Money for Jams: the Government Response to Roading Reforms Is Commercialisation.

Listener 31 January, 1998.

Keywords: Governance; Health;

The proposed roading reforms are a typical case of the identification of a problem – road congestion in Auckland and Wellington – and a policy solution which has nothing to do with the problem, but forces the sector to conform to “THE MODEL” of commercialising everything. Its report is obscured and confused: it even gives two different months for when it was published. We might predict the outcome if the policy goes ahead.

Year One: Government steam rollers over dissent from the public, the rights of local authorities, and cautions from experts. Minister promises the end to traffic jams, fewer accidents, lower rates, and 30 percent productivity gains, based on increased efficiency. Cites new road pricing electronic and satellite technologies (which do not need commercialisation for their implementation). Appoints Reform Interim Unit of accountants, businessmen, and economists who know nothing about roading, but a lot about privatisation. Senior adviser exhibits ignorance by confusing a motorway on-ramp with a boat slipway. Financial consultants make a packet but fail to resolve confusion. Traffic on South Auckland Motorway comes to a standstill.

Year Two: Implementation unit establishes Regional Road Authorities (RRAs), appointing party hacks, businessmen, has-beens and never-wases to their boards. Increased public dissent. Secret Business Roundtable report commends reforms as a step towards road privatisation. PM sacks Minister of Transport, and ties up one of her most competent minister to drive the changes. Legislation rammed through parliament, backed by compliant caucuses, despite weight of evidence against effectiveness of the reform. Road valuation consultants make a packet but fail to resolve confusion. Traffic on Harbour Bridge seizes up.

Year Three: RRAs sack all competent staff, who promptly get hired in Australia. Minister institutes television campaign to convince population of benefits. (Population turns to New Zealand men’s cricket as more credible.) More road user charges: car owners install expensive equipment to effect them. International ideologues paraded through the country commending the reforms. International experts ignored. Engineering consultants make a packet investigating new technologies. Wellington traffic backs up to Levin.

Year Four: RRAs make losses. Numerous district councils go bankrupt or amalgamate. New Minister announces the promised technologies are not yet available, dont work, or are excessively expensive. Petrol tax shoots up. (Row with Reserve Bank over whether this is inflationary.) Government refuses to give up $700m a year general taxation on motorists to RRAs (apparently there is a fiscal crisis, but nobody can understand the arguments). RRAs announce that it will only provide trunk network, and one road to each town of over 1000 people. Encourages the formation of Community Roading Authorities (CRAs) for other roads (to be funded out of rates). Proposal to double road capacity by allowing only north bound traffic before noon, and southbound after. (East-west traffic in disarray.) New minister besieged in parliament by roading questions, such as why there is a pothole outside Ethel Mudgeway’s drive. Deterioration in traffic safety offset by slower travelling speeds. (It is faster by bike.) Marketing consultants make a package providing RRAs with corporate images. Palmerston North traffic backs up to Levin.

Year Five: RRAs announce a booking system to solve traffic jams. Only those likely to get through will be allowed on the roads. Others in jams will have to stay at home under the supervision of the CRAs or walk (which is usually faster). Courts rule Commerce Commission cannot restrain RRAs exploiting motorists. High cost RRAs place toll gates at their boundaries with low cost RRAs. New minister announces that the RRAs are to be amalgamated into a single unified authority, and tells audience in confidence that the policy is to get back to where it would have been had the reforms not been implemented. Ethel Mudgeway’s pothole converted into ornamental lake. Chairperson of local RRA mistakes boating slipway and drowns. (Death not classified to road toll rising from deteriorating road safety and design.) Traffic gridlock in Christchurch: Lyttleton Tunnel used for patients discharged from hospitals. Housingcorp investigates possibilities of using underbridges of Auckland motorways.

Year Six: Chairperson of Transitional Roading Authority, who was the government’s chief policy adviser five years earlier, announces that the promised productivity gains from the reforms have not appeared. In impenetrable language he explains that the RRA failures are really his. Nevertheless continues to support reforms (demonstrating they were nothing to do with resolving the problem, but are really aimed at imposing THE MODEL). Half the staff of the RRAs sacked, the rest concentrated into a highly centralised authority. Search throughout the world for competent senior executives (exiled New Zealanders unwilling to return). Concerns in government that it is right wing enough, result in phasing in of right-hand driving (trucks first). Consultants rehired to sort out confusion they created. Hokitika announces it is only town without gridlock (excluding those without roads).

I cannot tell you what happens after year six, because we are only into the seventh year of the health reforms, the paradigm of how a commercialisation policy fails when it nothing to do with the problems. Who said the first time is tragedy, the second time farce?