Much like Auckland Transport did a year ago following local body elections, Waka Kotahi are showing their true colours by quickly
cancelling pausing walking, cycling and public transport projects in the wake of the general election. Radio NZ reports:
Waka Kotahi (New Zealand Transport Agency) is putting on hold hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for projects designed to reduce New Zealand’s emissions through encouraging walking, cycling and the use of public transport.
In a statement, the transport agency said before it could follow through with commitments already made to councils and other organisations, “it needs a clear direction from the incoming government on its transport investment priorities”.
“We have informed affected council partners and we will provide further updates as we receive direction from the incoming government.”
Waka Kotahi said the funding pause would affect the $305 million Transport Choices Programme where the transport agency was working with councils to deliver cycleways, walkable neighbourhoods and “make public transport more reliable and easier to use”.
So far 46 councils around the country have applied for Transport Choices funding.
The decision would also affect VKT (vehicle kilometres travelled) reduction planning, which aimed to lower the number of kilometres travelled by New Zealand’s light vehicle fleet through the promotion of walking, cycling and public transport use.
Both initiatives were funded via the Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF) set up by the government to support the transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy. Earlier this year it had a balance of $3.6 billion.
These are the Auckland projects that are funded by the Transport Choices programme.
Understandably, advocates like ourselves are annoyed and frustrated.
Cycling Action Network spokesperson Patrick Morgan said it was “unacceptable and outrageous” the agency was pre-empting the new government by blocking urgently needed cycling, walking and transport projects.
Dozens of councils had been left in limbo by Waka Kotahi, after putting months of work into proposals, he said.
Some already had contractors in place, so scrapping the initiatives could lead to job cuts and wasted money, Morgan said.
Living Streets Aotearoa president Tim Jones said Waka Kotahi’s actions were “very disappointing”.
“I question what message that sends to the incoming government. Waka Kotahi is an agency with a degree of statutory independence – I don’t think it’s showing much of that independence here.”
Morgan said many of councils that applied for funding from the Transport Choices Programme were in National strongholds, so he would be surprised if a National-led government pulled the plug.
“Increasingly New Zealanders understand our roads need to be safer for everyone, and that moving to low carbon transport is the way of the future.
“We have commitments under the Climate Agreement to do that, and more bike lanes, more bus lanes, and pedestrian upgrades are urgently needed.
“The government should be increasing the pace on this, not hitting the pause button.”
As Patrick says, this is outrageous and if they really cared about getting what their own evidence suggests are the best outcomes for New Zealand, they push to get as many of these projects committed before the incoming government changes the rules. If they even change them that much, as it’s not uncommon for new governments to drop some of the extreme rhetoric from their time in opposition – and National’s rhetoric was extreme over the last six years, turning every policy or decision into a culture war.
What stands out to me is I don’t recall the same thing happening in the opposite direction back in 2017 when Labour was elected. In fact, even when the Labour government gave them explicit instructions, Waka Kotahi often ignored them.
One example of this is Warkworth to Wellsford, where Waka Kotahi continued to work on design and consenting roads like Warkworth to Wellsford regardless of the change in government policy.
For another example, Labour created a new Government Policy Statement which placed a greater emphasis on safety, access, the environment and value for money. As part of that they required Waka Kotahi to re-evaluate a range of state highway projects to come up alternative solutions that were faster and cheaper to deliver than large motorway/expressways. One of those was the East-West Link and Waka Kotahi simply didn’t even bother doing it – this is also on Labour for not following it up.
The comments we were getting back from inside the organisation at the time was that many people assumed Labour would be a one-term government, so they were just going to wait it out and then get back to “business as usual” highway building. Though you could say they were successful in waiting it out, as I don’t think they delivered much on these – and most of the re-evaluated projects suddenly made it back onto the transport policies of both National and Labour. Their biggest change was to embrace a lot of green/bike/bus-washing in their statements.
Waka Kotahi needs to get on with approving the Transport Choices projects. The climate certainly isn’t waiting to see which way the new government leans.