One thing that’s not been reported much yet about the catastrophically bad draft Government Policy Statement released on Monday is what it means for local government around the country. Reading through the document, it was a bit surprising how little local government was mentioned at all – seemingly ignorant of the massive role district and regional councils play in delivering transport services and infrastructure.

The diminished role of local government in the GPS plays out in a few places. Most critically in the different activity classes, where local councils depend on what’s called “co-funding” from the National Land Transport Fund to cover around half the cost of public transport services, infrastructure, walking and cycling projects that they deliver. Big reductions in these areas will leave big holes in the budgets of local councils.

Local government is set to lose significant ‘co-funding’ from the NLTF in public transport, walking and cycling – compared with last year’s draft GPS.

Big funding cuts to public transport, walking and cycling will hit particularly hard in Auckland, where Auckland Council just released their draft 10-year budget. Government has already announced it will end the Regional Fuel Tax four years early – costing the Council around $600 million of revenue and likely pushing back the completion dates for many important transport projects.  By significantly reducing the available “co-funding” in areas like public transport services, public transport infrastructure, walking and cycling, this is a further hit to the Council’s budget.

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I assume many officials are running numbers right now to better understand these implications – but I wouldn’t be surprised if this bites hardest for public transport services. We can likely expect many of the existing planned service improvements to be put on hold and can we’ll likely see further fare hikes and service cuts.

As discussed previously, the GPS also reaches right into some very detailed areas of project design that would normally be left to local government to work through. The NLTF can seemingly no longer be used for certain types of projects – like raised pedestrian crossings or inline bus stops – despite evidence that these are often very effective designs. A standard modern project like “Te Honohono ki Tai Road” near Warkworth, which is nothing special but includes a cycleway and (shock horror) footpaths, now seems like it would need to be funded through an extremely convoluted combination of different activity classes.

If we look at Auckland Transport’s 2021-31 Regional Land Transport Programme and exclude all of the public transport, active mode and safety specific projects, we’re largely left with these corridor improvements. Almost all are actually multi-modal to some degree.

I feel very sorry for staff at local councils and Waka Kotahi who will somehow need to trawl through detailed project budgets to work out how much money was spent on incredibly minute different design components. How many extra staff is that going to require?

It’s also not clear what happens to projects that have a consented ‘multi-modal’ design but may not be able to access funding from some of the activity classes because they’re fully used up – this applies to Waka Kotahi projects too. Take the East-West Link as an example, the government have labelled it as one of their priority Roads of National Significance but the existing consent conditions require not only the construction of new shared paths but existing shared paths, the land under which is needed for the new road, aren’t allowed to be closed until replacements have been built. Do these multi-modal projects need to be abandoned or do they need to go back to the drawing board and get new consents to exclude the multi-modal elements? This is the kind of mess you get from a Minister more interested in a culture war against transport choice, than in making evidence-based policy.

As I said on Tuesday, some sort of co-ordinated backlash from local government against the GPS is probably the most likely avenue to seeing change. The crazy restrictions on activity classes is an area that almost certainly will need to change, to avoid some of the bureaucratic nightmare I detailed above. And perhaps once it becomes clear how much public transport services might need to be cut due to the loss of NLTF “co-funding”, I can see a few tweaks potentially occurring.

I just hope it doesn’t pass ‘under the radar’ of councils that are neck-deep in developing their own budgets, because these changes really are disastrous for them.

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  1. You sum this up perfectly: a Minister more interested in a culture war against transport choice, than in making evidence-based policy.

    1. The “culture war” is actually a class war. The goal is attack and undermine the professional middle class (academics, policy experts, artists/writers), who are seen as the social base for liberalism, by destroying their jobs and social status – whether by politically motivated sackings or propaganda campaigns against their “woke” contributions in favour of relying on vibes/talkback hosts/AI. (Cf. Siouxsie Wiles). The modern equivalent of what Thatcher did to the miners, except that policy experts regrettably won’t go on strike.

      1. I thought the whole of Aotearoa was mainly Middle Class ? We certainly don’t have an Upper Class in the way that Britain has a landed aristocracy. We have mainly killed off the working class, by deleting their jobs. (My mother once tried to put her Occupation down as Peasant on her Passport application, but it was refused by Internal Affairs, becase, you know, we don’t have peasants here).

        We really just have a monied class (eg Key, Luxon etc) and all the rest of us are either Middle Class or Unemployed.

