Fisking transport wombles

Liberty Scott points out a few problems with the claims of transport wombles who want to force us all into cycling and horse drawn transport: Quote:

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. End quote.

What are these better alternatives to the flexibility and convenience that driving provides? Quote:

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 find 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 oesn’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. End quote.

And because all of those things are already in place we have a government prepared to ratchet them up. Which is why people like me spend so much time trying to make sure they are never introduced in the first place…like targeted rates which soon become abused by greedy, troughing politicians who can never get enough of other people’s money.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

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