Joyce On Puhoi, Hamilton Rail


There was an exchange during question time in parliament today between Labour MPs and the transport minister, Steven Joyce about the so-called holiday highway and the proposed Hamilton-Auckland commuter rail link.

(Labour’s transport spokesman) Darren Hughes: Why does he choose to put greater emphasis on getting people to their holiday homes more efficiently, at the expense of other transport modes that would also result in greater efficiency of the road transport system, such as committing to an airport-to-city rail link for the city of Auckland?

(Transport Minister) Steven Joyce: The member opposite once again shows a disturbing misunderstanding of economics and economic efficiency. The reality in this country is that 85 percent of passenger transport occurs in private vehicles, and that will continue to occur. The highway that the member referred to is massively more used than almost the entire current rail system in Auckland.

(Labour Waikato list MP) Sue Moroney: Is he aware that around 60 people met in Te Kauwhata this week to support the establishment of a passenger train service between Hamilton and Auckland, and does he agree that that service could improve the efficiency of road transport for those stuck in traffic on Auckland’s southern motorway every morning and every afternoon?

Steven Joyce: I am doing this from memory, but my understanding is that the cost of subsidising a passenger on a train from Hamilton to Auckland is something like $15,000 or $16,000 per trip. It would be cheaper to hire a helicopter to fly someone from Hamilton to Auckland than actually to subsidise that train service.

The questions began with a patsy question from National on road user charges:The above exchange on Puhoi starts at 1.49

There was also an interesting question from Labour about bio-fuels and the slow uptake.

CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: How much funding has been granted to date under the bio-diesel grants scheme, and is he satisfied with the scheme’s progress?

(Minister) Gerry Brownlee: So far the figure granted is $230,332. I do not want to express either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with that. Rather, I wish to express my profound disappointment that an industry that promised so much has delivered so little despite such an extraordinary available subsidy.

Chris Hipkins: How many of the 240 jobs he claimed in May last year would be created by the bio-diesel grants scheme have actually eventuated, particularly given that only five companies have signed up for the scheme, no new companies have signed up since July last year, and less than $230,000 of the $36 million has actually been taken up?

Brownlee: As I said, I am extremely disappointed by the failure of this industry to respond to the Government’s stimulus. I think the fact that it has failed serves as testimony to the mistruths put in front of this House by the member and his colleagues.

Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by his statement in the House that there is no doubt that biofuels will play a big part in our energy mix in the future; if so, what is his response to Ecodiesel chairperson—

Mr Speaker: I am on my feet. Whoever interjected just then is lucky; I could not see who it was. All of us at times get a frog in our throats and lose our voices. I invite the member to have a drink of water, and I invite members to give him a reasonable chance to ask his question.

Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by his statement to the House that there is no doubt that biofuels will play a big part in our energy mix in the future; if so, what is his response to Ecodiesel chairperson Lindsay Fergusson’s comment that scheme will work only for small-scale producers and those who “are not the future of the bio-diesel industry in New Zealand.”?

Brownlee: I stand by my statement that bio-diesel will play a bigger role in the future, simply because I think that that is what will happen. I do not put a timeframe on that. The reality is that if people do not buy the product, we cannot sell it. That is the problem the industry has. It has failed to sell the product.

Chris Hipkins: Why should the public of New Zealand have any confidence in anything that this Minister says when his bio-diesel grants scheme has been a total flop, the revised energy strategy he has been promising for 18 months has not eventuated, his Electricity Industry Bill has been panned by critics, and his plan to mine national parks has been left in tatters, or is this just the usual standard of ministerial performance people can expect under a National Government?

Brownlee:I think the crackly-voice performance we heard from the member before indicates that he is a very young man, and none of what he said is true.




  1. Jon says:

    Steven Joyce would now more than ever appear to be out of his depth on rail transport.

    This statement, a part from being completely and grossly incorrect, will come back to haunt him. I also now realise why David Bennett and Tim MacIndoe are the only MP’s in Hamilton against commuter rail. They are following Joyce.

    Let’s look at Joyce’s figures “from memory”:

    Each one way trip costs $15,000 - according to Steven Joyce
    If the rail service was one return service per day (2 trips in Joyce speak), 5 days a week for 52 weeks of the year = $7,200,000

    I challenge Steven Joyce to bring your “from memory” figures to a public meeting in Hamilton. Be prepared to be laughed out of the Waikato in your state owned BMW.

