Moving Forward: New Zealand’s transport system
Minister of Transport
Local Government New Zealand
Tuesday 11 July 2000
Moving Forward: New Zealand’s transport system
Kia Ora Koutou, Talofa Lava and Greetings to you all.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
When I became Minister of Transport, I decided to use my first few months in office to talk to as many people in local government and the transport sector as I could.
I needed to better understand what local government; industry, user groups and those affected by the transport system thought were their major problems.
I wanted to see what the Government could do to help them, and ensure that the transport sector supports the well being of every New Zealander.
Many people of widely varying backgrounds and interests have taken great pains to share with me their views on the future of their sector. Local government representatives have been particularly helpful and constructive – and I thank you all for that.
Today I want to tell you how we are beginning to put in place the building blocks that will support a world class transport system.
Government transport policy
This Government wants to build a sustainable transport system.
What do we mean by sustainability?
A sustainable transport system is one in which passengers, workers and the communities that come into contact with transport operations can expect a high level of personal safety.
A sustainable transport system is one that meets the needs of its customers, in a timely and cost effective manner.
A sustainable transport system is one in which investors and shareholders can expect a reasonable return on their investments, through providing innovative services and infrastructure in the right place at the right time at the right price, while providing rewarding employment for their employees.
A sustainable transport system is one that carefully manages its impacts on our air, water and land resources.
And a sustainable transport system is one that provides both mobility and accessibility opportunities to all those who live in the society in which it operates.
None of these goals can exist in isolation.
A transport business that makes money through cutting corners on safety or through devastating the physical environment is not sustainable.
A transport business that minimises its impact on the environment but cannot earn sufficient returns to support future investment in infrastructure is not sustainable.
A transport system that does not meet the needs of its customers is not sustainable.
To reach our goal of a sustainable transport system, we must carefully balance the interests of safety, customer needs, investment, the environment and social equity.
The Government has begun that task.
Transport safety is a high priority goal for this Government.
Our most immediate task is to continue to improve our road safety record. Over the last decade, the road toll has been substantially reduced, but we are still well below the best results achieved by similar countries.
The Government has now made a series of decisions that will enable us to make substantial immediate improvements in road safety, while we develop a more strategic approach.
From early 2001, 225 extra police officers will be working exclusively on road safety on the State Highways. These officers will staff the new Highway Patrol, which is designed to provide a high profile police presence on the most highly used part of the road system
As a result of discussions with local government representatives we have almost doubled the amount of money going to community road safety education initiatives, with particular emphasis on initiatives coming from the Maori and Pacific Island communities.
Additional police resources will be put into breath testing campaigns, especially in rural areas.
The police will tighten the tolerances used in speed limit enforcement, and pay especial attention to the wearing of seat belts.
New Zealand will join the Australian road vehicle crash test programme, so that consumers can have a better understanding of the safety record of vehicles they buy.
I believe that a more visible police presence on the road network, together with the education and information measures that I have detailed, will be an effective way to make a substantial and rapid reduction in the road toll.
Safety strategy to 2010
The Government is also considering a long-term road safety strategy for the next ten years to 2010, which I plan to release for discussion in the near future. This is a crucially important decision affecting every one of us, and I am concerned that all interested parties give it the attention it deserves.
Over the last three years a wide variety of central and local government and community organisations have worked together on this strategy, and the result does them credit.
The first key question in that strategy will be: How far can we push the road toll down over the next ten years?
If we adopt world best practice as our goal, then we are looking at a reduction in our road toll from just over 500 deaths per year to 280 per year. That is no mean target when we also expect substantial growth in traffic over the same period.
The second key question will be: How do we achieve our chosen road safety goal?
There is a wide range of possible options ranging from substantial increases in enforcement standards and activity through enhanced and improved education programmes to a massive programme of road rebuilding and improved ways of managing road infrastructure.
Each option has its costs, both social and financial, and I will be seeking wide community input into these issues before we set a long-term direction later this year.
If this road safety target setting process proves successful, and then it is my intention to use the same analytical and consultative approach to set long term safety targets for other modes of transport, such as shipping, aviation and railways.
The Government wants to see a commercial transport and distribution sector that is innovative in delivering products and services.
We want to see a sector that is responsive to its clients.
We want a transport sector that is competitive both within New Zealand and in the wider global transport system.
We want to see a transport and distribution sector that invests in its future, to support the future growth of New Zealand.
We believe that much of the New Zealand transport sector already meets these goals.
The aviation, maritime, rail and road freight sectors are already comparable with the best that the world has to offer, and are an important element in economic growth.
They are working relatively well.
Road infrastructure problems
It is a different story when we look at the state of our road infrastructure.
