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Time travel, buzz words and fantasy

Updated: Mar 19


This post is a longer version of a 450 word article I wrote for Queenstown’s Lakes Weekly Bulletin.  I felt it needed more space to explain some parts and proper referencing so people can consider my sources of information.

To get the focus of a document, it’s often helpful to count the mentions of key words.  The coalition’s 43 page Draft Government Policy Statement Land Transport (GPS) is easily understood his way:  ‘Pothole’ 24 mentions, ‘Toll’ 23, ‘Roads of National Significance’ 22, ‘Local Government’ 15, ‘Bus’ 10,  ‘Climate’ two. ‘Queenstown’ two, ‘Otago’ one. ‘Ashburton’ one. Transport commentator Bridget Doran noted that neither 'Children' nor 'School' nor 'Disabled' rate a single menition and Otago University geographer Angela Curl 'looked for Health (2) and equity (2), in relation to equity finance, so 0" (Te Tauākī Kaupapa Here a Te Kāwanatanga Mō Ngā Waka Whenua 2024 | Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2024, n.d.)

This GPS comes from an ideological position that considers transport as key to underpinning economic growth.   It expects road building to enable housing development, and leaves the so far failed (there’s promises to beef it up) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to deal with climate change. It supposes that more and better roads combined with congestion charging will relieve the issues of getting across our narrowest isthmus, over our high hills and along our great length. It assumes that private money will want to invest in these solutions and that nothing much is needed in the Southern motu (apart from a bridge in Ashburton – fair call, that need is desperate). It fails to recognise Christchurch as a forward thinking centre of innovation and development that requires investment…

The direction has swung from moving people out of cars, a climate responsiveness, and encouraging the intensification that would require less roading and other infrastructure, towards driving economic growth, value, maintenance and user pays.

That will be comforting to some. It’s a familiar rhetoric. New roads, old ones to be repaired (using fewer cones – ‘expenditure on temporary traffic management’ to be reduced), and we’ll apparently all be able to drive wherever we want whenever we want covering our emissions with a little more fuel tax.

All this might have seemed sensible 50 years or more back but:

1. We ignore emissions reduction and the need to shift away from the internal combustion engine at our peril.

We have to cut emissions to meet Paris targets and conditions of our new European Free Trade Agreement (Emissions Will Cost New Zealanders | BERL, n.d.) (NZ Could Breach European Free Trade Deal If It Doesn’t Meet Paris Agreement Obligations, 2023).  Enabling more private fossil fueled car use makes meeting those targets harder. Thinking that the ETS might do the job is just fantastical.

2. This GPS delves deep into the detail normally and rightly the realm of local government.  For example, it talks about public transport levels of patronage vs levels of cost using the blunt tool of averaged pricing and patronage to support its argument for withdrawing support and funding.  

This from GPS pg 14:

“There has been a 71 percent increase in Crown/NLTF funding for public transport over the past 5 years. However, over the same period patronage has decreased by 23 percent…” 

This may be true on a bluntly averaged national level, but it is not the case for Otago where patronage in both areas that offer public transport is higher than 5 years ago and is still growing strongly:

 “Between July and September (2023) more than 850,000 people took the bus in Dunedin. This was a 31% increase in passenger numbers as measured against the same period pre-Covid. It was a similar story in Queenstown where passenger numbers rose by 32% in the same period (454,316 people).(Otago People Are on the Bus | Otago Regional Council, n.d.)


This illustrates the the willingness of this government to throw us under the bus - claiming failure – instead of looking where the success has been and where it hasn’t and how success might be capitalised, scaled and improved. At the Otago Regional Council (ORC) we have already had to rescind a decision to consult a suite of improvements to the Dunedin bus system because of the current ‘funding environment’ (Miller, 2024).  Our aspirations for a public transport system for Wānaka, an improved system in Queenstown and early investigations of regional public transport are likely to go the same way.

