Roads to wellbeing

July 12, 2019

The Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council has a strong message for the government: infrastructure is at a crisis point.

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

The warning came in a June 26 letter to Ardern — released to this columnist — where the council said New Zealand lacks a “national masterplan” to tangibly map out “our immediate, medium and long-term infrastructure future in an integrated way”.

The Business Advisory Council, chaired by Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon, has presented a damning indictment of New Zealand’s infrastructure regime saying there is “no overarching vision or leadership in New Zealand for infrastructure development”.

“This means there is no nation-building narrative upon which to build a strategic direction,” it says — although it excuses the Ardern Government of any culpability for the mess which it says is intergenerational.

Apart from a national masterplan — which is heavily redolent of the Singapore Government approach to infrastructure development favoured by some council members — it wants to see funding and financing mechanisms that would allow for long-term, debt-funded or investable opportunities. It notes the incentives between central and local government are misaligned and New Zealand is poor at execution and delivery.

“The public sector does not have the capability to manage a programme of projects of national significance and the private sector operates in a boom-bust cycle,” the letter warns. . .

This government made much about its wellbeing budget but is ignoring the part infrastructure plays in that:

The council’s letter says that Infrastructure, in its broadest sense, underpins wellbeing.

“The success of regions relies upon their effective connectivity to urban centres; linking the city fringe with the centre can reduce income inequality; mature, unclogged and functioning cities (especially Auckland) are our critical engines of growth; swimmable beaches rely on major storm water and sewerage projects; energy certainty is a basic building block for investment; larger bridges can enable higher loadings, fewer truck movements and lower emissions; broadband connectivity empowers business to occur anywhere, any time; and a connected vision for infrastructure enables wealth to flow into and around the country, building an equality of opportunity for all Kiwis.”

The government scrapped several reading projects which would have improved travel times, safety, and productivity.

They would have been roads that led to improved wellbeing.

It then added insult to injury by increasing fuel taxes to fund trains and cycleways.

“Unfortunately, the system that sits beneath effective and sustainable infrastructure development in our country is fundamentally broken.” . . 

Improved infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue but this is an anti-roads, anti-cars government.

Walkways, cycleways, buses and trains all have a role to play but they can’t replace safe and efficient roads.

The government doesn’t appear to realise that improved infrastructure Is an important component of sustainability, bringing economic, environmental and social benefits.

Its transport blind spot stops it seeing that poor infrastructure is a roadblock on the journey to wellbeing.


Cost of higher fuel tax

July 2, 2019

An extra four cent tax was imposed on motorists yesterday.

The direct cost is obvious – it will be more expensive to buy fuel.

The indirect costs won’t take long to take effect – higher prices for everything that has a transport component.

That will hit individuals, community organisations and businesses.

And for what?

. . .Half-way into the “year of delivery,” and all we’re seeing is key projects delayed, down-sized or discarded. The public are seeing noticeable asset deterioration at a rate we haven’t seen previously. It’s across New Zealand, Forum members advise, not just Auckland. . . 

Where’s the money gone? What exactly has it been spent on? Auckland transport users certainly aren’t seeing the benefits.

The rest of New Zealand isn’t seeing any benefits either.

We’re paying higher prices for fuel and getting less spent on roads.


Driving on another planet

June 6, 2019

A New Zealand Transport Association tool shows 87% of road speeds are higher than is safe:

. . . The agency’s online risk assessment tool, Mega Maps, uses a range of factors such as road width and stereotype, shoulder width, roadside hazards and alignment to calculate the safe and appropriate travel speed.

Mega Maps suggests only 5 percent of the open road should have the current 100 kilometre an hour speed limit, and in most cases a speed of 60-80 km/h should apply.

For most urban areas, Mega Maps suggests the safe and appropriate speed would be 30-40 km/h . . 

Road design is one factor in making driving less safe. New Zealand roads could be much better but plans by the previous government to improve some by building four-lane highways were canned by this one.

I do most of my driving on the open road and it’s rare to have a longer trip when I’m not caught behind someone dawdling along at 10, 20 or more kilometres an hour below the legal, and safe for most, speed limit.

There are times when the road is hilly and windy, the light is poor and/or the weather inclement when slower speeds are appropriate but driving at 60 – 80 kph on most roads most of the time, providing the driver isn’t distracted,  tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, would be a recipe for frustration.

It would also put a handbrake on the economy:

A wholesale reduction in speed limits could do more harm than good by further isolating regional New Zealand and weakening the economy, National’s Transport spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

Media reports today reveal the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) estimates 87 per cent of our roads have speed limits that are too high for the conditions. Its mapping tool suggests many roads with a 100kmh speed limit should be reduced to as low as 60kmh.

“We all want safer roads, and while reducing speed limits across the board might be the easiest thing to do, it is too simplistic and would have huge implications for our way of life,” Mr Goldsmith says.

“Slower roads would impact regional New Zealand severely. Drastic speed limit cuts might mean it would take 45 minutes longer to get to New Plymouth from Hamilton, for example. In terms of isolation, that’s the equivalent of shifting the city another 60 kilometres out to sea.

“There would also be significant economic costs. If it suddenly took 30 per cent longer to move freight the same distance our national productivity would drop substantially, freight costs would rise and our international competitiveness would fall.

“A smaller economy would invest less in healthcare, for example, ultimately costing lives. Houses would be more expensive to build and the price of food would go up. These broader implications need to be considered fully.

“Over the past three years the road toll has risen, and we should absolutely be focused on understanding why. But it’s worth remembering that speed alone is not the cause.

“Other factors include drugged-driving, enforcement of current laws around drink-driving, not wearing seat belts, the quality of our roads, driver distraction and a huge increase in tourism.

