English On Cars Versus Trains


Finance minister Bill English this afternoon continued his lesson on roads versus rail saying “most rail investment cases do not stack up without a very large public-good element to cover the big difference between the costs and the benefits.”
And he told parliament: “The lesson from past surges in oil prices is that although people may change to more efficient cars or different types of fuel, the private car is likely to remain a vastly dominant form of transport, no matter how much we spend on railways.”

He added that “if the dominant form is not cars, then it is buses, and they still need roads.”
Greens co-leader Dr Russel Norman was asking him about whether the minister’s infrastructure investments will reduce NZ’s vulnerability to future oil shocks.
The minister said: “The investment in roads is freeing up congestion and lifting our export productivity. If oil prices rise, then I am sure that people will make their choices about whether to travel more or less, or whether to change their mode of transport. It is our guess that even if oil prices rise, most people still will want to travel by private car.”
He said if there was any future trend to much more fuel-efficient cars or a switch to electricity, those cars would still require roads to be driven on.

Newmarket has good train service but people still use cars

Dr Norman asked the finance minister whether he agreed that there are opportunity costs in spending $11 billion on new motorway projects, in that he will have less money available to invest in projects that would give New Zealanders real options, such as better buses and trains, walking, and cycling?

Mr English replied: “Well, there are always opportunity costs in making a particular investment, but the investment in roads assists with what is actually a more efficient mode of public transport than rail, and that is buses. They need basically the same system as cars. The member may be interested to look in detail at some of the cost-benefit analysis on rail, because although he thinks that roads are vulnerable to oil shocks, most rail investment cases do not stack up without a very large public-good element to cover the big difference between the costs and the benefits.”

Dr Russel Norman:” In the light of an oil price shock, does he think that the benefit-cost ratio would look better for a new motorway project or a new rail project, and hence, that if he included oil price shocks in the studies of the benefit to cost for these two projects, actually rail would look much better, in the case of an oil price shock, than new motorways?”

Mr English: “I have not personally done those calculations, but my guess is that we would need to have a very high oil price to make the cost-benefit ratio on rail look better. If the oil price was high, we would have to presume most people would shift to rail, but even if the volumes on rail doubled or trebled, the economics of it are still very marginal.”
Here is the full exchange:




  1. Decanker says:

    Bill English says: “most rail investment cases do not stack up without a very large public-good element to cover the big difference between the costs and the benefits”

    Bill English is ignoring the fact that there is already a huge “public-good element” in the building of every road, that we all pay for.

    So: “most road investment cases do not stack up without a very large public-good element to cover the big difference between the costs and the benefits”

  2. Matt L says:

    What does Bill actually know? It sounds like he just guesses everything and doesn’t have any facts to back his guesses up yet goes on spending billions anyway.

  3. Patrick R says:

    He ‘knows’ what he wants to know… everything he said is a lie. The fact is that people use what they have to, they use what’s there. When service is improved on one mode, say rail, people flock to it, as the recent figures prove. To say otherwise to ist ideology is trumping fact. When there is no choice, guess what? They use what’s there, and if petrol costs go through the roof they either don’t go to work or don’t eat or go to the doctor, in order to get around on the only mode there is. What a smug git.

  4. Cam says:

    Seriously who cares what Bill English thinks certainly not about 80% of voters judging by his stint in charge of the National Party. Maybe just the voters of Dipton but to be fair i’d wager they are not spoiled for choice.

    English comes from treasury that’s the only job he’s had other than being an MP, this gives an insight into why he thinks this way.

    Treasury is like a little factory turning out Milton Friedman worshiping rogernomes with parted hair cuts like Bill, Roger Kerr and Don Brash these people are locked into a certain way of thinking and wont be budged.

    Lets not forget this is the man who was at one stage deputy PM for the Nasty Nats of the 90′s under Jenny Shipley he’s a neo lib down to his gold top socks and hush puppies. People seem to forget there are still a lot of these fossils hanging around the party even since “that nice Mr Key” came along and postitioned them as a centerist party.

