New Zealand’s Transport Future?
The National government has just released their draft policy statement on transport. It is not a bold step into the future, more a running into the shadows of the past. This link takes you to the details: http://tinyurl.com/lna762d or you can read on here for the low lights.
Please do consider making a submission. The more people who make submissions the more chance of change. It is likely that cut and paste submissions and/or more extensive notes to base your submission on will be available through the CAN website, this site or other advocate sites on the web and on Facebook.
Let’s start at the Beginning
The GPS opens with three major goals, which are what it states it seeks to achieve. None of them are supported by the GPS.
Economic growth and productivity
When a business wishes to grow it looks at the capital available and attempts to predict what investments will offer the best returns. A factory producing large and heavy items may choose to locate next to a rail spur or port. A small dairy will seek an area with high foot traffic. A manufacturer may be tempted by a deal on used manufacturing equipment only to find that new equipment is far more energy efficient and productive, hence, well worth the increased cost over the long term. So it should be with our transport networks.
Over-reliance on motorised road transport is old technology. It offers convenience, but at a very high price. Vehicle, fuel, maintenance, insurance, parking costs are all increasing. Add in that much of these must be imported and the impact on our trade balance is also significant. The impacts on health from air pollution, lack of activity leading to obesity, the stress of driving in congested cities and accidents cost more billions and lives. A thinking person is motivated to look for better solutions. Sadly it seems that such thinking did not influence this GPS. New Zealand is a small country with limited wealth. The number eight wire approach was embraced as much out of necessity as out of natural talent.
Even relatively rich countries are finding that investing in active and public transport simply makes good sense. New York, London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago and the list goes on are all embracing the benefits of cycling and public transport. In part it is the money to be saved, in part it is coming up against the physical limits of growth. Streets and parking take space and space is limited. The urban sprawl of the last century was based on cheap energy and abundant land. Two items we no longer have.
To actually achieve economic growth and productivity, New Zealand needs to make careful use of our limited capital, be it earned or borrowed. Building an outmoded transport system at great expense that only locks us into even greater expense is not exactly a bright idea. We can learn from more progressive countries’ transport solutions and we can listen to our own people.
One can only assume that the only businesses consulted on this GPS were road building, petrol refining and sales, auto and truck sales and repair. These are all major players in today’s economy. They are not the best bet for our future.
Our roads are congested. We can build more roads and they will simply fill up with more cars. Build it and they will come. This has been the result in all parts of the world where it has been tried. People like the idea of the convenience of driving. It is an alluring easy option. That it is also elusive and expensive on personal, social and environmental grounds is often neglected, as it has been here.
When people feel frustrated stuck in traffic, road rage can sometimes arise. This does not lead to safe driving or to civil behaviour. Roads become unsafe for all. Stress levels are maintained and many of us will be sharing the day’s commute horror stories with mates. Stress is not healthy or safe.
In most of urban NZ, nearly two thirds of those who do not ride bicycles want to. They don’t as they feel unsafe. Providing them with safe connected cycle networks would let them make the mode choice that best suits. If they could choose to cycle, congestion would be reduced, stress and road rage would decrease. The people on bicycles would be safer as quality infrastructure was provided for them. The people in cars and trucks would be safer as the congestion and stress levels are decreased. Everything would move more smoothly and cheaply, too.
Investing in cycle infrastructure clearly offers far better road safety outcomes than does building Roads of National Stupidity (RoNs) and the related infrastructure.
Value for Money
This last one easily receives the least support from the GPS. In fact, the funding of RoNS and related activities undermines value for money. None of the RoNS returns more than a dollar or two for each dollar spent and some offer far less even based on the government’s estimates. This is not because there are no alternative approaches available. Whether one considers the moving of goods or of people, better options abound.
Freight movement can be efficiently achieved on the existing roading. The key is to get the cars out of the way and to move more freight more economically via sea and rail. Moving people by public transport and by bicycle also frees up roading for freight. The reduced congestion allows freight to move more easily.
So, what is the problem? Trucking companies insist that road freight is best. And, it is more efficient for them to use monster trucks, extra long and extra heavy to move freight. This economic efficiency may well be true, for the trucking company. But the need for far more robust roads and bridges, greatly increased damage done to roads and the lethal results when accidents occur finds that such efficiency is far too costly for taxpayers, ratepayers and the victims of accidents.
Some truck transport is obviously still required to effectively move goods to all the places desired. Should people have the option to walk, cycle or use public transport the roads will be less congested. Trucks will find it easier and quicker to get around. Even without having to spend billions.
Whether due to incompetence, graft or simply blind ideology, those who drafted this plan have done the New Zealand public and economy no favours at all. Siphoning off billions to subsidise the trucking industry is not a prescription for economic efficiency or growth.
Building cycling infrastructure typically returns $5 or more for each dollar invested. Adding in the public health benefits of getting people fit and reducing air pollution adds between $15-25 to this figure. Besides, a great many people really would like to cycle.
Investing in cycle infrastructure clearly offers far better value for money than does building Roads of National Stupidity and the related infrastructure.
What does this GPS Promote?
Roads for cars, roads for trucks. Roads of National Significance, primarily freight and commute routes with very dubious benefits. Public Transport gets just under 14% of the transport dollar. The share for cycling is less than half of a percent of the transport spend. And even that is overly optimistic. The last GPS on Transport from this government moved Local Government NZ to complain that local bodies would be forced to spend nearly all their road funding on projects in support of the GPS, leaving little for local needs. This GPS provides cycle funding on a 50/50 matching basis to local bodies. But, if local bodies are cash strapped due to being required to fund projects in support of the GPS, they don’t build cycle infrastructure. So don’t expect to see a lot of the funding actually spent.
No More Roads?
Are all roads for motorised vehicles bad? No. We will need to spend some money on maintenance and upgrades, even some new routes. But the one-sided funding and focus of this GPS is simply stupid. Worse yet, it locks NZ into taking on billions in debt to build infrastructure, which is clearly not the best approach to deliver long term economic performance, road safety or even offers value for money. It is blatantly and undeniably wrong.