogether?

        9. I don’t understand why you would want to remove time savings from assessments. I don’t understand how specific time savings assessed for specific types of trip by mode to assess the effectiveness of a project relates to the use of aggregate VKT as though it were some measure of good or bad as proposed by TERP. I can’t think of any project where aggregate VKT has been used for assessment of benefits. Simply, I can’t see any merit in VKT other than the fact every model spits it out at the end. Who cares what the product of the average trip length times the number of vehicles equals. We care about emissions so use that instead.

  2. If the government quietly released its indicative priorities it was because it knows almost no one cares.

    The government knows most people (voters) don’t want to drive less so reducing our transport emissions is unlikely. However we can pretend to reduce our emissions by paying poor countries to plant trees for us.

    Meanwhile we will build (and rebuild) more roads and drive more oversize vehicles on them and cut public transport services. Actually we are doing that already.

    1. What is the evidence that most people don’t want to drive less? Petrol use is already down 10% (expensive petrol + working from home). I am pretty sure that improvements to trains and buses in Auckland and Wellington would lead to less driving. There is a lot of room for improvement.

      I’d agree that massive restrictions driving without clear improvements elsewhere would not be a winner. So it’s a delivery + marketing problem rather than the overall direction being unpopular.

      1. I’d argue it’s that most people (voters) don’t like being told to drive less. Many people will happily admit they don’t enjoy the driving experience, especially in cities like Auckland, and wish they could spend less time driving… but don’t you dare try and tell them to drive less…

        Driving for many is considered mandatory and locked in as a fixture of transport. Alternatives are not even considered.

        Just seems sad that people will fight improvements to PT/active modes all because they don’t want to feel like they are being forced into changing their behaviour.

        1. Well put.

          Most people are committed to a car-dependent lifestyle and won’t countenance anything else. Living in cities that have been designed for cars since the 1950s makes driving seem the only option.

          The government was only being politically expedient when it stopped talking about climate change this (election) year. Continuing to subsidize fossil fuels was also an easy decision.

          Central and local governments know that most people (voters) resent any attempt to limit their ‘freedom of movement’.

        2. What they don’t want is a 10 minute drive turning into a 30 minute drive, or it turning into a one hour bus ride.

          Or you can try telling people to consider to ride a bicycle, but “please become part of this outgroup” is never going to be a popular suggestion.

        3. Agree completely. Also the marketers have done such an amazing job of making cars an emotional trigger linking cars and driving to identity. Getting NZr’s to vote against their perceived core identity and way of life will be near impossible. Watching TV ads like the Z fuel one driving past all the good ol’ kiwis doing good ol’ kiwi lifestyle stuff with their cars and trucks in their driveways, the “Next-Gen Ranger Raptor” tearing up a desert, and the Toyota “this is pure performance” with revving engines all playing in one ad break in the TVNZ news between reports of half of the North Island being washed away in a cyclone just about had me in tears.

        4. Luke, the majority of people want much better choices. This has come through consistently in all surveys and submissions. Public sentiment has been poorly misrepresented by officials, public, politicians and media alike.

          AT and WK should have been rolling out demonstration projects for the last decade, showing people the nuts and bolts of how to achieve their goals. Had they done this, the civic discussion would be in a much better place; shock jocks would be mocking the change-averse, not the progressives.

    2. Sadly Hugh I think you are right. My only comment would be it’s not so much no one cares, its more that at the moment, the alternative to car travel is almost non-existent. The majority can’t see change being presented to them so by default don’t know “how to care”

    1. Nah, Waka Kotahi has instead cancelled even the promised Sunday events to allow people to walk and cycle on the bridge that were ready and planned for the next months. Not a priority now, they say. Too expensive, they say.

  3. My main point was/is that people often don’t like being told what to do (irrespective of whether it is a good option). Many people are working on the assumption that the 10min trip is still a viable option when the reality is the roads have too many cars on them and that trip isn’t going to take 10 minutes any more no matter how many of Wayne Brown’s amazing tips for AT they implement.
    Plus, as this blog has highlighted many times in regards to PT scheduling, having congestion-free options that give certainty are better for everyone than wildly variable private vehicle trips. (The same goes for business, certainty and planning, even when a bit slower, is rewarded with better outcomes than volatile and unpredictable situations which covid highlighted through our supply chains)

    1. Plus there seems to be a big ‘conspiracy’ tangent with public transport and cycling projects recently, more so towards cycle projects.
      Government ‘forcing them out of cars’, ‘we’ll all be eating bugs soon’ etc etc
      Kind of tied up in the climate change conspiracy areas.
      These ideas seems oddly bound to happily keep pouring money into overseas oil companies who are all recording massive profits, whilst also funding ‘climate denial research’.

  4. It seems strange that no one in any position of power is yet willing to take on the fossil fuel industry. Obviously for more than 200 years polluters have been aware of the damage they were going to cause to their descendants, and these days almost everyone believes in climate change. How about prioritising non private motor vehicle stuff? Electric taxis, minivans etc. Resocialise a very antisocial landscape where people seem to use their cars as their offices, and safe spaces. Just a philosophical thought from a daydreamer 25 years short of a gold card (perhaps longer).

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