    Add to this that he’s also a troughing hypocrite and basically all this means is he has zero credibility.

  5. Richard says:

    When will our politicians get it through their thick skulls that the days of the free range motorcar are numbered

    The problem with car use is not only the movement of the vehicle but parking it and that will still apply if cars were solar powered! We can’t build enough roads to move the vehicles efficiently and then a large portion of those roads are used as parking lots. Without parked cars our city roads could be narrower, or have wider cycle lanes.

    Of course most people don’t use the trains much, it’s hard to catch a train anywhere from Glenfield.

  6. DanC says:

    Would I prefer to take a bus from Auckland to Hamilton or the train? Train 100%. Buses are just not comfortable.

  7. Dipton Dipstick says:

    Bill English is possibly one of the longest serving idiots in the National Party. Unfortunately he is inspiring other idiots, like Hamilton’s David Bennett with foolish talk of electric cars bla bla bla in 30 years time.

    We live in 2010..oil issues will come very shortly…

  8. Luke says:

    All this sillyness about buses needed roads too really gets too me. Only a handful of services in Auckland use the motorway network.
    And of all the RONS I doubt any will have frequent bus services running along them.
    Vic park tunnel may help buses by reducing harbour bridge congestion, but this is only a very incidental effect.

  9. Doloras says:

    ” electric cars bla bla bla in 30 years time.”

    Those idiots were saying the same thing 20 years ago. I remember it well.

  10. Michael Wood says:

    People need to understand that the political right’s objections to PT are not just about being owned by the roads lobby, or about being too plain thick to ignore the evidence (although aspects of both are at play too), it is actually a deeply ideological conviction.

    At a fundamental level they view us all as atomised individuals, and reject the notion that we live in an inter-connected society that needs to be democratically shaped and planned. PT plays on their worst fears because it requires us to think about the future as a community, it brings people together into shared spaces, and it requires public spending.

    Bottom line is they will never be convinced to change their position. The only options are enormous community pressure and/or voting them out.

  11. Decanker says:

    Great comment Michael, hit it on the nose.

  12. BD says:

    Rail is the most efficient method of carrying people. Roads get blocked up and congested all the time and the amount of money it costs to upgrade them and build new motorway just doesn’t stack up with the cost of upgrading public transport. Public transport doesn’t require as much upgrading or maintenance as roads and is much better in the longer term.

    What English doesn’t realize is that public transport is the way of the future as Auckland population grows so will the amount of people traveling into the CBD and rail transport is the best way of achieving this. I regularly walk around the uni area Symonds Street and it regularly gets chocked up with buses and cars traveling to and from the city. If and when they decide to build the CBD railway loop a train station should be built within a 2min walking distance of the universities this would remove a massive amount of buses and cars chocking the road space. So English can never be so wrong.

  13. Matt says:

    Has anyone pointed English to the 2008 road toll, the lowest in many years, and explained that NZTA are attributing it to petrol having gone over a mere $2/litre and leading to people driving less? If society slowed to such an extent at $2.18 for petrol, what will it do when petrol is $2.50, or $3, or even more, per litre?

    We have evidence of what happens when petrol prices increase, but English is trying to announce that people will continue to drive to the extent they do now. We have proof that they won’t.

  14. Brian says:

    “The investment in roads is freeing upcongestion” Try telling that to the people who are gridlocked on the Southern Motorway each day at Manukau City where the new North Western Motorway joins the Southern!!!!!!!!!!
    And how much did that cost?

  15. Matt says:

    Brian, indeed. Though as an alternative to a crawl through the ‘burbs it’s admirably effective. Congestion reduction? No, not so much.

  16. Kurt says:

    Like all his theories on economics Bill English is so lost in the past.

    This guy has been cryogenically frozen and thawed out 25 years later but unlike Austin Powers he never ever had a mojo.


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>