4 Apr 2024

Government's transport plan costly to society and climate, 88 academics warn

8:16 pm on 4 April 2024
Taparahi Bridge on SH25A will reconnect the Coromandel community after summer storms left it with large slips that damaged the road.

The academics say the government's focus on driving and road freight is "at odds with aims of economic growth and value-for-money" (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

The government's transport plan is at odds with economic growth and a step backwards for the climate, a group of 88 academics says.

The draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport unveiled in early March outlined $7 billion of investments over 10 years.

It included 15 new Roads of National Significance, and refocused public transport projects.

This would be paid for in part by more toll roads, increased vehicle registration fees and traffic offence fines, and fuel tax hikes of 22 cents per litre ramping up from 2027. Consultation on the plan closed on Tuesday.

The 88 academics - from New Zealand and seven other countries, and with expertise in transport, urban planning, health and more - raised five "major concerns" about the draft GPS in their submission.

They said the government's focus on driving and road freight was "at odds with aims of economic growth and value-for-money".

"Road transport dependency is costly to the society as a whole, in terms of environmental degradation; illnesses and injuries associated with traffic, air pollution, and noise; low efficiency of transport of people and goods; infrastructure building and maintenance; direct user costs; and land use."

Second, the plan was a step backwards on climate change, with 39 percent of emissions coming from transport. They referred to the climate action tracker run by independent scientists, which was already rating New Zealand's response as "highly insufficient".

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Minister Simeon Brown at post-cab

National's Transport Minister Simeon Brown revealing the revised draft Government Policy Statement at the post-Cabinet briefing a month ago. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

It would also reduce public transport funding, saying this could mean whole neighbourhoods without access and making it harder for those with lower incomes or disabilities to get around.

The submission highlighted a lack of walking and cycling infrastructure, despite evidence about the benefits of these.

"The GPS' intention to reverse speed limit reductions and reduce traffic calming funding can be expected to increase road traffic injuries and deaths," it said.

Finally, aiming to fast-track infrastructure would allow decisions to be made despite evidence suggesting risks to human health and natural environments, they said.

Instead, the academics urged the government to set targets for shifting to healthier and more efficient urban and inter-city transport, prioritising public transport, walking, cycling, while rail and coastal shipping should be prioritised for long-distance freight.

The plan should also reduce space dedicated to roads and curb subsidies for driving, while focusing on health and liveability, they said.

In a statement on Thursday evening, Transport Minister Simeon Brown said the government was elected on a mandate to invest in building and maintaining roads and it would deliver on that.

"The submission also ignores the fact the draft Government Policy Statement on land transport provides significant funding for public transport with up to $2.3 billion for public transport services and up to $2.1 billion available for public transport infrastructure over the next three years," Brown said.

"Last year NZTA provided approximately $500 million for their share towards public transport operations in the country. The range that the government has provided in the draft Government Policy Statement is between $400 and $750m. This range means there is adequate support for the public transport services that New Zealanders need."

"It is disappointing that the authors of this submission chose to overlook the significant investment made in public transport by this draft GPS."

  • Advocates attack removal of climate change from government's draft transport policy
  • Transport Minister proposes fuel tax increase for 2027
  • Entire Auckland suburbs could be left without public transport services - council
  • Wellington councils consider priority bus lanes near main roads along waterfront
  • More toll roads coming, but at what price?