30 April 2019 By Richard Harman
Transport Minister Phil Twyford is not responding to arguments put forward yesterday by the country’s infrastructure industry calling for more road building to reduce road accidents.
A spokesperson for Twyford told POLITIK that the reports cited by Infrastructure New Zealand were at least two years old.
Therefore he would not respond.
And in Parliament, the Prime Minister said the Government’s focus was on making roads safer when she was asked by Opposition Leader Simon Bridges when a number of delayed road construction projects would go ahead.
But infrastructure New Zealand yesterday produced two reports which showed a much more complex background to New Zealand road deaths.
New Zealand’s road safety performance, as measured by road deaths, steadily improved from the 1980s right through until 2013.
A report produced in 2017 by Deloittes shows that the improvement was significant, with some 12,300 lives between 1990 to 2012 ‘saved’ due to the reduction in annual road deaths over these 22 years.
However, from 2013, the road toll began to turn, and after several decades of improvement, more people started dying each year.
In 2017, the Ministry of Transport contracted Deloitte Access Economics to investigate why safety had started to deteriorate.
They made two key findings: that economic activity and vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) were related and that for every one per cent increase in vehicle kilometres travelled there was a more than one per cent increase in crashes.
They also found that a one per cent increase in vehicle kilometres travelled was associated with an increase in the rate of serious injury crashes two point nine per cent and and fatal crashes one point nine per cent.
“This could be the result of changes in the nature of VKT (such as more travel on rural roads),” the report said.
And the report quoted New Zealand and overseas studies which showed that as employment increased so did vehicle kilometres travelled; in other words, there was more driving taking place when the economy was buoyant.
The report also found that an increase in motorbike registrations correlated with the increas4e in fatal smashes.
And the report quoted a Ministry of Transport study which showed that an analysis of overseas driver crashes found that approximately 77% were short-term visitors to New Zealand, between 2011 and 2015. The prevalence of overseas drivers involved in crashes also varied by region, with a quarter of all crashes in tourist areas on the South Island involving an overseas driver.
Infrastructure NZ CEO, Stephen Selwood, believes the report shows that there are too many cars on New Zealand roads.
“If we really want to lower the road toll we need to look at the volume of traffic (vehicle kilometres travelled, or VKTs) on New Zealand roads and whether these roads adequately provide for all users,” he said.
“The amount driven has increased substantially in recent years.
“Over a billion kilometres extra were travelled on our roads in 2017 versus 2016 – an increase of 5 per cent in just one year.
“We’re driving 13.3 per cent more than we did a decade ago.
“In the same ten year period, the length of sealed and unsealed road increased by 2 per cent.
“Many more vehicle kilometres travelled on roughly the same amount of road increases risk-taking.”
Selwood said that a priority for turning around New Zealand’s road toll must be to ensure investment in the road system was keeping pace with growth in traffic volumes.
“The current funding model requires fuel charges to cover the majority of transport spending, from walking and cycling to public transport, as well as our road network.
“Additionally, we expect investment in roads and rail to improve competitiveness, grow the economy, unlock land for housing, improve environmental outcomes and provide access to isolated communities.
“The system cannot cope. A complete overhaul of how and why we fund transport is required, not only to improve safety but to progress much broader economic, social and environmental objectives,” he said.
POLITIK referred his comments and the Deloitte report to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, but a spokesperson said he wouldn’t comment because the report was two years old.
Meanwhile, in Parliament Opposition Leader Simon Bridges asked the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, whether she thought her Government was delivering “when not a single new road has been started under her Government?”
Ardern listed six roads that are to be started by the Government.
“But the thing is, under the context of road safety issues, I think the issue I’d rather highlight is that between 2013 and 2018, the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads increased by 55 per cent, and yet that Government did not change their spending plans and put them into road safety,” she said.
“The signals were all there, which is why we’re investing a record $1.4 billion over three years to upgrade over 1,500 kilometres of our most dangerous roads. If that member is only interested in new roads rather than safe roads, then I can’t help him.”
Selwood would argue that National’s policy was the way to reduce road fatalities, but he does have a vested interest. Infrastructure NZ represents the companies that build and maintain roads.
However, his view, while it will be rejected by the Greens, is likely to be shared by NZ First.
But whether they have the clout to change the Government’s track on road building is doubtful which maybe explains why NZ Infrastructure is keen to get a debate going.