Potholes have become an election issue with both National and Labour blaming each other for the state of our roads.

For its part, National have created a $500 million Pothole Repair Fund

Asked whether this was a political gimmick Brown said: “Not at all, this is a reality of our roads being in the worst state they’ve ever been and the need for us to be investing in making sure that they are safe to drive on so we can keep our economy moving.”

“What we’re saying is we want to double that current rate and get it back to a sustainable level of investment and this is what this fund will be directed towards so that our roads … aren’t falling apart.”

The money for National’s policy would come from money put aside for speed reduction.

“What we’re saying is actually the Road to Zero fund, which has got a billion dollars being allocated to it each year, it has significant delivery challenges. Within it they promised 300 kilometres of median barrier by 2024, they’ve only delivered 50km so far.

“We’re going to take a portion of that money and we’re going to reallocate that to making sure our roads are actually safe to drive on.”

Maintaining our roads is important but pulling funding from road safety to fix a lack of investment in road maintenance would be a terrible outcome.

Labour say they’re fixing the roads

Transport Minister David Parker told Morning Report in 2018, the government repaired 39,000 potholes and in 2022 it repaired 54,000.

“The maintenance budget’s gone up from $1.7b over three years when they (National) left office to $2.8b under us – a 65 percent increase.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, with those increases, what’s the underlying problem and the underlying problem is actually very simple for people to understand – the last government stopped resurfacing roads – or they froze the funding for maintenance – and therefore the number of roads that could be resurfaced.”

And finally

Brown had earlier told Morning Report there had been a 27 percent reduction in relaying of roads under Labour.

Parker said that was “absolutely wrong”.

“Actually he knows that, that is so, with respect, dishonest because he was at a select committee where I showed him the graph of the kilometres of road that have been resurfaced now compared with the halving of it when he was in government, or when his party was in government, and they froze the maintenance fund.”

Let’s take a look at what the data says about these claims

Transport funding in NZ is determined by a few different processes. It starts with the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which is renewed every three years – though with a 10-year outlook. The GPS sets out the government’s strategic priorities and as well as the various government policies and priorities, it determines an upper and lower limit of funding for each high-level activity. These activities include how much funding should go to towards things such as state highway and local road improvements and maintenance, public transport provision, road policing and a range of other areas. For the purposes of this post there are two activities we’re interested, those for State Highway and Local Road Maintenance.

Waka Kotahi then use those funding limits when coming up with their National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), which is also renewed every three years with a 10-year outlook. The NLTP outlines where and how Waka Kotahi will invest the funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) which is funding primarily by fuel taxes and road user charges. The overall funding in the NLTP for each activity is meant to fall between those upper and lower limits set in the GPS.

The GPS was introduced as part of reforms of the transport sector by Labour in 2008 and they had released a draft of the first one but it was replaced by National after they won the election that same year. National made a number of changes to it, particularly significantly boosting funding for State Highway improvements to fund their Roads of National Significance but that came at the expense of other activities.

The graphs below the midpoint in the funding ranges for the two maintenance activities for that draft Labour GPS and all of the subsequent GPS’s. You can see quite clearly that the funding for maintenance dropped significantly, especially in 2012, and was increased again by Labour after they were elected in 2017 with the 2021-24 almost back to being in line with what was first proposed in 2008.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s also worth remembering that in 2010 National changed the rules to allow for larger 53 ton trucks. These heavier trucks have put more pressure on road surfaces only exacerbating the problem of less funding.

Given the GPS is reviewed every 3 years, I’ve then taken the ranges for relevant years and looked at what was actually spent or is projected to be spent based on the current NLTP. This is shown below with the funding range shown in a lighter colour and the actual amount spent in green – which extends back prior to the GPS process. Further, I’ve also included the amount spent on road resurfacing in yellow – as you can see this is just a portion of the money spent on maintenance. Finally you’ll notice a couple of periods where spending is above the maximum range, this is due to additional funding for responding to the Kaikoura earthquake as well as the flooding and cyclone damage this year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Based on this it’s clear that Labours claim of funding being frozen by National was correct, however the big increases in pavements and seals funding is only really this year and next year.

Furthermore, Waka Kotahi also publish data on the length of works completed each year. These graphs show how many lane-km of road were resurfaced and also how much was rehabilitated and that tells a different story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you can see, resurfacing has roughly doubled on the state highway network since the nadir of 2015/16 and rehabilitation has also increased. However, local roads have gone the other way so in some ways, both Brown and Parker are correct, each picking numbers to suit their narrative.

