Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Comparing parties' transport policies (in progress)

Given the blogosphere in NZ in terms of transport policy debate is dominated by one (well-meaning) blog that is almost entirely focused on one dimension of transport (how people move about in cities, specifically one city), and with one philosophical perspective (central planning, state funded, as opposed to market driven, user funded), I thought I'd do a quick review of parties' transport policies for this election.

My test for them all is:

1. Understanding of the transport sector:  Most politicians don't know who owns what, who is responsible for what and what exists and doesn't exist.  Those that do deserve some credit.

2. Support for competition, innovation and entrepreneurship:  New entry both of operators and vehicle types, and new modes of transport should generally be encouraged.  This includes those who wish to do what the government fails to do.

3. User pays:  Taxpayers generally shouldn't be subsidising users of transport services or infrastructure, but it does allow cross-subsidisation of marginal users of networks that are inefficient to charge for (e.g. footpaths).  Infrastructure costs should generally be recovered by users of those networks, not by other network users.

4. Economic rationalism:  Where the state does intervene, the net economic benefits should exceed costs, demonstrably.  This includes spending and reducing compliance costs for unnecessary regulations.

5. Wider impacts:  Make this safety, environmental and social impacts, and say I'm being soft.  What this basically means is, will the policy help or hinder reductions in accidents, noxious pollution, and improve people's ability to access what they want (bearing in mind the impacts on others who may have to bear the costs of the measures).

I'll give each a score out of 5, giving a total possible score of 25.  Bear in mind I am looking at land, air and sea transport.  Any party that says nothing about any mode is presumed to agree with the status quo, which is generous I believe.  I am guided only by the parties' expressed policies online, unless there is a statement by a leader or leading spokesperson that gives cause to vary this.

National: 5, 3, 3, 2, 3 = 16 out of 25.  It's about big roads, some of which aren't good value for money, some of which are.  There's a lot for public transport, not enough for the fundamentalists, and spending on Kiwirail is likely to be the best last chance it gets to show it is worth anything.

NZ First: 2, 2, 2, 1, 1 = 8 out of 25.  Suddenly an obsession about public transport, especially reviving long distance passenger trains. Remember the Northerner, the Southerner? They'd be back. Get rid of road user charges, replace them with fuel tax, then replace fuel tax with tolls like road user charges.  Usually silliness you'd expect from a cult that gets one member to write policy.

ACT: 3, 4, 4, 4, 3 = 18 out of 25.  It's all about roads, and having them run like businesses, with user pays for public transport and allowing the private sector to build competing roads as well.  It's light in terms of content, with nothing on other modes, but given air and sea largely look after themselves, that's not a bad thing.  It's a start, and it would mean some of the Nats' pet road projects would come under closer scrutiny.

Labour: 1, 2, 1, 1, 2 = 7 out of 25. "The current government has been obsessed with a handful of hugely expensive projects that it selected for political reasons" then Labour selects the ones it agrees with, for political reasons, including the big Auckland underground rail loop, building a new line to Marsden Point and reopening the Napier-Gisborne railway, so it can carry the 12 truckloads a week it once carried.   Lots of spending, lots of utter drivel, and it supports the so-called "congestion free network" promoted by leftwing/greenie/central planner ginger group "Generation Zero" (which will do next to nothing for congestion on the network people are prepared to pay for).  It's Green Party policy-lite and just as intellectually robust, with silliness on motorhomes and trucks not being allowed in fast lanes on motorways to give NZ First something to admire.

Democrats for Social Credit: 2, 1, 1, 1, 1 = 6 out of 25.  Central planning obsessives with weird statements like "Air New Zealand as an important means of transporting perishable goods to overseas markets".  The mental contortions required to give credibility to the funny money men adds to it (but then funny money is more common than we think).