Our roads daily demonstrate that they are becoming inadequate for the task they are asked to do. The most visible sign of this inadequacy is the traffic congestion in our major cities – one study estimates that Auckland’s congestion alone costs New Zealanders more than $800 million per year.
I stress the importance of this cost, because it is one we all share. The transport network links us all and we all pay the costs for it. You may never see a transport bill that includes an amount for “congestion in Auckland”, but such is the interlinked nature of our economy and its transport system that, wherever you live, you will be paying for some part of those costs. We have to reduce these costs.
During the last decade road traffic in New Zealand grew by 4% a year. At the present rate of growth traffic volumes will double in the next 18 years.
Road infrastructure problems are not limited to our cities. People at this conference will know better than most that many regional road networks are having difficulty keeping pace with the financial and operational demands of a growing and changing economy and society. The growth of dairying in Southland, forestry in Marlborough and tourism in Coromandel or Northland put pressures on our roads that local communities struggle to meet.
The need to upgrade and enlarge our road system is evident.
Yet, at the same time, some of our systems for road charging are reaching their limits.
Alternative power systems such as hybrids and fuel cells are no longer science fiction. The resultant gains in fuel efficiency will make the current petrol tax system an increasingly unreliable and unfair way of paying for road use.
Road infrastructure solutions
The Government’s manifesto set out a number of areas for road management and investment that we wanted to explore, and my discussions with local government and other groups have raised a number of other related issues.
I believe from my discussions with a wide range of interested individuals and groups that there is a general consensus that we need to change the way we manage and fund our land transport system. Many people believe that we need to find better ways of charging for road use, and that some changes to management structures are desirable.
I believe that there is now a growing consensus that we can make pragmatic progress this year in three main areas:
We need to put in place systems to manage the external impacts of the road system, including improving safety and environmental management and our public transport system. In doing this, we need to make it clear that road corridors are for a wide variety of users, including pedestrians and cyclists. They, just as much as motorists, have a right to use road corridors in safety.
Secondly, we need to examine the way in which we charge for roads. New technology now enables us to consider a wider range of options within the present Road User Charges system. We also need to consider whether the present funding system can be made simpler, while retaining its basic principle of cost effectiveness.
We also need to consider whether our present management structures can be improved in a pragmatic and gradual way, without generating any more of the upheavals that have characterised reforms in the past.
I am pleased to be able to announce today that we are going to begin a round of consultation on these three broad areas so that the Government can make decisions to move forward on these issues by the end of this year.
This consultation will start with local government. That is the appropriate place to start, as local government runs the majority of the roading network and at the same time represents local communities.
I want this consultation to be pragmatic and productive.
The last Government spent five years debating the issues but could not reach a practical solution to our road problems.
It is time to make real progress and to give everyone a clear direction for the future.
We are seeking to agree a framework on directions, without getting bogged down in a mass of detail.
Improving the system
The road system has to be improved.
It is not just a matter of dealing with a few high profile road projects. We have to put in place a package that leads us to sensible investment and management decisions without the constant air of impending crisis that too often seems to characterise land transport investment.
I have already discussed this approach with your President and her Executive, and I was heartened by their positive approach. I believe that we now have the basis for making solid progress without delay. Local government will be an important part of that process, and I look forward to working with you.
New Zealand relies heavily on its “clean green” image to market itself in a world that is increasingly concerned about the environment.
Improving the reality of our environment to match the marketing image is a high priority for this Government, and the transport sector will play an important part in that task.
Before the end of this year, the Government expects to put in place new emission standards for all vehicles arriving in New Zealand for the first time. We need to make sure that all imported vehicles – whether new or used – meet the best international practice for air emissions.
We are moving to improve public passenger transport in our major cities, recognising that an important benefit of such an improvement can be a reduction in vehicle emissions.
I also believe that we need to review those sections of the Resource Management Act that deal with land transport. I can see no valid reason why roads and railways should be exempt from the air emissions requirements of that Act. I strongly believe that new road and rail projects would greatly benefit from full public evaluation and monitoring of their impacts, as part of the wider community overview of the environment for which local authorities are responsible.
The Ministry of Transport has been working closely with local authorities in Auckland and Christchurch to develop the systems for air emissions evaluation and monitoring, and the results of that co-operation will be made widely available in the near future.
We are also working on new rules to govern smoky road vehicles. While the intent of the current law is a good one, its administration is unreasonably complex, and plans for a simpler approach to dealing with smoky vehicles are well advanced.
Scientific research into the impacts of land transport on water runoff is also well underway, as is research into the impacts of noise on communities.
The Government has decided to accede to the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change in the second half of 2002.
This means that we will be making a commitment that by 2008 we will have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions to no more than they were in 1990.
This is no small task.
Currently the transport sector generates about 15% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The bulk of those emissions are CO2 generated by the burning of fossil fuel on our roads.
