The government’s Policy Statement on Transport confirms record investment over the next decade, but doesn’t go far enough according to Infrastructure New Zealand CEO Stephen Selwood
“With capital investment levels half what they are in Australia, ongoing congestion, housing unaffordability and constrained economic growth will continue,” he says.
The final GPS for Transport locks in record transport spending of $4 billion moving to $4.7 billion per annum over the next decade, supported by new fuel levies.
“The funding certainty this provides to the New Zealand Transport Agency, councils and transport industry is welcome and it’s clear that the government is doing as much as it feasibly can with existing transport tools,” Selwood admits.
“But it’s not enough. In fact, it’s well short.”
He notes that New South Wales has announced a A$14.7 billion transport capital programme for the 2018/19 financial year.
“By comparison, just $2 billion – $3 billion of GPS spending this year will be focused on improving transport networks.
“Even after top-ups from the consolidated account to pay for Auckland’s City Rail Link and council expenditure, New Zealand’s investment in transport improvements will be half what the New South Wales government alone is doing on a per capita basis.
“This is why New Zealand’s cities are among the most congested for their size in the developed world and it is why we can’t unlock enough land to house our population.
“It is also why nothing is going to change, in spite of record investment, until we change the way we plan, fund and deliver transport.”
Selwood believes asking road users to cover the cost of projects increasingly oriented towards urban development separates those funding improvements from those who will benefit – landowners.
“Constraining investment to levels road users are prepared to tolerate holds back the economy and urban development.
“We need to double investment if we are serious about tackling congestion, improving safety and delivering homes.”
Projects with strong benefit-cost ratios and significant strategic benefits need to be accelerated, he maintains.
“Major transport projects need to be debt financed,” Selwood insists.
“It is not realistic to fund a long-term investment programme by an annual allocation from road user charges.
“Debt should be repaid by beneficiaries – road users, property owners and the government via GST, income and corporate taxes which grow with the economy.”
A shift to road pricing would not only provide the mechanism to fund needed investment, Selwood believes, it would also manage congestion much more effectively.
“Record transport investment is a step in the right direction, but New Zealand remains a giant leap behind our competitors.
“If we want to change our transport performance, we need to change our outdated and restrictive transport funding system,” Selwood says.