The Government is walking back aspects of its land transport plan, after they were published by the Herald this morning.
The Herald revealed Transport Minister Michael Wood and transport officials were putting together a plan that would place emissions reduction as a top priority of the transport plan, known as a Government Policy Statement on land transport or GPS.
The plan included changing the way road maintenance funding is used, putting it towards cycleways and bus lanes as well as just fixing roads.
But that has changed, with Wood now promising an “emergency-style” plan that responds to the maintenance needs of Cyclone Gabrielle.
“The indicative transport priorities signed off by Cabinet last year will change in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle,” Wood said.
“We are now working on an emergency-style GPS that will focus on the huge task of reconstruction of roads and bridges washed out by the cyclone and flooding, as well as building greater resilience so our transport network can better withstand the increasing frequency of extreme weather events like we have seen this year.
“No final decisions, including changes to fuel excise duty, have been made as we are still working through the full extent of the damage inflicted by Gabrielle,” he said.
On Monday, the Herald reported Ministers were finalising a new transport strategy that will, for the first time, make climate change the top priority when it comes to deciding how transport funding gets invested.
The plan, which will go out for consultation this year, will dictate where tens of billions of dollars of transport funding will be spent in the next three years and promises a stark pivot towards public transport and away from emissions-intensive investments, like new highways.
Wood had proposed changes to the way $2b of maintenance money is spent each year, which could mean swapping car parks for new bus lanes and cycleways - paid for with the money used to fix potholes, according to a briefing released to the Herald under the Official Information Act.
An overarching goal of the plan will be to reduce the amount of driving and thereby emissions - officials say projects that will increase emissions will not necessarily be axed, but face a “high threshold” to get funding.
The changes may come at a cost. Wood told the Herald, that after being frozen for three years, increases in fuel taxes and road user charges are once again on the table although no decision had been made about whether to increase them yet.
That could mean motorists copping a fairly significant increase in costs over the next year. Not only will the temporary 25 cents a litre cut be rolled back at some stage, but further taxes would be added to that.
The last time the current Government hiked fuel taxes was in 2018, when it increased the tax by 3.5 cents a litre each year for three years.
Wood’s plan is the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, or GPS. Every three years (usually) a transport minister will draw up a GPS which sets out where they want Waka Kotahi NZTA to spend the billions of dollars it earns from fuel taxes and road user charges over the next 10 years.
Waka Kotahi uses the GPS as a guide for its National Land Transport Plan which sets out, in detail, where it will spend that money over the next three years. Councils also use the document to set out what projects they might jointly fund with Waka Kotahi.
The sums of money are huge. The last GPS was touted as a $54b investment over 10 years. The NLTP that resulted from is estimated to come to $24.3b (thanks to core Crown and local government funding).