“The Government should reverse its policy of not investing in quality new roads, and deal with its blind spot on drugged drivers. It has resolutely ignored the issue for nearly 18 months and it is appalling that the Minister in charge of road safety, Julie Anne Genter, is opposed to roadside drug testing because of her Green Party’s liberal approach to drugs.

“If the Government is truly concerned about saving lives on our roads, then why did the Budget show a cut, in real terms, to road safety policing?”

Most people don’t drive on a whim for the sake of it. We drive to get somewhere we need to go and want to get there in the shortest time we can safely do it.

Then there’s the people who drive for a living, many of whom are those who transport goods.

Slower legal speeds would add to the hours truck drivers would take to get from one place to another and curtail the distance they could travel without going over the time limits imposed on their driving for safety’s sake. It would also raise issues of animal welfare for those transporting stock.

Recommending that only 13% of roads can be safely driven at 100 kph suggests the tool is designed for driving on another planet.


Road toll too hard

January 4, 2019

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says it will be decades before the road toll drops substantially:

The Government announced last month it would invest $1.4 billion in road safety upgrades over the next three years in an effort to reduce the road toll, which ended at 382 for last year.

But Genter says while she expects the number of deaths to come down over the next few years, it will be decades before the number drops significantly. . .

But National’s associate transport spokesperson, Brett Hudson, said the public should get more for the amount invested.

“The immediate question is: What do we get for that $1.4b?

“Is the associate minister saying these things won’t save lives? Are they [the Coalition Government] prioritising that money in the right place, or do they not have confidence in what they can achieve?

“If we’re spending $1.4 billion but it’s going to take decades [to substantially reduce the road toll], the associate minister seems to be saying that $1.4b isn’t actually effective.

“Then shouldn’t she actually be doing something that is?”. . .

Putting fuel tax into roading improvements instead of cycle lanes and public transport would help.

Getting people off roads and onto bikes, buses and trains would reduce the road toll but most goods have to be transported by road, and cycle lanes and public transport are only the answer in some routes in some cities.

Like all people who live in the country, most of my driving is on the open road, from home to town.  In spite of the increase in population in our district, I can still do the return journey of nearly 40 kilometres without seeing more than a very few other vehicles until I get to the main road on the outskirts of Oamaru.

But major roads are much busier.

The state highways I use most often are north to Christchurch, south to Dunedin and west to Wanaka. All of them have far more traffic than there used to be and because of that every trip takes longer than it used to.

Longer trips with more traffic are more dangerous, especially when most of them are on two-lane roads with few passing lanes and without median barriers.

Why has Genter put reducing the road toll sooner into the too-hard basket when part of the solution is simple?

Redirecting money from cycle lanes and trains back into widening the roads, and adding passing lanes and median barriers would make more roads safer, sooner.

 

 


$2.63 and rising

October 8, 2018

Is this the most expensive petrol in the country?

Regular petrol in Wanaka yesterday cost $2.639, premium was more than $3 and diesel was $1.999.

The lower value of the New Zealand dollar is contributing to the rising price, but so too is the government’s new fuel tax.

It’s supposed to be levied only in Auckland but it’s appears to be spreading throughout the country.

And whether or not the tax is spreading north and south of Auckland, the pain of higher fuel prices is being felt nationwide.

All goods and services have a transport component, when the price of fuel increases, it put pressures on every single thing that is transported.

And the virtue signalling about the environment is cold comfort for those of us who will rarely if ever use Auckland’s public transport and have no public transport available locally.

This will be a tax too far for many people.

A government that talks about caring about child poverty needs to act to reduce the costs their parents can’t avoid.

 


11.5c + 3-4c = more poverty

June 1, 2018

Petrol was $2.22 a litre when I filled up my car yesterday.

That’s expensive and it’s going to get worse:

Aucklanders will be hit with a 11.5c a litre rise as soon the regional fuel tax comes into effect on July 1, with petrol companies saying they will be passing the full increase on.

And there will be more pain when prices rise by as much as 4c a litre again on October 1 if the first round of three national fuel excise increases is implemented following a policy statement announcement at the end of June.

The Government has indicated the increase will be 3-4c every year for three years. . . 

A tax of 11.5 cents now and 3-4 cents in a few weeks will add up to more poverty.

Aucklanders might face the highest price increase but it will affect all of us one way or another because at least some of the price rise will spread throughout the country.

Every trip everyone makes in a petrol-fueled vehicle will cost more and so too will every trip everything everyone buys, and everything that goes into everything everyone buys.

The price rise might encourage some to forgo private transport for public, but public transport doesn’t serve everyone in cities and there are no passenger trains and local buses outside cities and you can’t put goods and services on trains and buses.

The price rises will fuel inflation which will put pressure on interest rates which will put more pressure on prices which will further fuel inflation . . .

And who will be hardest hit by that?

It’s always the poorest.

Auckland needs better roads but had mayor Phil Goff kept to his promise of finding 3-6 percent efficiencies across the Council budget, this tax would not be needed.

For the sake of us all, Aucklanders must come up with a viable alternative who could beat the incumbent at next year’s election to save us from another three years of tax and spend.


366 days of gratitude

April 25, 2016

Many took the opportunity of today’s statutory holiday to have a long weekend away.

For those in and near our bigger cities that could mean hours in heavy traffic going and returning.

I drove 210 kilometres home this evening without having to pass a single other vehicle going the same way as me. Only one car came up behind and passed me and there would have been fewer than 50 vehicles which passed in the opposite direction.

Today I’m grateful I live in a part of the country which rarely has to endure traffic delays – and most of the few I encounter would be stock rather than vehicles.


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