        1. The classless thing is a myth. We have a class of people who were born with everything they will ever need. The don’t have aristocratic titles but that is the only difference. They are more of a gentry. We also have working class people and a non-working class (like the UK does) who may aspire to being working class but face obstacles.

        2. there absolutely is a class system in NZ. The old age that NZers are fundamentally fair and egalitarian has long been shown to not be the case. Clearly not as obvious as it is in the UK but it still exists. The recent work completed by the IRD on wealth in NZ highlights this perfectly as does plenty of stats from the stats dept. Essentially 95% of wealth is owned by 50% of the country but worse is that 50% is owned by the top 10% or figures roughly aligned to that trend. Somehow the ‘middle class’ don’t seem to realise that they are closer to the bottom than the top and keep perpetuating policies that benefit the top 10% at the expense of everyone else.

        3. The changes around second home interest write-off says all.

          Benefit the rich at the expense of the poor (again). NZ is going backwards incredibly quickly.

          I’ll expect to see serfs when I’m next home (seriously).

      2. They won’t strike because they have the option of retreating back to easy jobs and waiting until a future government of numpties is elected who want lots of reports and no action. Thatcher got a hell of a lot wrong but collapsing the coal industry had to happen sooner or later. She got that one right.

        1. Nonsense. Nobody wants to write endless useless reports that never do anything. The business case hell and endless “NZ context” research demands were from status quo warriors engaging in predatory delay until a rubbish government like this one could come in and go back to BAU. The past two governments weren’t as effective as steamrolling their opposition and also got sold on fanciful “design for 100-year demand” silliness.

        2. Who are the status quo warriors, deimos? Because it kinda seems like the status quo warriors are the “public” “servants” who decided to write endless useless reports that never did anything until such a time as the consequent lack of progress returned National to power and the sacred duty of building the East-West link could resume.

          If the status quo warriors aren’t the people in and in charge of the bureaucracy, who are they?

      3. I have been thinking about your comment. It is a class war but if academics have lost credibility, the fault largely sits with the people who have been academics over the last 30 years. They spent too much time trying to tell people what to do and make an issue out of nothing like attacking the language. Most of us can accept their knowledge and ability to express positive analyses based on data. But they almost always want to express normative views which are just as biased as anybody else can express.

        We are in a situation where the mob have lost confidence in people who want to tell them what to do. Telling the mob they are wrong isn’t going to win that confidence back.

        1. That is more just old vs young. Wellington City Council attracts particularly useless people from all walks of life. There are conservatives who want to waste money rebuilding a town hall that should have been demolished or greens who want to waste money on everything else. None of them have any idea how to provide water. Now my Wellington rates will increase to hand money over to an international company that owns a derelict cinema.

    2. The GPS is a brilliant piece of legislation written by gifted and innovative transport professionals using robust evidence and with best interests of NZ in mind (i.e. not written by lobbyists). Just kidding – this will be a disaster.
      Auckland needs to declare a gridlock and traffic emergency to educate people about this dangerous government & War on AKL (WLg, chch etc).

      I need to fly the flag that Auckland is rapidly approaching gridlock and much worse traffic performance e.g. 100,000 new people in last 2 years, still strong population growth then combine with lower spend PT/ active modes and halting a load of worthy projects with loss of fuel tax spending. population up, solutions down then a bunch of next to useless RON stuff which won’t open for 10 years optimistically and motorways are full as soon as they open.

  2. No one wins from the GPS. No one.

    Rely on walking? Expect sidewalks to be cracked and unstable with no plans in fixing them, or be nothing but a dirt path made by other people’s attempts to walk.

    Rely on cycling? Expect cycle paths to be closed indefinitely due to ‘maintenance’, and having to rely on dangerous, fast-moving roads to get to places (assuming they’re not already congested to hell)

    Rely on public transport? Expect more cancellations, less services, less reliability, and more fare increases. If you’re on a bus, enjoy the congestion view. If you like trains, expect more disappointment.

    Rely on cars? Expect more congestion as people realise this is the only future the government wants. Potholes aren’t going away, in fact you might see more of them as demand continues to grow. Expect more road closures because of maintenance and less temporary traffic management. And expect to pay more at the pump and your vehicle rego to help fund highways that are 1000’s of kilometres away.

    Who wins from the GPS? I’m still trying to figure it out, because ‘working NZ’ders’ are being screwed over, and car and highway lobbyists are shooting themselves in the foot.

