Our transport infrastructure is generally well developed. However, there are key congestion and pressure points. The government is working to address historical under-investment in transport infrastructure.

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New Zealand’s transport infrastructure

New Zealand’s transport infrastructure is generally well developed, and compares favourably with other developed countries. We have good road and rail networks that link well to our air and sea ports. We have a transport network that includes:

  • 11,000km of State highways
  • 80,000km of local roads
  • 7 international airports
  • 28 regional airports with scheduled services
  • 4,000km of rail track
  • 14 exporting sea ports

The recent earthquakes in Canterbury have reinforced the need to ensure that our transport infrastructure is resilient. Transport is a lifeline utility. Disruptions can have serious consequences for businesses and communities.

The concept of resilience is wider than natural disasters. It covers the capacity of public, private and civic sectors to:

  • withstand disruption
  • absorb disturbance
  • act effectively in a crisis
  • adapt to changing conditions, including climate change
  • grow over time

However, there are also congestion and pressure points within our networks which we are working to address. Alongside that, the freight task has been projected to double by 2040. Any level of significant growth in the freight task will have an impact on the transport modes and how they contribute to the movement of our goods (Figure 2).

Figure 2 - pie chart showing freight tonne-kilometres by mode 2006/07

The growth in the level of freight that originates in, and is attracted to, our regions will also vary, placing different demands on the transport system in the future. Waikato, Canterbury, Northland and Auckland are projected to have the greatest growth in freight volumes (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3 - graph explaining growth in traffic generated in regions 2006-2007 to 2031

Figure 4 - graph describing forecast growth in freight traffic attracted to regions 2006-2007 to 2031

Transport infrastructure is expensive to establish and maintain, and it is widely recognised that we have under invested in the transport network in recent decades. To address this, the government has made record levels of investment in land transport in recent times (Figure 5).


Figure 5 - Total government transport expenditure as a percentage pf gross domestic product

Why roading is important

Roads are the backbone of the transport system. They carry 70 percent of freight tonne-kilometres and more than 100 million bus trips each year. Eighty-four percent of all trips made by individuals are by motor vehicles.

The roading network is, in many ways, the backbone of the domestic transport system. It is the means by which most New Zealanders get about by car, bus or bicycle and connect with family, friends and employment. Eighty-four percent of personal daily journeys are by road. The roading network is also responsible for moving 70 percent of freight tonne-kilometres within New Zealand (Figure 6).

Together, our local roads and State highways provide access to and from our air and sea ports for the majority of our exports and imports. They also service the needs of our international tourists. Our State highways account for just 12 percent of all roads, but they carry 50 percent of all motor vehicle kilometres. A number of our highways are affected by congestion, unreliable journey times or have a poor safety record. The new State Highway Classification System identifies our highways as either ‘national strategic’, ‘regional strategic’, ‘connector’, or ‘distributor’, by taking in a range of factors including freight volumes, daily traffic volumes, centres of population, ports, airports, and international tourism. This classification will enable the NZTA to set an appropriate and consistent level of service for each category and, over time, help drivers understand what to expect and how to behave on different categories of road.

New Zealand’s ‘high-volume highways’ total just over 700 kilometres of road. They are just 6.5 percent of the State highway network and are less than 1 percent of the total road network. However, they carry:

  • 35 percent of the total vehicle kilometres on highways
  • 17 percent of the total vehicle kilometres travelled on the whole New Zealand roading network
  • 19 percent of the freight volume kilometres on the whole New Zealand network

The roading system also supports the 100 million bus trips that New Zealanders take each year. The government has invested significant funding in recent years to improve the quality of our public transport infrastructure. This includes bus and rail terminals and other infrastructure, and establishing new services such as the Northern Busway in Auckland.

The government invests approximately $1.6 billion a year on the constructing, maintaining and renewing of State highways, including provision for walking and cycling.

In partnership with local authorities, the government provides subsidies of $600 million towards the constructing, maintaining and renewing of our local roading networks that link into our highways, including provision for walking and cycling. Local authorities invest a similar amount.

The government also provides subsidies of $275 million for public transport, again with local authorities investing a similar amount.

Figure 6 - Mode share of journeys to work: full-time workers' travel 6am-9.30am

Resurgence of rail freight

Our rail, maritime and aviation sectors also have a critical role to play in our supply chains and moving our people daily. We need to ensure the different modes are fully integrated.

When the government purchased the rail system in 2008, the business was in poor shape. After careful review, the incoming government invested substantially in the rail network. Through the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan, $4.6 billion will be invested in rail over 10 years to improve the quality of rail infrastructure and to support KiwiRail to become a commercially viable business.

Rail currently moves 15 percent of the national freight task. With projected growth in freight over the next 3 decades, an efficient rail freight network will play an important and complementary role to road freight to maintain access to our key ports. Rail is well placed to move heavy products over longer distances.

The Turnaround Plan aims to improve rail’s overall capacity and ability to efficiently and effectively meet the requirements of freight shippers. A successful turnaround will enable rail to complement, as well as compete with, other modes.

Role of maritime and aviation

Maritime and aviation connect New Zealand’s exporters and importers to international markets. Our sea ports are responsible for the movement of 99 percent of our exports by weight, worth $36 billion per annum. Coastal shipping is well placed to be able to move commodities, such as oil and cement, and can also operate as a competitive alternative to road and rail in some situations. The coastal shipping industry moves approximately 15 percent of New Zealand’s freight each year. Ferries also play an important role in freight movements between the North and South Islands, and in moving people. Ferry services operating in Auckland and across Cook Strait carry over 5 million passengers annually.

The aviation sector moves $6 billion of time-sensitive exports each year. The aviation sector is also critical to New Zealand’s $5.6 billion tourism industry.

We need sea and air ports to be linked effectively to the overall transport network to support efficient nationwide movement of passengers, domestic goods, and exports and imports. Alongside that they need to be able to respond to technological changes and changing international safety and security standards. We also need to realise the safety, efficiency and environmental benefits that will be available from adopting new technologies.

Integrated transport

For the transport system as a whole to operate efficiently and effectively, we need more than the individual transport modes operating well in their own right. Transport users need to be able to access services across the modes to make optimal decisions for their personal and business mobility, and to move their goods to market efficiently and on time. To support this, the infrastructure that underpins transport services needs to be resilient.

Logistics operators have an important role in how we move our goods. Transport operators in different modes need to be able to both compete and operate in an integrated manner for the benefit of transport users.


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