3. Fundamentally, this GPS is the road to nowhere for anyone who doesn’t drive. We know the importance of transport independence for under 18’s - it supports their health and wellbeing - and what the school run contributes to congestion and emissions.  This has been well studied in the decade long Beats study by Sandra Mandic and her team.   (Harwood, 2023). But regardless, walking/cycling budgets are slashed. Highway funding will no longer be allowed to include funds for a footpath or cycleway alongside (again, prescriptive cutting out of local government decisionmaking).  There will only be investment in walking and cycling where “there is clear benefit for increasing economic growth...” and lots of people are already using the route.  This is truly awful news for young people and their health (see Beats study above).  If they need a cycle way between school and home, no luck if they can’t show the direct economic growth benefit. The outlook for the disability space where people have worked so hard to secure accessible, equitable transport is equally dismal, show your economic value.

3. The costs for most people will bite hard; local ratepayers, car drivers and bus users. Despite continual pressure from our ORC ratepayers to improve bus services and cycle accessibility, we will find it very difficult to do so.  We will pay more for the rudimentary services we currently have and will be hard pressed to find funds for improvements.   Higher fares, more contribution from rates for our bus systems are among the Ministerial expectations.  

4. Public Private Partnerships – Transmission Gully anyone? That project will cost taxpayers dearly for many years while the private investor continues to profit. PPPs are considered an expensive way to deliver infrastructure compared to other funding mechanisms. (Transmission Gully PPP Review - Greater Auckland, n.d.)

5.  Congestion charging works but you need to put the money raised into alternative options such as public transport and working and cycling.  (360info, 2023). Pretty sure that’s not the plan here.

 On top  of this, Waka Kotahi has to do more while finding 7.5% in savings.  Police have a list of new tasks.  Strict budgeting is called for.

Opportunities? There may be some. There's the mention of dynamic lanes (great idea for buses), talk of ‘demand management’, and a directive that Waka Kotahi must create a more efficient business case process (hallelujah!). Congestion charging may be helpful if we can talk them into redirecting funds raised into buses, walking and cycling. And the mysterious ‘Queenstown Package’? No detail on that yet.

All in all, the key feature of this GPS is time travel. Back to an old century, old thinking and old solutions.  There’s reams of research to show that such a plan cannot deliver the economic growth or other outcomes the minister desires.

It’s a draft.  If you’re thinking along these same lines, best let them know your thoughts. 


’15-minute cities’, ‘Superblocks’ and parking. (2021, July 3). Urbanhub Aotearoa.

360info. (2023, February 16). The results are in: Congestion charging works. Newsroom.

Emissions will cost New Zealanders | BERL. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2024, from

Greater Auckland. (2024a, March 4). The Government’s Ideological Transport Policy. Greater Auckland.

Greater Auckland, M. (2024b, March 6). The GPS is a disaster for local government. Greater Auckland.

Harwood, B. (2023, April 13). School transport study reveals findings. Otago Daily Times Online News.

Midterm review of Regional Land Transport Plans 2021-2031. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2024, from

Miller, G. (2024, February 21). Bus service plan unlikely to be funded. Otago Daily Times Online News.

NZ could breach European free trade deal if it doesn’t meet Paris Agreement obligations. (2023, November 14). RNZ.

Otago people are on the bus | Otago Regional Council. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2024, from

Te Tauākī Kaupapa Here a te Kāwanatanga mō ngā waka whenua 2024 | Government Policy Statement on land transport 2024. (n.d.). Ministry of Transport. Retrieved March 7, 2024, from

Williamson, M. (2024, March 4). How low-density housing is making us poorer. The Spinoff.

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John Lawson
John Lawson
3월 15일

A good article. 'Value for money' appears 15 times. If they really believed in value for money, they'd close most of the rural roads and save me over $1,000 a year on my rates bill that goes to subsidise them. They say value for money is cutting traffic management, "while maintaining the safety of workers and road users", yet give no clues as to how that can be done. The GPS is strong on slogans, but weak on ideas for how to achieve them.

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