Share this


  1. Most people can see through National’s Pothole Relief Policy and it’s all just soundbites. It’s really just another way to describe what is already happening under the government in terms of road maintenance.

  2. Does this mean that the heavier trucks are the main cause of the problem especially when the road was originally designed for a load less than 53t? If this is the case then the heavier truck should be banned from some of the roads where the road are not designed to cope with the load.

    1. Alternatively we can switch to a RUC regime that charges the maintenance costs incurred by the trucks. This is a knowable amount, so the costs of maintenance should be directly borne by the vehicle.

      This helps WK as more of the funding can come directly from the source of the problem.

        1. @ Black Fan

          That’s why we put trains on dedicated rights of way instead of mixing them up with other traffic.

          Unless you’re in Australia, but a 200 tonne road-train is not likely to be roaming city streets.

      1. The current Road User Charges attempts or claims to attempt to do that. In effect the damage done to roads by heavy trucks is considerably more than they are charged even though they are charged on a weight per axle basis.

        1. Then there’s justification to properly allocate the damage caused by vehicles, rather than limiting such allocation.

  3. Most of this issue,maintenance, has come about because no- one wants to really face up to the cost of building and maintaining the roading network. The consequence of allowing heavier trucks on the road is coming home to roost,from casual observation, any repairs are short lived.
    On the resealing/repair front,in Onehunga,our road had the Watercare pipeline put in,there was debate about how it should be reinstated,and who paid,eventually the “expensive ” smooth seal was relaid,shows no signs of decay after seven years. Side street however,was done with ” cheaper” tar and chip,would have 20 plus repairs in 1 kilometer,another street resurfaced with tar and chip,has had the new surface wash away,it was done a year ago,you can feel the rubber shredding off the tryres in your car,and a mountain bike is better on it than a road bike.
    Auckland,and the rest of the country are living beyond their means,rateswise, and grown up conversations need to be had about that,politics ,as always gets in the way,but eventually the bill has to be paid.

  4. I do not understand National or ACT. We all know that the free market is much more efficient than the government / city councils. So the solution to this issue is obviously to privatize all roads and let the market handle this.

    This would allow to reduce my taxes and rates considerably as well.

    1. Interesting proposal, but as an asset sale it would dwarf any previous SOE.

      What do I pay for crossing the road?

    2. We don’t know that at all. Is private enterprise more efficient at defense? Can private enterprise replace our justice system? What evidence do you rely on that says private enterprise is better at allocating a transport budget? Private enterprise is better at things where a market exists provided that market isn’t a monopoly or monopsony. Other that that private enterprise buggers things up to suit itself.

    3. “… We all know that the free market is much more efficient than the government / city councils. So the solution to this issue is obviously to privatize all roads and let the market handle this.”

      No. The private sector is only better where there are many providers all producing the same good and where consumers have a choice. That is impossible to do with a road network which is much better off as a public good.

      “This would allow to reduce my taxes and rates considerably as well.” – No. You would pay user fees which would also incorporate a profit (return on capital). Your cost would increase.

  5. As EVs and various hybrids become more common- are there any signs yet – however small – of a potential flatlining in income from petrol tax?
    When this happens how will road funding – for new roads and for maintenance – work?
    Is any work on options being done by Transport or Treasury? Interesting that ACT is talking about road tolls.

      1. This is annoying. They should NOT be doing that without sortition and deliberation.

        It’s an irresponsible way to cement the values of the status quo.

        1. I think they’re still at the exploration stage of “what sort of views are out there” – from my perspective of engagement it was focused on asking what people value, or what they think is fair rather than what specific interventions they wanted. It was also focused on recording different views, rather than trying to build an artificial consensus.

          There was a second round – the results of which have not been released as far as I know – that involved/will involve a series of deliberative democracy/citizens assembly style workshops to discuss options in more detail with representative groups.

    1. The biggest hurdle is political.

      a) Governments have not increased fuel excise tax for some time in line with inflation. Thus funding is getting squeezed. (Politically impossible to raise fuel excise tax right at the moment due to high inflation)

      b) EV’s are not being charged RUCs when they should be. The discount EV’s get is to not to have to pay the ETS. This is squeezing funding further.

      c) We need to get back to basics.
      We need inflation down & then the fuel excise tax and RUCs lifted and make EVs pay. Its meant to be a user pays system, so let the users pay so we have a fully maintained transport system.

      d) Then get rid of the tax and ratepayer subsidies and make road users pay the full costs (+welfare changes as needed). This will reduce VKT and emissions. Land use change and better accessibility will help but will take a long time to achieve.

      e) Moving to full road pricing is a red herring and is not needed yet (but it is the best long term solution).