    1. The commercial trucking industry is the big winner. Not just with the RONs, but the pothole fund is a 100% subsidy to trucking which is the cause of the nation’s highway potholes. It’s long past time to actively oblige a range traffics (export containers, logs etc) to switch to rail or coastal shipping for the long haul.

      1. +1 – The previous National government introduced HPMV (High Productivity Vehicles – notice the spin?) with much higher possible axle loads. Axle load increase increases road damage by the power of four (10% increase = nearly 50% more damage).

        Effectively, National are blaming Labour for the damage they caused, and raiding the non-vehicle activity classes to fix the damage.

        1. I don’t think the axle load increased, they increased the number of axles. Still the main cause of road damage especially in a soft soil, pluvial country like NZ.

        2. It may have reduced damage because the same amount of freight could be moved by fewer trucks with more axles so less deadweight of vehicles.

        3. But… I don’t think there has actually ever been less trucks (or fewer) as an outcome. Bigger trucks, more axles, more weight on the roads, more damage overall to the roads. 44 tonne >> 55 tonne?

        4. The speed limit for trucks in NZ is 90kpH so that is what the weight damage will be calculated on. When did you last see a truck doing 90kph? So they are already inflicting far more damage than the RUC they pay for. On roads like the Waikato express way they are doing 110kph so imagine the damage they are doing. No wonder there are long stretch’s of it being repaired. Something like 67% of all money spent on roads is for R and M. This is only going to get worse as more high speed roads are opened. For example the waterview tunnel costs 15 million per year in operating costs. Transmission gully cost us 110 million per year in payments to have a supposed free road.

        5. Average if there is now more freight moving then surely that is because the benefits of moving it outweigh the costs. The HPMVs have a heavier load but the same axle loadings. The extra axles on the road mean freight can be moved with fewer trucks if freight quantities stay the same. That means fewer truck bodies and motors loading the roads. It is like adding an extra wagon on a train.

  3. Shifting costs onto local government while not improving their revenue sources or infrastructure financing tools is likely to lead to further backlashes against housing zoning reform.

    The international evidence is clear on this matter.

    Without zoning and infrastructure supply reform New Zealand will experience higher rents, higher house price to income ratios, more pressure on cost of living. It will affect recruitment and retention of skilled staff i.e. productivity, as well as making it difficult to reform the built environment to help the fight against climate change, and to improve inequality/child poverty because expensive yet poor quality housing is the underlying socially determined factor behind problems in health, education, social welfare etc.

    Finally, it is part of the culture war of ‘new city’ types wanting change versus status quo ‘old town’ types who fear change or who benefit from the NZ economy being focused on selling houses to each other at ever higher prices.

    I detail the evidence in Part two of this paper on “Why the sixth Labour government failed and its implications for the next government”.

    The basic idea is the following.

    “The underlying idea of the growing the growth coalition concept is a social contract whereby the residents of a city and a region agree to allowing more houses to be built and having more people move into the area in exchange for better infrastructure or some other collective improvement. For example, better transport connectivity.

    I would be deeply suspicious of a continuation of the top-down steam roller strategy with the likes of capacity assessments. For instance, National’s 30 years of zoned housing supply capacity will be subverted without wholesale reform to how local government funds infrastructure. The subversion process has already started.”

    1. That is an interesting article Brendon. I think the first step is to refocus local government politicians on the things that matter rather than the things they think will make them popular. Central government can do that with effective penalties. Take away the things the local politicians care about. We know what those things are because that is where they spend the money. So if shit flows in streets, fine them the Town Hall building and sell it. If water pipes break and there is a shortage, take away the events centre and sell it for housing. Fairly quickly the local elected people will start to care about underground services. Fairly quickly people will vote in people who care about underground services rather than some idiot who made a name in party politics.

  4. “we’ll likely see further fare hikes ”

    Its not just likely, its certain, and in fact it is an expectation of the GPS

    “• Increased public transport fare box recovery and third-party revenue will be
    expected from local government. ” ( Page 21)

    1. Councils may choose to cut services instead of raising fares. In either case, expect patronage growth to be sluggish compared to previous years.

      I’m also interested in what will happen post CRL. Will we actually see an increase in the number of train services if Auckland Transport can’t afford to actually run them because of budget cuts? In that case, it seems like we spent an awful amount of money just to ignore one of the great benefits that the CRL provides.

      1. … which will “prove” that PT projects are not worth their money. So we can ditch the rest o them.

