State outlay on public transport grows 24pc

By Mathew Dearnaley

Government spending on public transport will swell by 24 per cent in the next 12 months, but not enough to satisfy Green Party warnings about rocketing oil prices.

Roads will still claim about 80 per cent of a national land transport programme of $2.432 billion for the 2008-09 financial year, announced at the Beehive last night. Land Transport NZ's overall budget is up 12.5 per cent to $2.7 billion, after counting $273 million allocated to the police for road patrols and related safety activities.

National spending on public transport will rise $62 million to $325 million, compared with a Government budget of $1.936 billion for the construction and upkeep of state highways and local roads.

The Government's share of Auckland's public transport will remain the same as last year, at $139 million, now that capital spending has largely finished on the booming $290 million Northern Busway. Neither does Land Transport's budget cover construction activities of fellow Government agency Ontrack, which is spending $600 million of direct Treasury funds over several years on a basic upgrade of Auckland's rail network.

But Green Party's spokesman on Auckland transport, Keith Locke, said that maintaining general public transport spending for the region at last year's level was an inadequate response to rising demand for seats on buses, trains and ferries as fuel costs became too expensive for many commuters to keep driving cars to work.

Much of the extra budget is going to Wellington, which will receive a 56 per cent boost to $129 million.

The Government has agreed in principle to pay about half of a $1 billion rail electrification project for Auckland, although the region is waiting for fuel tax legislation to be passed to underwrite its share. The legislation is due to be debated clause-by-clause in Parliament today.

Funding for state highway construction will rise by 19 per cent to $791 million, of which $420 million will be spent in Auckland.

That represents just under 50 per cent of overall Government transport funding in the region of $850.4 million, which is $70 million more than last year. But Government subsidies to city and district councils for local roads are up by just 4.7 per cent, to $222 million, of which $88.6 million will be spent in Auckland.

That is unlikely to be enough to address the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's concern that investment in regional arterial roads has "fallen behind" a need to ease congestion such as by providing more bus and freight priority lanes.

Roading New Zealand is meanwhile warning that maintenance spending of $923 million on state highways and local roads will be "barely sufficient" to preserve the network, even though that amounts to 38 per cent of the core land transport budget.

- NZ Herald

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