Comment

Impact of the new political environment for road transport

JONATHAN BHANA-THOMSON, NZ Chief executive, Heavy Haulage Association.

THE LABOUR-LED coalition has already brought in a number of changes in direction in policy compared to the previous National government, and nowhere is this more obvious than with the transport area.

While the manifestos of the parties leading up to last year’s election gave some indication of the likely direction, there have been a number of distinct policy releases that have given more weight to this. Particularly the recent release of the GPS, the Government Policy Statement for Land Transport, the draft of which is being consulted on.

The GPS is the document that guides investment in land transport by providing a 10-year strategic view of how the government of the day prioritises things in the transport network, and why. For the Labour-led coalition this includes stated focus of improving the land transport network by prioritising safety, access, environment and value for money.

Compare this to the GPS of the previous government where the focus was on economic growth and productivity, road safety, and value for money. In particular the seven Roads of National Significance were the most visible evidence of investment in productive capacity, but there were also targeted improvements to enable bridges to carry heavier freight vehicles, and more general funding for improvements to regional networks.

The GPS for 2018-2028 once finalised, will influence the decisions on how money from the National Land Transport Fund (the Fund) will be invested across areas such as state highways and public transport.

This amounts to around $4 billion of money from the Fund each year. The GPS also provides signals for spending of a further $1.5 billion each year on land transport through local government investment and a further $0.5 billion a year of government investment.

Safety is a key element in GPS 2018, and particular aspects mentioned include safety improvements on state highways and local roads through speed management, while there will be increased investment in off-road for cyclists and pedestrians.

Access is the second main area of focus, particularly in urban areas as well as the provinces (supported through Shane Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund), while existing routes are safe, efficient and minimise greenhouse gas emissions. In urban areas the push will be to reduce travel by private motor car and towards public transport, walking and cycling.

In addition to these key areas of strategic priorities are the supporting areas of gaining value for money and being aware of the environmental impact of the transport system.

In more concrete terms, initiatives that are expected to be seen include:

• The development of a new road safety strategy and action plan over the next 12 to 18 months.

• The installation of median and side barriers to prevent head-on crashes and the installation of roundabouts or speed management devices at intersections. In addition, for vulnerable users installing segregated facilities, markings or raised platforms at roundabouts, traffic signals, and pedestrian facilities.

• Upgrading of level crossings for safety.

• Investment in public transport – especially mass transit.

• Providing extra capacity on existing routes to respond to changes in freight movements, population growth and tourist numbers.

• Investigations into funding for alternative transport modes, such as rail and coastal shipping.

The real changes which will influence the projects funded are seen in the funding directed to the different activity areas – the major ones as follows (the higher range figures used):

• Public Transport – rising from $530 million in 2018 to $830 million in 2028.

• Mass Transit – rising from $340 million in 2018 to $1090 million in 2021.

• Local Road Improvements – rising from $230 million in 2018 to $520 million in 2022.

• State Highway Maintenance – rising from $700 million in 2018 to $850 million in 2028.

• Load Road Maintenance – rising from $720 million in 2018 to $840 million in 2028.

• State Highway Improvements – decreasing from $1550 million to $500 million in 2028.

From this it can be inferred that the building of new State Highway capacity roads will be on the wane over the next 10 years, while at least there should be better maintenance of the current roading network.

Aside from the GPS, in other announcements the Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford has proposed to increase fuel excise duty by between nine and 12 cents a litre over three years. This includes an equivalent increase in road user charges paid by diesel and heavy vehicles.

Twyford says that this will go toward a 42 percent increase in spending on local road improvements, a 96 percent increase in spending on regional roads and a 22 percent increase in local road maintenance along with an 81 percent increase in road safety and demand management.

Meanwhile, Julie Anne Genter (Associate Minister of Transport) has recently announced that the government will investigate setting a target of zero road deaths, in addition to the development of a new road safety strategy (completed in September 2019 for implementation in 2020).

She also said: “The government has proposed a significant boost in funding to improve local and regional roads right around the country. This will have a particular focus on proven safety treatments, like median and side barriers. We’re also considering a significant funding boost to deliver safe walking and cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities.”

Finally, the future of the upper North Island ports, including whether Ports of Auckland should be relocated, will be considered as part of a wider transport and logistics strategy, Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones advised when announcing the development of a comprehensive Upper North Island Supply Chain Strategy.

In terms of the status of current and proposed projects, there is uncertainty around some, for example, the East-West project on the chopping block, the Otaki to Levin Expressway apparently given the okay, while the status of the long-awaited Mt Messenger bypass is not known.

For the oversize sector of the transport industry we see challenges with a number of the proposals and ideas that the coalition government has proposed, namely the safety projects which may result in capacity restrictions on freight routes, the design of any centre-road median barriers, the increase in road user charges, and the outcomes of the investment in alternative transport corridors such as for rail.


This article was first published in Contractor‘s May issue.

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