    2. The expectation is to load cost onto local government, this will increase the rate payer backlash. There will not be infrastructure reform needed to build more houses and to address issues like population growth and climate change.
      If residents are angry they will not agree to zoning reform need to provide affordable housing.
      A good proportion of ACT, NZF, and National actually want this. They want the finger pointed at local government. Or they want immigrants and population growth blamed for causing the housing crisis. They also might want restricted house zoning because they profit from it. Especially because there is no capital gains tax.
      These issues have received so much publicity over several decades. So it is no accident the system is the way it is.

      1. Exactly: “New Zealand will experience higher rents, higher house price to income ratios, more pressure on cost of living”

        This is a feature, not a bug, to the landlord class

        I include myself as a landlord, who is wondering why suddenly I am being the favored class despite not contributing as much to NZ productivity as other types of business.

    3. It is certain given the prolonged high inflation which has now become endemic, an ongoing cost of living crisis. Government cost cutting and higher interest rates, a slowing economy and unemployment inevitably follow. Politics says media attention around $500,000 tables means no more funding, part of the cost cutting trickle down. All the result of the previous governments print, borrow and spend

      1. Except they are not proposing to cut costs. They are proposing to build ridiculous highway boondoggles that have BRCs way less than 1, even when taking into account inflated usage estimates and dubious decongestion benefits. Of course, these projects will benefit wealthy donors and pander to the kinds of voters who only care about having to slow down their cars once in a while. They’re only cutting the stuff that actually delivers benefits to Kiwis.
        And no, speed tables did not cost anywhere near $500k. Even the Herald retracted that nonsense claim, albeit in tiny print on p100.

  5. The NZH reports that KiwiRail is out of money for the final stages of its $330 million Rail Network rebuild in Auckland. They say they used up all the money doing work on the Eastern Line tracks, which is stage two of the project.
    “Then Waka Kotahi was able to give us another $75 million – that’s enough to do the Western Line from Newmarket to New Lynn, [stage three] which is what we’re doing now,” the spokesman said.
    “We don’t have the money. It’s not funded – nothing west of New Lynn, not even [minor] drainage work,” the spokesman said.
    Full replacements of railway foundations, tracks and sleepers over the whole network, which KiwiRail said was “crucial … to get Auckland’s rail network up to standard ahead of the opening of the City Rail Link”, depends on any further funding.
    It’s so expensive and I wonder if necessary to dig up a meter or more of the ground under all the lines in the network.

  6. As a transport engineer, this new minister has already killed off – quite literally – two of my larger projects (both active mode projects – one by pulling the funding, one by proposing a massive new highway that clashes with it).

    And I already have agencies watering down the safety features in two of my smaller projects (one on a state highway in a town centre, one on a rural arterial in a town centre).

    Agencies are essentially jumping ahead boots all and implementing this *draft* GPS already – when they fought and dragged their feet on most of the progressive changes that Auckland Council or the Labour / Greens ministers wanted. Shows where their heart sits.

    1. That last bit hits hard. I’m sure a lot of senior people at Waka Kotahi NZTA and Auckland Transport are relieved that they don’t even have to pretend to care about walking and cycling anymore.

    2. NZ needs a full clean out of the baby boomer generation from the decision process effecting our nation’s combined future.

      The lot of them are stuck in 1960s ways thinking which helps no one today. From the PM down to local councillors to many at AT.

      I feel sorry for those involved (young and old) who want to make positive changes for NZ but continually have the rug pulled out from under their feet.

  7. The current government promised more local decision making.
    “Getting Wellington out of our lives”
    But is delivering the exact opposite.
    First axing the very largely accepted local fuel tax in Auckland that provided money to provide much more spacially efficient alternatives to car travel, in spacially challenged Auckland.
    And now a plan that attempts to homogenise car travel as the ascendant mode of transport for all of New Zealand.
    Regardless of whether it is sparsely populated rural areas where cars remain the only viable means for most transportation.

    Or our moderately sized towns with a predominant need for short journey provision. Where a lot of car journeys could be replaced by just better walking and cycling provision, and with better bus services between clustered towns and any adjacent city

    And our cities where land is quickly growing far too valuable to sacrifice for more highly spacially inefficient single occupancy vehicle movements and “at destination” parking.

    There is something fundementaly wrong with our current transport provision that our only moderately wealthy country has vehicle ownership rates in excess of the most wealthy countries in the world.

    Are they intent on looking best after our transport needs, or only the businesses of their biggest donors?