  2. CB says:

    Another quick fact check on something Joyce said. He states that “massivly” more people use the holiday highway than the Auckland rail system. My understanding is that patronage on the Auckland rail network is going to be a little under 9 million a year for this year which would mean about 30,000 trips a day on it (ish) currently Puhoi to wellsford carries about 10 - 12,000 vehicles a day. Even aasuming all of the 30,000 are return trips by the same people that’s still about 15,000 people using the rail network everyday. If this is correct why do they not challenge him on it? Are they really that lazy that they have not bothered to look at the numbers? Or am I way off here? After all this is just off the top of my head and maths was never my strong suit.

  3. Matt L says:

    Joyce always attacks people that challenge him by saying they don’t understand economics or something similar. Also just because 85% of trips are made by car, that doesn’t mean that 85% of people want to make a trip by car. Given a proper choice many people would choose differently.

    I think we need a new minister.

  4. DanC says:

    Joyce is defending something big time, does he have vested interests? Upholding previous recorded debates? He’s not very balanced and can’t see outside the box which is unfortunate for NZ.

  5. Chris says:

    We definately need new ministers. Joyce appears to have been affected by a rush of blood to the head, while Brown’KingCoal’lee is simply out of his depth.

  6. Matthew says:

    I do think that the opposition isn’t doing a very good job holding him to account on this. There are already a number of studies showing the low BCR of this route, even with opotimistic assumptions. Why isn’t the opposition using this, instead of drawing qualitative comparisons between road and rail - easy for Joyce to bat away.

  7. Sam says:

    @CB - I think Joyce isn’t actually saying that Puhoi to Wellsford is used massively more than Aucklands rail network, but that it is used massively more than ALMOST all of Aucklands rail network… In effect he is making it sound like how you interpreted it, but he isn’t actually quantifying what he’s comparing it to… ALMOST all of Auckland’s rail network could refer to just 2 of the 3 lines, in which case he may be right.

    I’m not just being particular about grammar either…I don’t think its just a slip in his words- to me it sounds like he would have consciously put the ‘almost’ in.

    Also, I remember a time not so long ago when that stretch of road was considerably more than ten times busier than Auckland’s rail network…then a relatively small amount of money was invested in it and patronage increased what must be close to 2000% by now. the only reason our network is not as highly utilised as it could be, and that 85% of trips are made by private vehicle, is because no real money has been spent, definitely not because people don’t want to use it.

    Overall, I think you would have to be pretty delusional to think that with results like that, you can state as if it was a fact that the current ratio of transport modes “will continue to occur”

  8. CB says:

    @Sam, thanks you are right I missed the word almost in there. Very clever of him. Deliberatly misleading though. I totally agree with the rest of your post as well. What this does highlight is how useless Labour are as opposition, for Darren Hughes to sit there and not bring up the points you just made show that it’s just too easy for Joyce. He’s just mincemeat for Joyce from what i’ve seen and he does not appear to have much of a handle on the transport portfolio. They need someone in there who does, this is one small area (small in the general public’s conciousness) that they could start to chip away at National, they are not equipped to do that it would seem.

  9. CB says:

    “does he have vested interests?” Word is he wants Lockwood Smith’s Rodney electrorate when he steps down. It reeks of pork.

  10. Joshua says:

    CB - Labour Automatically disagree with National on most areas just because they are in opposition, I think you might find they are not bringing up these points because they actually agree with what Joyce is saying. To me this is the only conclusion that seems viable to me. The other conclusion could be that the opposition is totally ignorant and haven’t done there research. Either way I don’t think it’s very professional and in fact, if I’m right either way why are we paying them to be in parliament?

    As you have said before, the reason why we have 85% travel by private vehicle is because 50% of people have no choice.

    (50% is a made up stat, but wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more than that.)

  11. karl says:

    He also uses hugely misleading language. $15,000 PER PASSENGER? Does the minister even know trains have more than one seats? So he’s using a wrong figure in a wrong way. Together, used by a person who should know better, that amounts to lying. This minister in my view is a liar.

  12. sam says:

    @Karl - I originally thought that was just bad wording too, but then as he made the completely rediculous remark about the helecopter (based on a cost of $15000 per passenger), it became clear that he again said exactly what he meant…

  13. CB says:

    “Labour Automatically disagree with National on most areas just because they are in opposition, I think you might find they are not bringing up these points because they actually agree with what Joyce is saying” - I think you might be right there. But I think there is also some ignorance there as well so you are probably right on both counts. At the moment they are waste of space not achieving much for anyone.

