On the move

Dr Matthew Birchall
Insights Newsletter
8 March, 2024

On Monday, Transport Minister Simeon Brown released the long-awaited draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. The GPS outlines the Government’s priorities for investment in New Zealand’s transport network over the next ten years and how it expects NZTA and local authorities to manage the $7 billion annual National Land Transport Fund.

Replacing the previous Labour Government’s draft GPS, released for consultation in August 2023, this draft plan serves as a preliminary transport budget, targeting investments in state highway construction and road maintenance.

The central plank of the draft GPS is the reinstatement of the Key Government’s Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme, with 15 new projects earmarked for construction. A $500 million fund for pothole repairs has also been established. Although RoNS fulfills an election promise, it is concerning that the projects have been announced without proper costings and cost benefit analysis.

The draft GPS also dials back government spending on public transport services and infrastructure, with the expectation that those who benefit from public transport will contribute a larger portion of the costs.

Over the past five years, the private share of funding for public transport has decreased from 32 per cent to 11 per cent, resulting in road users increasingly subsidising public transport – a trend Minister Brown aims to reverse.

In addition, the document refocuses attention on core “activity classes” that contribute to economic growth and productivity. Activity classes, such as rail and safety, categorise different types of transport-related projects.

Under the previous Labour Government, their scope had begun to spiral out of control, resulting in a lack of focus and ineffective spending on initiatives like coastal shipping.

Minister Brown’s announcement represents a return to a more tightly focused transport agenda.

Just as significant are the signals Brown has sent regarding the replacement of fuel tax with an electronic road user charge system, offering a funding model that accounts for factors such as distance, vehicle type, time of travel and location. Although the phase-out of the fuel tax would likely not occur until the end of the decade, this shift in approach marks a significant step forward. 

As the Initiative argued in The Price is Right, a universal road user charge system would help New Zealand build and maintain a road network that is responsive to user demand.

Brown has outlined the Government’s direction of travel. Now, the focus must shift to ensuring that these plans are successfully executed.

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