    2. Hi
      There are moves to switch to RUC funding. This would mean you would pay an annual or six monthly charge where you pay for the wear and tear you incur using the road network. The wear and tear caused by vehicles is knowable, so it makes sense to charge for that through RUC for every vehicle. Obviously, buses would be exempt because of the public good the have.

      This will ensure that at a minimum, WK get sufficient funding to keep the network in good repair, without having to rely on fuel taxes.

      If drivers find they are paying too much, they can switch to alternatives; bus, walking, cycling, or swapping their vehicle for a lighter one.

  6. Excellent analysis thanks, Matt.

    With the urgent need to reduce emissions, the solution is clear:

    Every project (renewal, repair and improvement) needs to have firm modeshift and VKT reduction requirements. Using road reallocation of traffic lanes to wider footpaths and bus and cycle lanes works two ways:

    – reduces vehicle traffic, thus reducing the wear and tear, and
    – reduces the area of pavement that vehicles drive on, thus reducing the renewals and repairs burden.

    1. Does every solution for you include the eradicating of motor vehicles
      NZ needs roads. We need roads for the movement of goods and people. I don’t want to think about emergency services being delayed in their deployment because the road upgrades had to include a super cycle way and a wide footpath.
      We need roads for heavy transport because we don’t have rail to every farm gate and factory in NZ.
      What is needed is a fair allocation of costs and resources. Trucks, cars and cyclists need to pay a reasonable price to contribute to the building and maintenance of infrastructure. Obviously if you are operating heavy transport, you are going to pay more, but a Tesla should pay the same RUC as a V8 ute. And yes, cyclists should pay a fee – say $200 on every new bike sold.
      Rates are not a fair way to pay for infrastructure either. RUC charges need to be combined with an annual regional fee that takes road costs out of rates.
      As for why our pot holes exist, it’s the same as in the US and UK, Governments are looking to save money. The closure of the oil refinery at Marsden Point won’t help either as now NZ needs to import bitumen and no one wants to sell it to us.

        1. What positive benefit is from cycling? Yes, ok if you are wearing Lycra and riding a sports bike for your 2 hour weekend ride, then there is cardio benefits. However, if you are cycling to work on your ebike then there are no health benefits and you are creating carbon emissions.
          Everyone should make a fair contribution to the infrastructure costs. Cycle lanes are very expensive so it is only fair that cyclists pay a little. Roads are also very expensive and cars and especially heavy vehicles must pay a lot.

        2. Kim K from Korea.

          The impact on road surfaces for a standard car vs a bicycle is greater than 10,000 times, and even greater larger vehicles such as SUV’s. This would mean for every $100 a vehicle user contributes, the person on the bicycle would incur a charge of less than 1 cent. Effectively since they already pay general taxes and rates, whether they are an owner, renter or dependent of one, they are already contributing.

          There are most definitely health benefits for riding an e-bike, as the rider still has to pedal. The carbon emissions are next to nothing. The amount of energy required to charge an e-bike battery is ridiculously low.

          Bike lanes have calculated benefit-cost ratios of anywhere between 6-30. This is because they are relatively cheap to build and maintain, they encourage riding over driving, and come with notable economic benefits in terms of decongestion, air pollution reduction and improved physical health and wellbeing.

        3. Are you ok Kim K?

          Cycling makes you happy, and the more cyclists the fewer people in cars! So cars should probably pay cyclists.

        4. But motorists pay taxes as well and small cars and motorcycles make little damages.
          Infrastructure must be paid for roads and cycle paths, in interest of fairness, all users must pay.
          I don’t think a one off tax of $200 per bike is unreasonable. Car drivers pay much more and truck drivers pay a lot more again. All of course fair.
          Riding an ebike does not get you fit or else Mrs Kim would not be so fat or wheezing when she walks up the steps. Still she likes to ride her bike and it would be better to pay $200 contributions than have angry drivers honking at her.

        5. Stop trolling Kim. There no way a cyclist registration would ever work. It’s hard enough to get cycling numbers as it is. Helmet laws, dangerous roads etc. The evidence is there if we all pay our share of healthcare, damage to roads etc then cyclist would logically get paid.

        6. It’s disingenuous to believe that anyone riding a bike would receive any different treatment from motorists if they were required to pay $200 to purchase a bike.