    @Karl, well i didn’t want to come right out and say that but yeah that’s what it looks like dosn’t it? Again pathetic that such a ridiculous statement went unchallenged. Labour deserve to languish in opposition for a long time. Can’t think of a reason for anyone to vote for them.

  14. Kurt says:

    “85 percent of passenger transport occurs in private vehicles” according to Mr Joyce.

    Has he ever thought for a moment that this is because the alernatives are either not there at all or are so woeful that of course that 85% will continue to do so.

    Or maybe he simply doesnt care!

  15. Nick R says:

    He always talks about “realistically people are always going to drive their cars blah blah”, he doesn’t seem to comprehend that people simply do what is easiest for them.
    Of course people are going to drive if they have spend the last six decades pouring money into motorways and areterials, building carparking buildings, subsidising motorists by allowing people to park for free on the side of the road (what a waste of a road!), cutting tarrifs on second rate jap imports while slashing all funding from public transport.
    But if you built some decent public transport the people would do that too. Does Joyce honestly think that people only ever use what they like, does he not realise that people actually just use what they are provided with?

  16. Richard says:

    As Karl points out trains have more than one seat and I think the old Silver Ferns carry about 90 passengers. At half full 45X $15,000 per trip = $675,000 subsidy per trip. Say a $30 fare was charged this would be another$1350.00 so the cost to run the train for 45 passengers from Hamilton to Auckland would be $676,350.00

    Does it really cost over $500.000 to run a railcar from Hamilton to Auckland??? Labour should have torpedoed Joyce on those figures and asked for his resignation for misleading Parliament.

    Can somebody advise the real cost to run a Silver Fern 130 odd kms.?

  17. Matt L says:

    Richard, I agree, if they cost that much then no sane business would ever by a train that inefficient. I think Joyce is fudging the numbers, but that doesn’t seem unusual for him.

  18. Richard says:

    Another point the minister stated was that 85% of passenger movements were by private vehicle and this was likely to continue.

    Surely in the interests of the planet and man’s survival this must be reduced and Government should be encouraging a reversal not assisting its progression. The human race is overpopulating and raping the environment. What’s more our accoutrements take up so much space we are soon going to run out of space on this planet.

    On this basis encouraging car use is not only irresponsible but immoral.

  19. Nick R says:

    I’d be interested in the actual costs too. Presumably it is mostly base costs like staffing, maintenance and track access fees.
    I have heard that the Ferns are very cheap on fuel (relatively speaking), in as much as it only takes them 300 litres of diesel to get from Auckland to Wellington!
    That’s about 2.5km to the litre, so AKL to HAM would be about 50 litres of diesel to carry up to 96 passengers… or about the same as a four or five diesel powered cars doing the same run.

    Can anyone in the industry confirm this?

  20. Nick says:

    This from Environment Waikato:

    Seems the Minister has confused 15000 movements @ $80 per person subsidy, with $15000 per person subsidy.

    Further EW news on the matter:

    and a 2006 report along with others:

    and recent council discussions:

    seems all the data is there and easy to find..

  21. BD says:

    Steven Joyce is trying to manipulate everyone making them think that “Holiday Highway” is value for money given that only very few people live north of Puhoi. Besides the holiday highway motorway only goes up to Wellsford and Warkworth, which are very small population centres of only a few thousand people between them and not everyone travels all the way to Auckland everyday as well. The improvements don’t even go as far as Whangarei.

    The proposed holiday highway might ease congestion in the holiday periods but at $2.2 billions is ridiculous, I bet the highway is mainly going to be used by the truckies, whereas the existing railway line could easily be upgraded for a fraction of that cost and achieve much more benefits like removing those big dangerous trucks off our roads, making the roads safer for everyone.

    What is needed in the short and long-term is a major upgrade on the existing road, like shoulder widening, adding more passing lanes to the route,major realignments removing sharp bends and dangerous curves, safety barriers in parts of the road to prevent head on collisions and new bypasses around Warkworth and Wellsford. All these improvements can be done for a fraction of the cost of the new highway, be done much sooner which will save more lives, and relief congestion in the holiday periods as well.


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