    Mayor Brown, we are dependant on your representations to reverse, or at best reduce, this obscene concentration of power to Central Government.

  8. Like the photo with Brown rabbiting on and the Person behind him with his hand over his face , like he is thinking WTF has he done NOW .

    1. Me too!
      Having attended focus groups about implenting it in Auckland ASAP, this was around about winter 2008. Some 16 years ago.
      What did we get instead? Motorway on ramp traffic lights!

      Which is not even effective demand management. Its just priviliging long commutes and through traffic.

    2. And if the government was committed to what they have said then we will have congestion charging. Remember that the prescription subsidy was scrapped because people should pay for what they can afford (except the Prime Minister of course.) So if the government was really pursuing fiscal responsibility we would have congestion charging. Motorists would pay for the benefit they derive.
      It would go further. Apparently the Southern extension to the Waikato Expressway results in productivity savings of $500m a year. The productivity savings only accrue to those who use the road of course. A fiscally responsible government might say, let’s put a toll on this section of road and bring in $400 million in revenue. Why $400million? So that those using and paying for the road will be delighted that they achieve a 25% return on their investment.
      A widespread tolling of roads will be great for poorer people because they use roads less. Less of their general taxation will be subverted for roads. It will be less unfortunate for them however that they won’t have alternatives because the govt is hell bent on running them down.
      I bet ACT will be on board because part of their mantra is to tax less, leaving money in people’s pockets because people know best how to spend it. If people really want to spend that money on roads then let them.
      So I say, bring on road charging, let the affluent pay, and we will have a fairer system where most people are not made poorer by govt’s obsession on building roads that have negligible economic benefit.

  9. The Local Government New Zealand Transport Forum chair is the New Plymouth Mayor and he’s recently done an interview on RNZ praising the GPS and the coalition and criticising Labour and Greens for critiquing it. I’m not holding my breath that Local Govt is going to come to the rescue. He was going on about how great it was that Simean Brown was providing more money for potholes.

    1. The New Plymouth area has NFI. If they think, as they have, that spending money on the Forgotten Highway that averages about 1 car an hour is helpful, then respectfully I don’t think they know which way is up.

    2. In fairness he’s also been critical of the current government for withdrawing funding from the cycleways our council has spent a significant amount of time designing, consulting and getting to a solution that has good support.

      I can see why he supports the pothole fund as my read on it is that it is for resurfacing roads, not just fixing potholes and there are plenty of highways in Taranaki with decent volumes that have pothole problems.

  10. You are missing the main point, that transport infrastructure has been degraded over many years as available funds have been diverted to public transport subsidy. The GPS seeks to restore some balance. AT’s road spending has been limited by its spending on subsidy for pubic transport services. Increasing fare box revenues (and a more equitable system of RUC and time of use or congestion pricing for road use – rather than the Petrol Tax (FED)) will improve road utilisation. AT’s public transport services ignore value for money. Bus fares could easily be doubled on some congested routes (like the NX services) without materially impacting use. On non-congested routes the bus fleet is inefficient (e.g. minibuses rather than 40 seaters should be used on low-use routes.) Outside congested routes serviced by parknrides private services should be used more. If Auckland wants more taxpayers money they have to start spending it more fairly and efficiently.

    1. If you make public transport more expensive it will get less use. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out how these people will travel instead.

      The bad news is the extra congestion this causes won’t be solved by spending $3-4 billion on a motorway between Warkworth and Wellsford.

      1. Elasticity is pretty low on popular congested routes like NX. If the service is frequent enough and reliable, you can put fares up significantly and it will still be cheaper and more convenient for users than cost of use and time lost in cars plus AC’s city car parking charges (set to go up even more). So no less riders but more revenue for AT. Financially its a no-brainer even if subsidised bus users don’t like paying more. These premium services should make money, not lose it.

        1. …and with HOP card flexibility you can have time of use pricing to charge more at peak times, and if you want to provide social support for poor people you can do it directly and credit their HOP cards. Also sensible to target the Gold Card subsidy to only apply to those with Community Service cards (and limit daily subsidy).

        2. The Northern Express already makes money without needing to increase fares. I don’t think complicating the fare system while trying to cream more off NX users is a wise idea, the simplicity of paying X while travelling from Zone 2 to Zone 1 is vital to the PT system.

          I’m fully in support of peak and off-peak fares though. AT had them for a while but they’ve disappeared.

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