      1. Kim half* of local roads are paid for our of rates , so people on bikes are paying half of the cost of the roads, but they occupy far less than 1/2 of the roadspace a car takes up and do far less road damage than a 1 tonne motor vehicle. So it could and should be argued that people on bikes are already paying more than their fair share.
        And then there is the argument that just as a person in a car should be prepared to pay for roading expansion in the vain hope that it will reduce road congestion for them. So just as they are prepared to pay for something like that (that won’t work due to more traffic being induced onto empty roads) , they should be prepared to pay for things that make it easier for them to drive – like enticing people away from driving onto bikes or public transport.
        *(in most jurisdictions – some rural areas pay a bit less – It depends on your regional FAR – Funding Assistance Rate – Auckland like Nelson will be at 51% – very very close to 1/2 paid by rates)

        1. I agree with your comments Peter. Roads should not be paid for by rate payers unless that means that all house renters pay a toll to use the roads home owners paid for, Of course a ridiculous idea.
          Better is that everyone pays a road tolling system like we have in Korea. If you drive truck, you of course must pay more than if you ride bicycle. Recovering the income was easy for oil cars but now not so simple for electric and hybrid. NZ need to put toll gantries on all roads and then all vehicles get charged. If you get caught trying to cheat the system, the Government crush your vehicle. This is too hard to police for cyclists, so best to just charge a one off fee on all new bike sales. If you want to avoid the fee, buy second hand bike. It is not about the size of the vehicle. I drive a Hyundai (patriot) but I need to pay same as man driving big holden. Its ok. Mrs Kim pays $200 for her bike. I pay $2000 for my hyundai and truck driver pays $20000. That is fair.

  7. It’s also been a very wet year, double the average rainfall in many places. Water and heavy traffic means potholes and also makes proper fixes difficult. Simeon Brown seems completely oblivious to this factor though.

    1. Agree. Here in Taranaki we had an extremely wet winter last year and potholes were appearing everywhere. This year hasn’t been nearly as wet and while there are some potholes, it’s nothing like last year.

    2. When we move into a warmer dryer El Nino period the potholes will magically disappear and so anyone in government will be happy to claim that they fixed the problem. No need for $0.5b pothole fund, the transport policies of any party will be just as effective at solving this problem, as it will solve itself.

  8. As a sworn anti car person, I love pot holes. But it is sad that they are the political football when we need climate friendly investment to amplify.

    Roads are a luxury that we can no longer afford, if they have pot holes it is because they should not be there, or as you say, we have let the trucking lobby keep our rail and coastal shipping networks at bay for decades.

    Particularly here in Auckland, and many other parts of the country, we are finally recognising Te Tiriti and it’s true meaning; it is the perfect opportunity to move our transport to more traditional methods: te hikoi (walk), the bike, the skateboard, the rollerblades, te waka (kayak/dragonboat/canoe/raft/surfboard, and the greatest contribution of the empire, trains (electric).

    Health benefits will take pressure away from our health services and lower speeds in uncontrolled spaces will reduce accidents.

    Most importantly we won’t need to continue to put up with horrific drink driving statistics and ineffective campaigns; just minus the roads so the drunks have to walk!

    I am of course talking from a very urban perspective, but given the addictive nature of just about everything we consider a leisure activity, gambling and vaping could potentially be addressed by the exhilaration and adrenaline of descending the Harbour Bridge, safely!!!


    1. I would love not to use car but it is so hard to get around the city or travel to other city without a other form of mean that is bus or train. For example I want to go to Tauranga or Rotorua quickly or with a short notice and it is not easy. Same with going from New Lynn to Brown Bay in North Shore in less than hour.
      If Auckland was a compact city, it would be easy to get around.

      1. While not the densest place on earth, its hardly a sprawling metropolis.

        It would be fairly easy to allow you to move around the region if we just invested in the infrastructure, upped the performance of the RTNs we have and then intertwined that with an active mode network.

        Its just we choose not to do it. But we are pretty good at forcing people into cars for every trip.

        1. What? Auckland is “hardly a sprawling metropolis” ?? I totally disagree. Auckland is the very definition of sprawling. It is way more biggerer than it has a right to be – growing like a cancer – swallowing up good productive farmland and horticultural land as it goes.

          So, if sprawl and the resulting roads are part of the cancer, then the potholes are a manifestation of that – like lesions on the skin of a cancer patient. They are not, in themselves, going to kill us, but they are an obvious and highly visible of the problem that lies within.

