Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dummies guide to the National Land Transport Programme

Various journalists HAVE published in the morning papers about how this region and that region are about to get certain roads built in the coming financial year because Land Transport NZ - the government's land transport funding body - has just released its National Land Transport Programme. Invariably they will get things rather wrong.
So here it is:
  1. In the next year, the government intends to net $1.81 billion from your road user charges, motor vehicle license/registration fees and the fuel tax dedicated to the National Land Transport Fund. It also intends pumping in another $538 million from the Crown account - this is equal to all the rest of the petrol tax that you pay that used to get spent on everything else. So as of 1 July, you can actually say, for the first time ever, that all of the money collected from road users is being spent on land transport. The total funding being spent is now 90% more than it was 4 years ago - while you may say this is good, the growth has clearly been inflationary in the construction sector as road project prices go through the roof.
  2. Land Transport NZ decides how this money is spent based on bids from Transit and local authorities. Transit and local authorities cannot make Land Transport NZ fund anything, and both get turned down from time to time, or get less than they ask for. So Transit actually funds nothing, virtually all of its money has to be approved by Land Transport NZ.
  3. The National Land Transport Programme is Land Transport NZ's INDICATIVE allocation of funding, by activity class, for the next year. Most projects listed in the Programme are either already approved in the past year, or MAY be approved in the coming year. Approvals are made on a case by case basis for projects over a certain. It is NOT approval for big state highway projects, it does NOT mean certain projects are definitely going ahead - but it does mean that they COULD be funded, if the final bid is up to scratch, costs haven't blown out and there aren't other pressing priorities (i.e. natural disaster sucking up emergency road funding).
  4. For the first time it now integrates funding for Police traffic enforcement and safety education campaigns, so that tradeoffs can be made between building roads or improving safety through education or enforcement of traffic rules.
  5. About $324 million is allocated to public transport, walking/cycling, rail/sea freight and travel demand management (i.e. not roads), around 16% of the total. The Greens will say it is not enough, but this is over three times the proportion that used to go into those activities when the Nats were in power. Half the reason it isn't more is because in some cases councils are bidding for crap projects, or they want a higher proportion of subsidies Remember also that most of that funding only cover half of the cost of the subsidy, the other half of the subsidy comes from councils, and there are costs paid for by users through fares. Road users fully pay the costs of state highways - the majority of public transport users are subsidised by those road users.
  6. Almost everything local authorities get funding for from this has to be part funded by them, which means your rates. Your rates may be paying from anything between 55% to as little as 13%.

Now compared to other countries where politicians decide ever project that gets funded, this system is a vast improvement - but with the Crown money being inserted, specifically to go to specific regions, with Ministers saying what that money is expected to fund, this is getting a bit blurred. The Greens will say that road building is pointless and the roads will be empty soon - noticed that happening have you? Labour will think this enormous spend up is fulfilling all everyone ever wanted.

So will the National Party or ACT criticise the politicisation of funding? Maybe they will criticise the end of benefit/cost ratios as the determining factor for funding projects (it is now only one factor). Maybe they will suggest it would be better if the highways at least were run by the private sector, as is starting to happen in the US, with a direct relationship between what road users pay and what they get in service, or maybe they'll just moan that certain porkbarrel roads they think are important aren't getting funded quickly enough. *snort*


Get the National Land Transport Programme in full or for regions here.

Get Transit's State Highway Plan for the next year here.


UPDATE 1: I am disappointed again at the shoddy journalism. For starters:

Rebecca Quilliam in Stuff said "For the first time Transit's funding includes $224 million for police road enforcement". Um no, Transit doesn't allocate the funding and hasn't for ten years now - sheesh learn about what you write - and it doesn't have anything to do with "police road enforcement". The NZ Herald makes exactly the same mistake.

and "Auckland's roads are to get 26.7 per cent – or a $558.7 million cut." Really? Given that this figure comes from a table that includes $146.9 million for passenger transport (and lesser amounts for other non road activities) it is more like $400 million - in fact had you taken 30 seconds to read up the table, you'd have SEEN that figure. The NZ Herald makes the same stupid mistake.

and "A significant amount of funding will be spent on projects including the Manukau Harbour Crossing " Actually no money for that has been approved, and what has been indicated that MAY be approved, is a tiddling $17.4 million on investigation and design - not construction.

and "At least $33.46 million has been put aside for construction of new state highways, which will include helping to build the Transmission Gully motorway. " She means for Wellington, and she means upgrades not NEW state highways, and no - virtually nothing about construction for Transmission Gully, but around $10 million MAY be approved for investigation. Not construction, unless you count the $400,000 for finishing the long approved tree planting along the route to contain runoff. Sorry Rebecca, nothing dramatic there.

In the Dominion Post, Adam Ray and Colin Patterson make similar mistakes saying:

"Work worth $80 million investigating Transmission Gully, a proposed new inland motorway to enter Wellington, will begin straightaway. " Um no. Investigation costs $10 million, the other $70 million is detailed design. The $10 million is likely to be approved this year, but has not yet been approved, it wont be happening straightaway. Transit at best is putting together a bid for the $10 million identified as likely to be funded.

So where did this all come from? Easy. Reporters (not fucking journalists - journalists do more than parrot what others say) have taken, for example, this statement:

"A particular focus is on high priority Auckland projects such as the SH20 Manukau Harbour Crossing which is part of the strategic Western Ring Route."

and said instead that "A significant amount will be spent on projects including the Manukau Harbour Crossing ".

None of them understand that this is an indicative programme and actual funding is decided on a case by case basis. Wellington's Inner City Bypass was in the programme for three years, before it actually got funding, so was the ALPURT B2 motorway bypass of Orewa. The Manukau Extension of SH20 had funding approved two years ago and has yet to have a sod turned on it. Why? Don't ask me - get one of the "journalists" to ask these questions. You rely on them so much else information, tell me now that you trust them.

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