Greens: 3,1,0,1,2 = 7 out of 25.  So much money wasted on road projects with poor economic returns, stop them and build railways with even worse ones.  Well that's not what they say, but it is the truth. The Green mantra is that walking, biking and riding rail based transport puts you into the promised land, but driving is a curse.  Those who drive are "auto-dependent" and are "forced" to use your car, and you're just aching to walk to a tram stop to wait to ride a tram with lots of other people to go to the place you want to go.  If only everyone could get about this way it would be smart. Except its not. It's a tired, old-fashioned obsession with building your way out of problems, except this is with railways and busways, not roads.  What's got to be most stupid is that unlike green parties in other countries, the Greens have ignored congestion charging as a way of reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  Politics over evidence.  

ALCP: no policy

Maori: no policy

Internet Mana: 2, 0, 0, 0, 1 = 3.  Well you didn't exactly expect much did you?  Rhetoric on nationalising parts of the transport sector that are already government owned, but the big deal is free public transport. Everywhere.  It's an old-fashioned tired old leftwing proposal that claims it would free up the roads, but what it would do is shift a lot of air by rail and bus.   It wont ease congestion, it will cost a fortune (uncosted), and don't expect any innovation or competition, but a large union dominated set of monopolies.

Conservative: no policy


United Future:

Focus NZ:


Independent Coalition:

More detail..

National Party: National's policy has two key elements, roads and cycleways, although there is mention of a fortune of funding for public transport (albeit paid for by road users).  The big emphasis is a combination of large state highway projects (the Roads of National Significance) and a wider list of regional state highway and local roads projects, and then what's called urban cycleways.   Over $2 billion in spending for urban rail is mentioned, albeit this includes a lot already spent in previous terms and some by the last government.  

For understanding of the sector, there aren't really any issues here.  Pretty much everything announced here is within the usual purview of government, which you'd expect being the government.  5 out of 5.

Support for competition is fairly flat.  Aviation, maritime, taxi and road freight sectors are already very open, which wont change and nothing is proposed that would distort this.  Urban passenger transport is much more limited in terms of competition, so I would have liked more here, and I would have liked it to be easier for the private sector to get into building, owning and operating roads (and tolling them) if it saw such an opportunity.  Enormous public funding for road projects isn't going to encourage that, nor are there steps to change the governance of roads to encourage their owners and managers to think about users.  3 out of 5.

Users pays exists throughout much of the sector, but in roads it is clear some very large roads are being built paid for by users of all other roads.  That's isn't as bad as having them pay for railways, as there are some network benefits, but by and large there are a lot of cross subsidies between users.   Similarly, road users and general taxpayers are pouring money into the 2% of Auckland commuters who travel by rail.  Ratepayers still pay wildly differing amount for roads. I'll give them 3 out of 5 for sticking to funding roads from highway taxes, but that's about it.  

The economic rationalism behind much of the policies is rather mixed.  The money poured into rail is generally very poor value for money, as is the money into some of the highway projects. Puhoi-Wellsford, the eastern Hamilton bypass and Transmission Gully are all shockers in terms of good quality spending, although some of the RoNS clearly have wider long term benefits. Cycleway spending wont be likely to add up, unless it reduces accidents. The discipline on quality of spending has eroded over the years, but isn't gone entirely so 2 out of 5

On wider impacts the likelihood is the large road spending will reduce accidents and reduce net emissions (despite the hysteria from some that it just promotes driving).  However, the poor quality of spending doesn't mean road money is going where it is likely to produce the greatest benefits, and the money on rail is going to do little to reduce congestion or improve access around Auckland.  The cycleways may do some good in some cities, so the overall net impact will be positive, but it could be much better 3 out of 5

National: 16 out of 25

New Zealand First: NZF is an unsurprising mix of populism and well meaning oddities.  It includes policies to do things that already exist (i.e. all motoring taxes already go into the NLTF and airport pricing is already subject to Commerce Act reviews).  It shows some understanding of the sector, but wants expansion of the rail network although it wont require the whole cost "to be met by revenue generated by railway service charges". Hilarious, as none of the cost of it could possibly be!  There are enough glaring errors in this and oddities to give it a 2 out of 5 for understanding.

Support for competition? Well besides the faith-based believe in not privatising anything, it wants an enormously expensive expansion of passenger rail between cities (back to the 1970s it seems) which would decimate competitive coach services.  It wants to encourage by fiscal means, a bigger NZ merchant shipping fleet, which may be competitive, but is marginal.  At best there appear no new barriers to competition, but it deserves a 2 out of 5 for seeking to subsidise rail over coaches.

User pays? The weirdest part of the proposal is to scrap Road User Charges by adding a diesel tax, which are the closest charge akin to road pricing, and then to advocate road pricing on major roads and to phase out fuel tax.  I give them credit for wanting road pricing, but scrapping RUC in favour of a tax they then want to replace with something akin to RUC is just confused.  Add to that the Railways of National Importance plan involving what would be hundreds of millions of dollars each year for long distance passenger rail services, and a big boost in public transport spending, and it isn't about user pays at all.  2 out of 5

Economic rationalism is almost completely absent here. Nationalism over shipping, pouring bad money after bad on railways and prefer electrification over "liquid fuel" alternatives, is based on faith rather than reason. Encouraging use of public transport at the time it already gets peak use is bizarre. It's an enormous waste of money on pet projects that will get little use. 1 out of 5

The wider impacts are mixed, a tough regime on safety will deliver benefits there along with the obsession with median barriers, but on emissions there will be a lot of nearly empty trains, trams and buses doing not very much.  The deadweight cost in taxation and the reduction in road spending to service these pet projects is not going to be positive 1 out of 5.

NZ First: 8 out of 25

ACT:  ACT doesn't have a transport policy per se, but rather one on roads.   On that basis I'd consider the views on all other modes to be to support the status quo.  The emphasis on roads is on more private investment and a more commercial approach to road management, which I welcome. 

Understanding of the sector is difficult to assess beyond roads and public transport, given there is no other sets of policies.  So I'm going to give ACT a 3 out of 5, as there are no glaring mistakes, but it would have been good to see something on Kiwirail and sea and air mentioned. 

Support for competition is clear, as ACT wants to get out of the way of private companies owning roads, although there is no mention of public transport competition. 4 out of 5

On user pays ACT is pushing for public transport users to pay a greater proportion of the costs of providing their services, but also for road companies to set prices themselves.  The policy does appear a bit of a muddle, but the thrust is positive 4 out of 5. Nothing on Kiwirail though

Economic rationalism would suggest some criticism of RoNS, but there is none although it is stated that roads should be funded based on users' willingness to pay, and be more commercially driven. That suggests a significant improvement.  4 out of 5.

On wider impacts, there isn't a lot here.  A more commercial user focused approached to roads ought to deliver benefits for users, and ought to avoid charges going up beyond the cost of providing roads, but with peak and off peak variations.  This would be generally positive, although there could be more on this.  3 out of 5.

ACT: 18 out of 25

Labour:  Labour lists six policies on transport, yes, six!  The underground Auckland rail loop, the "Generation Zero/Green Party/Auckland Transport Blog" "congestion free network" boondoggle, taking money from roads and spending it on ports, coastal shipping and public transport, removing motor vehicle registration for caravans and RUC for motorhomes (um, what?) and banning trucks from the fast lanes on motorways (presumably with umpteen exemptions for when motorway slow lanes split). "We are not ideologically committed to one mode over another" then says it will fund two railway lines that would have next to no freight traffic.  It really is as if they hadn't been in government before.

On understanding of the sector, it's rather dire.  It really is as if it has taken the Auckland Transport Blog and said "that's a good idea, let's do that". It wants bylaws to protect pedestrians, presumably because running people down isn't already a crime?  It wants to "encourage air services" to countries where there is likely to be an expansion of trade.  How exactly? Subsidising airlines?  It's all a bit childish and populist, at the level of NZ First really.  Saying "decades of asset stripping" left the rail network severely degraded is just leftie nonsense as is  "Each person taking a bus, train or ferry is a car off the road". Really? So everyone riding public transport has a car they would have driven? "Ensure that future roading projects will make provision for cycling",  as they do now.  1 out of 5

Does Labour support innovation and competition? Not really. It wants a "national ports' strategy" even though ports vigorously compete with each other now (perhaps it wants some of the less profitable ones to be protected?).  It wants more politically based decision making on roads at the local level, and there is nothing about promoting more innovation on highway management or public transport.  It deserves a 2 out of 5 because of its attitude to ports, similar to the NZ First lunatic obsession with long distance passenger rail.

Labour has little interest in user pays.  Reopening the Napier-Gisborne line (which had one freight train a week) and building the Marsden Point railway (which has no business case either) involves huge subsidies as does the infamous Auckland City Rail link, which will be a massive subsidy for a handful of commuters and property owners near stations.  It wants to fiddle with some motoring taxes in ways that don't do anything.  It says nothing about pricing roads or public transport more efficiently. 1 out of 5

On economic rationalism you have to laugh here. Labour says "the current government has been obsessed with a handful of hugely expensive projects that it selected for political reasons." then proposes exactly the same itself by selecting the projects it approves of, for political reasons, both road and rail.  is nonsense, given that a fair number of users of such services would not have driven at all.  For all of its words about wanting to economically justify spending, it is full of contradictions.  1 out of 5.

Wider impacts? Well it's a very mixed lot here.  Lots of money onto empty railways, some great benefits for those who work in downtown Auckland, much more for those who own properties there. The impacts wider than that will be fairly modest.  It's not as silly as NZ First, but given there is some interest in retaining road spending.   It's not all bad, so 2 out of 5.

Labour: 7 out of 25

Democrats for Social Credit:  The party for the safari suit and grey zip up shoe wearing  crowd, as Bob Jones once said, is unlikely to be too promising given its blatant misunderstanding of monetary policy.  Its policy on transport is thankfully short.

On understanding the sector it seems as if it doesn't know how the National Land Transport Fund works, it calls for "co-operation" with Kiwirail (didn't realise it wasn't), and includes a bunch of tautologies and "nice" statements. 2 out of 5

Scope for competition and innovation appears small, since it appears to be centrally planning focused, with a "publicly focused integrated transport system to all regions" 1 out of 5

There is little interest in user pays here, with a call for diesel tax being a step backwards and a lot of statements about how various goods should be shifted, the central planning focus means it gets 1 out of 5

If you're focused on some modes (and in one case one operator) doing everything, you're not really interested in net economic outcomes, you're interested in the inputs.  1 out of 5

There isn't a lot to be gained by having a nationalised centrally planned network, where trucks suddenly pay less to use roads, but the state is telling you to use some modes for various commodities. 1 out of 5 

Democrats for Social Credit:  6 out of 25

Greens: No party is more obsessed about transport policy than the Greens, for it brings out the essential central planner in them.  The people shouldn't move about unnecessarily using modes disapproved, but the holy mode of rail should have money poured into it, just not from users, who are there to be fleeced if motorists, or cossetted if rail commuters.  Buzzwords like "Smart Green transport" are thrown around, as if calling something smart makes it so.  What it actually harks back to is the failed 1970s era policies of major US cities, when small fortunes were poured into metro rail systems that have singularly failed to relieve congestion or delivered more than derisory mode shares for public transport.  The Greens are keen to point the finger at the National (and Labour) parties for policies from the past, but they are keen to repeat the mistakes of other new world cities in thinking they can reshape and remould them in their romanticised vision of the early 20th century where employment was centralised and most people commuted to one centre by public transport.  It plays well with planner, such as those who largely contribute to the Auckland Transport Blog, and the childish "trains good, cars and trucks baaad" binary view of climate change extremists, but for being evidence based it is sadly lacking.

The policy has 17 pages, then there are separate policies for Wellington and Christchurch as they obviate regional councils by telling them what they should get.

On understanding the sector some credit has to be given for actually intelligently laying out the argument from the central planning/new urbanist perspective.  It is only half the story though.  LA may not have built its way out of congestion with roads, but no New World city has done it with public transport either.  The truth is that the primary solution to addressing congestion is by pricing roads efficiently, which is ignored for political reasons.  It talks about rail being the transport backbone, but it simply isn't.  It wants funding for railways to come from motoring taxes and assessed on the same basis as roads, which will mean no rail projects would get funded.  However, give the Greens credit.  The proposed revised budget shows some understanding of how the system works, as such it is well ahead of Labour.  It's just a shame the flaws in understanding experiences overseas come out.  Still this is light years ahead of the nonsense Sue Kedgley used to emit. 3 out of 5