        2. Auckland is the classic example of low-density sprawl. Not sure where it ranks now, but not too long ago it was second only to Los Angeles for size of sprawl.

        3. “…not too long ago it was second only to Los Angeles for size of sprawl.” I always thought that was an urban myth. Any citation?

          OK, so it sprawls. My point was it’s not such a massive metropolis that we couldn’t, relatively quickly, give most people non-car options to get around the region.

          Implement 24/7 bus lanes on all the major traffic routes. Up all frequencies on those bus routes and on the rail lines. Weave it together with active transit lanes on smaller roads.

          Done. And without billions on light rail, etc.

        4. “Up all frequencies on those bus routes..”

          I meant “all” bus routes.

          Have a look at a map and the rail lines, state highways and other major throughfares. Where not already a busway or rail line, fitting them with 24/7 busways gives you massive coverage of the area and, Aucklanders.

  9. Matt you say “National made a number of changes to it, particularly significantly boosting funding for State Highway improvements to fund their Roads of National Significance but that came at the expense of other activities”
    Which seems to imply that the RONs money came out of the National Land Transport Fund. Its my understanding that the RONs funding came out of general government coffers outside of the NLTF, is that not true?

    1. No, it mostly came from the NLTF at the expense of smaller projects like safety improvements & road realignments etc that often had a higher economic benefit.

  10. Anecdotally there has been an exponential increase in the use of H-plated trucks on the nation’s highways and related reductions in the level of freight on the railways.
    Along with that comes the potholes – by and large not created by 1-2-tonne cars, utes or vans. For that the logistics industry in particular, as well as KiwiRail and its pricing are guilty. With the truckers bleating on about lack of drivers, maybe it’s time for them to make better use of their human resources to concentrate on delivery rather than long-haul. Maybe they could also use the physical rail or sea resources also available so they don’t inflict their physical presence negatively on so many communities.

  11. The use of the heavier trucks combined with freezing funding would certainly mean things went downhill. The roads, once cracks and water gets in them really crap out. So the catch up has been hard to achieve.

    It’s a ridiculous policy to micromanage pot hole maintenance.

  12. Really insidious is the declared “pothole policy” idea that funding must only be spent on like-for-like renewal with no safety or roadspace improvements, which are the most cost-effective way of sorting problems out together.

  13. This is typical National smoke and mirrors BS. There are comparatively few potholes on state highways.
    Most of them are on local roads which are only partly funded by NLTF. The rest comes from rates and we’ve seen what a s s***t show that’s been. So nonsense policy announcement or not, the potholes are probably here to stay.
    It’s not fun finding one on a bicycle at night…
    Yes the weather is a factor. National wouldn’t mention that because climate change is an externality and free market economics can’t handle externalities.

  14. Given the GPS is reviewed every 3 years, I’ve then taken the ranges for relevant years and looked at what was actually spent or is projected to be spent based on the current NLTP. Play game The Baby In Yellow online.

  15. This is the result of poor decision making in 2010 when truck combination weights were increased from 44 to 50 plus tonnes. The government of the time ignored road construction experts that predicted this outcome. The chooses are rebuild NZ roads to a higher standard or reduce truck weights.

  16. In the suburbs of Auckland and the arterial routes that link the suburbs the Road Surfaces have been neglected by Auckland Council and its Council Controlled Organisation – Auckland Transport for the last 3 years.

    Most people in Auckland know that AT isn’t a “Controlled” Organisation at all, it’s a bottomless pit for Public Money and an organisation that is, to all but the blind or those who simply can’t see, a fat CCO with too many people and clearly an inability to do the simple things, like maintain the streets & roads across Auckland City and its suburbs.

    In the last 3 years road surfaces and road markings across Auckland have been largely ignored leaving Auckland’s roads & streets emulating some of the third-world countries I have been to.

    We’ve recently had family from the US and Germany visit one of the first things they both noticed and commented on was how the roading infrastructure has deteriorated since they last visited 3 years ago, and also commented how the curbs of our arterial roads were full of rubbish and debris as well as weeds growing over the curbs and some footpaths around Auckland!

    It’s as if no one at Auckland Transport or Council really cares about Auckland Roading Network and or Road Safety.

    It, therefore, fair & reasonable to ask the question: Where is the money going that Auckland Transport gets from Ratepayers, Road Users, NZTA, Public Transport Fares and Parking Enforcement. ??????????

    Having well-maintained road surfaces and continually updated road markings are two of the key features in maintaining road safety and safe travel for all road users – who pay for everything one way or the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *