Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ignorant transport policy "advocates"

Stuff has posted a story by Bevan Woodword who is cited as: the project director for SkyPath and spokesperson for Movement, an alliance of national organisations seeking safe journeys for active transport users.

It's typical of what passes for "analysis" in transport policy among many advocates, and those who are part of the "green" central planning school of transport thinking.   It's shoddy and full of errors, which I'll outline below.  He outlines "six interventions that would make our transport system safer, more efficient and sustainable"...

1. Let's tax fossil fuels:  Hang on.  Existing taxes on petrol, excluding GST are over 69c/l (including the Emissions Trading Levy).   The Government is already planning to increase it.  Yes there is only a small 3.33c/l on diesel, but that's because Road User Charges recover the costs of maintaining and improving roads from diesel powered vehicles.   There ARE taxes on fossil fuels (except fuel oil for shipping and aviation fuel for international flights, but I don't think he thinks about modes off the land).  Taxes on petrol have been increasing by inflation for some years now.  

However, he argues that the taxes should be punitive, not for a purpose other than to make it more expensive to own a car that burns fossil fuels, so that those who can afford it can buy electric cars.  He says "the air we breathe will be healthier", yet there is little evidence New Zealand has a serious air quality issue due to pollution from road vehicles (although there are localised problems in parts of Auckland).  So it's just a guess.  He says the "tax money can fund better alternatives to driving".  Yet, over 15% of the revenue collected from road users is spent on public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure.   

It's as if he is completely unaware of the current government transport revenue and funding system.  No doubt he thinks making it more and more expensive for everyone to drive, including the poor, the elderly and in particular people in regional and rural areas, is good for them because it will "fund alternatives".   So if you're in Kaitaia, Kaitangata, Karori or Katikati, you'll pay more, even though the odds are that in only one of those cases you might have an alternative that Bevan "approves".

2. We need to reward those who use public transport:  Of course many urban public transport users are already rewarded, because on average about half of the cost of their travel is subsidised by road users and ratepayers.  It is nonsense to say "Every person using public transport is helping to relieve traffic congestion and reduce the need for expensive new roads". A fair proportion of those using it either have no reasonable alternative or would share a car trip with another, not everyone on public transport can hop into a car (or would) if it wasn't there.  Yes, airlines (which do provide public transport). reward frequent flyers, but that is a market, it is commercial and it appeared spontaneously.  Long distance public transport (coaches, trains, ferries and airlines) is not subsidised in New Zealand, but that isn't what Bevan thinks of.

3. Put safety experts in charge of our country's road safety:  Um, who does he think works for NZ Transport Agency (which incorporated the Land Transport Safety Authority). NZ's road death rate is twice the rate of the UK because the UK had 15x the population, and most of its major highways are equivalent to a motorway standard in New Zealand (so no head on collisions and few loss of control accidents).  Norway and Switzerland also have low accident rates because the road network in those countries is so superior.   He says:  In New Zealand, politicians are required to approve road safety decisions - such as whether to implement pedestrian crossings, protected cycle lanes, safer speed limits, road safety improvements, compulsory third party insurance, and mandatory professional driver licence training. Most politicians have no expertise in road safety.

No, you wont fund a Minister approving a pedestrian crossing, or even a cycle lane or road safety improvements. Yes Councillors have some role in this for local roads, but state highways are managed by professionals.  Compulsory third party insurance is largely irrelevant in New Zealand because of ACC (which is compulsory socialised "insurance").  Yes, most politicians have no expertise in road safety, but you don't either.  

4. We need to replace the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) approach used to assess and prioritise transport projects:  Do keep up Bevan, this was significantly diluted around 15 years ago with the Land Transport Management Act. BCR is only one factor used to prioritise projects.  It is "biased towards roading projects" because, surprise surprise, it is funded by road users.  It does take into account carbon emissions, but it doesn't value them above everything else (the UK did this a few years ago, encouraging low CO2 emitting diesel vehicles over others, and local air quality got worse).  Don't worry, the tool that prioritises what road users want their money spent on isn't used how you think it is.

5. Apply road pricing:  Now I'm fine with this, but Bevan doesn't realise that NZ already has road user charges.  Yes, I'm all in favour of a commercial market approach to charging for roads, but that doesn't include taxing fuel and it means roads being supplied on a market approach as well as priced that way.  He thinks the poor can be helped out by free public transport, though he is unlikely to find that works for people in Huntly, Carterton, Westport or Tuatapere.  I don't think Bevan really wants a market though, because it would go against most of what he wants.

6. Treat our roads as valuable spaces. Our streets must not become traffic sewers: What does that even mean?  Does it mean he thinks vehicles on roads are "sewerage", whether they carry people or goods?  That's just trendy pejorative nonsense.

He wants to "reduce traffic", but implies that a lot of traffic necessarily interferes with walking, cycling and horse riding.   It doesn't if it is on roads purpose built for traffic, and local streets are left for local access.  

The truth is that there is a congestion problem, mainly in Auckland, mainly because market mechanisms aren't used to manage both the demand and supply of roads.  However, road transport has never been safer, never been cleaner (in terms of pollution) and never been cheaper.  Yes, local authorities haven't always thought about how pedestrians fit into the urban environment, and there are locations that could do with traffic bypassing areas better suited for pedestrians and cyclists, but this set of measures devalues the freedom, flexibility, time saving and comfort that private motoring offers millions. New Zealand DID have railway services across much of the country, also with complementary bus services, but New Zealanders bought cars when they could afford them, paid petrol tax to improve the roads, and politicians by and large responded accordingly.  Many other changes in transport patterns have occurred over the years, including huge expansion in air travel, and the recent growth in Uber, all due to individuals and entrepreneurs responding to opportunities.

Bevan, unfortunately, is seeking the command and control central planners' approach to transport.  He wants to tax the choices people currently make, to pay for the ones he thinks are good for them. Unfortunately, he doesn't realise that most of his suggestions are already in place in one form or another.

I think urban design should be supportive of pedestrian access, and cycling where there is demand to justify it.  However, too often this slips beyond advocating for improvements, to a barely disguised attack on motorised road transport, to make it slower, more expensive and less desirable.  If people want to walk and bike, then good luck to them, but why do these advocates for walking and cycling think it is their business to get in the way of people who drive for work, pleasure or business?

Footnote

SkyPath is the advocacy group for a project to put a cycleway and walkway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Movement describes itself as "a strong, effective, national voice for active transport users (including elderly, disabled and children)."  Well we are all "active transport users" as we all walk.  

Its vision is: 
For people walking, cycling or using mobility aids, conditions are often unsafe or unpleasant.
Their only option to be completely dependent on a private vehicle. Providing good facilities for active transport, delivers immense benefits: a healthier society, less traffic congestion, more livable communities and an enhanced environment.

Bevan Woodword's profile says: Bevan’s work with BetterWorld NZ includes a wide range of sustainable transport consultancy. He has worked towards the goal of walking and cycling across the AHB for more than 10 years, along with many other initiatives to improve transport choice for Aucklanders. 




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