This means that we are going to have to make a serious effort to improve road vehicle fuel efficiency.
We will certainly need to ensure that our vehicle fleet reflects the latest propulsion technologies – such as hybrid systems and fuel cells - as soon as they are available. The new vehicle standards I mentioned earlier will encourage this.
We will also have to make a major effort to reduce traffic congestion in our major cities. Congestion is not only expensive in terms of slow deliveries or lengthy travel times – it is also our most inefficient use of fuel.
If we reduce congestion we not only get a more efficient economy – we also reduce the emission impacts on the environment and cut the production of greenhouse gases.
Making progress on climate change is a high priority for the Government, and I plan to work closely with local government and other groups in the transport sector. If we work together in a pragmatic way, I believe that we can both meet our environmental goals, while making more efficient use of our transport system.
Transport is not just about mobility. It is also about accessibility.
If the design of a transport system excludes significant numbers of New Zealanders from access to social and economic opportunities, then the transport system cannot be sustainable.
While our freight transport system generally provides a good quality of appropriate service throughout New Zealand, that is certainly not yet the case for passenger transport.
New Zealand is second only to the United States in terms of cars per person. Yet we often forget that many New Zealanders still have levels of accessibility to social and economic opportunity that rely on a public transport system that has been slowly running down for the last fifty years.
We have to have a better public transport system.
As part of the Budget, I have already announced a series of immediate measures to begin the improvement of public transport in New Zealand.
The artificial limit on public transport spending imposed by the last Government has been abolished.
From October this year, we will put in place a new system of funding that pays money to Regional Councils in direct proportion to the number of passengers using public transport in their region. Peak hour trips will attract a higher level of funding, but no Region will be financially worse off because of this change.
Transfund New Zealand is reviewing the rate at which financial assistance is given to Regional Councils, with a view to increasing the share of funding from the National Roads Fund, thereby releasing additional regional funds for further passenger transport service improvements.
Current requirements for cost effective expenditure will be kept in place.
We estimate that if Regional Councils seize these opportunities, as we expect they will, passenger transport funding from the National Roads Fund will rise from $46 million last year to $93 million in 2003, with large benefits in terms of accessibility in our major cities.
This total includes the major share of the funding for the North Shore Busway, currently the largest single passenger transport project in New Zealand, which will provide greatly improved passenger transport services across the Auckland region.
Local government has long criticised the barriers that they saw as obstructing the development of public transport in New Zealand.
The biggest barriers have now been removed.
Regional Councils, in close co-operation with City and District Councils can now get on with developing passenger transport services that attract more passengers, and begin to tackle some of the social, environmental and safety problems that our urban transport systems impose on our cities.
Working with local government, as it has done to date in this area, the Government is also reviewing the future of other elements of passenger transport funding, including the future management and funding of the Total Mobility scheme. We plan to make decisions here before the end of this year.
In conducting this review, I am particularly concerned that we focus on the actual needs of people in society.
While our mass transit systems clearly need development, I am also concerned that we have tended to overlook the importance of those services that provide door to door service.
Taxis and shuttles provide a crucial level of service to many in our urban and rural communities who do not have access to cars, in a way that buses, trains and ferries will never be able to do. I want to ensure that we make better use of such door to door services in the future.
Bringing it all together
If the transport sector is to support a positive future for New Zealand, then we have to work towards a sustainable transport system.
Uniting all the elements that I have discussed into a comprehensive package that sets a clear path for the whole transport sector is a complex exercise, but one to which we are committed.
The Government intends to develop a New Zealand Transport Strategy to bring together all the issues I have discussed today into a comprehensive package that will give certainty for future investment and development. This work will be part of the three stage package of measures that I mentioned earlier.
The New Zealand Transport Strategy will have to set long term directions in terms of safety, environmental performance and accessibility. It will emphasise that the core issues of investment and innovation will depend on a transport system that will thrive by providing high quality service to all its users.
It will be a guide for all who use the transport system, invest in it, or ensure that transport is a vital part of our communities.
As is evident from the range of issues that I have covered in this speech, there is a lot to do. This Government wants to work with local government and the key interest groups to make progress in transport.
I firmly believe that change is necessary in a number of key areas in the transport sector. I also believe that any change must be progressive rather than an upheaval, and that evolutionary change can only work if people talk to each other to find pragmatic solutions.
This conference is an important part of that process.
We have already signalled, by our actions in many areas, our desire to work closely with local government. The forum held at Premier House, our meeting with Auckland’s Mayoral forum, the many visits by Ministers to regions throughout New Zealand – I have valued the opportunity to talk with many of you.
We see the relationship with local government very differently to past governments. I welcome the new relationship and the work that will flow from it.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak today.