Innovation is what the Greens tout, but at no point is there much scope in a vision dominated by lots of big projects and central planning.  Certainly competition in transport isn't mentioned, and little scope for operators or infrastructure providers to be incentivised to be dynamic and responsive.  In fact the policies for all three main centres would undermine innovation in the private commercial bus sector and put them out of business.  1 out of 5

User pays?  hahahah you jest.  Besides giving students free off-peak travel,  the entire thrust of the policy is to take money from motorists across the country and spend it mostly on railways, mostly in Auckland.  It involves huge transfers of taxes raised from motorists using roads to a tiny proportion of NZers riding trains, and then pouring money into tram networks.  There isn't even a nod to road pricing, which for any party claiming to address congestion and pollution is very poor indeed 0 out of 5

Economic rationalism is also devoid from these proposals.  Save the trolley buses in Wellington, then replace their most viable routes with tram lines.  Why? Because we belong to the church of the railed transport and wherever thee can build railways or tram lines they must be built.  Damn those uneconomic roads the Nats are building, but we should build our own uneconomic railways.  You can't demand more rational public spending on transport and then throw away that philosophy with your own preferred mode.  On this, given that the preferred public transport pet projects are almost all likely to be worse than Nat's RoNS, the Greens deserve 1 out of 5

If you are going to pour a fortune of money into cycleways and some of the infrastructure it will improve how a few people get around, although the net impacts will be small.  For those few who live near railway stations and work the other end of such lines, you're in luck.  For everyone else you wont notice a thing, except that your motoring taxes don't seem to be reflected in many road improvements (if you recall that was called the 1990s, when the majority of such taxes were spent on general government spending).  Will the Congestion Free Network reduce congestion in Auckland?  No, but there will be an increase in public transport trips. Given there is still some money spent on roads it retains a 2 rather than a 1, but had it included road pricing it might have got a 3.  2 out of 5

Greens: 7 out of 25

ALCP: Easy, no policy. No point rating

Maori Party:  There isn't much here, in fact there isn't anything here at all. No point rating.

Internet Mana:  There is nothing on the unified party website, but Mana has a transport policy page.  and Internet Party has a few scraps around trams for Christchurch.  Mana's push is free public transport everywhere and nationalisation of transport across the board.

On understanding the sector it is fairly derisory, ignoring that most of what it wants nationalised already is nationalised.  There isn't much here, but it deserves a 2 out of 5.

There is absolutely no scope for innovation or competition here whatsoever.  All public transport ultimately being free and state provided is the end for that.  It is all focused on central planning.  0 out of 5.

Likewise, forget user pays, everyone gets to ride trains and buses for free.  Who pays? Who knows? 0 out of 5.

Economic rationalism has no future in the Democratic People's Republic of Kim Hone Com. 0 out of 5

On positive impacts you'd have to question if there would be any, as people would walk less, but free public transport would have a modest positive impact on users, although a negative one on everyone else.  1 out of 5

Internet Mana: 3 out of 25.

Conservatives: No policy

United Future:

1 comment:

Jamie said...

First i'm no expert. In the way of experience I have over a decade of heavy haulage, up to interstate triple roadtrains. Also a young Returned Serviceman.

My transport policy is as follows.
My first project as the Minister for Defence would be to Train the Army to build roads and bridges, starting with the Waioru Desert Road. During my stint in the service I saw far too many bored soldiers spending far too much of their time sinking beers in the barracks(a recipe for trouble hahaha)
Added bonuses would include;
Soldiers would finish their stint and be qualified road/bridge builders
Increased competition will speed up civilian road works
A Dual Lane State Highway would save lives
Would give us an out from the military industrial complex, we could get into the disaster relief business( ask me my defence policy, I bet none of the politicians got Jack Sh*t compared to this Callsign)
Ability to rebuild after natural disaster ie Christchurch, send a whole battalion to GET IT DONE

Too bad we got a bunch of Chickensh*t Chicken-hawk Cookie-Cutter politicians running the show.

Vote for me!