Public anger fails to sway Hubbard

By Mathew Dearnaley, Mathew Dearnaley
Compare the roading plans: Click on 'More Pictures'

Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard is pushing on with his commitment to investigate road pricing for Auckland, despite furious opposition to the Government's five proposals.

Most Herald readers have reacted strongly to any idea of charging drivers to use the city's congested roads in the morning traffic peak.

But Mr Hubbard said last night he stood by his earlier comment to councillors that "there are times in leadership where one has to be prepared to take the people where they ought to go, rather than where they want to go".

The mayor argues that Auckland cannot afford to reject an idea being adopted increasingly by overseas cities, both to raise more money for the public transport needed to get commuters out of their cars, and to make it politically easier for the Government to pump in more funds.

His gaze is firmly on London, where maverick left-wing mayor Ken Livingstone defied public opposition to a $14 initial "congestion" charge which turned into majority support for the scheme after it was introduced in 2003.

Congestion was cut by 30 per cent, emboldening Mr Livingstone to raise the daily price for driving into central London to $22.50 and to plan for expanding the 21 sq km coverage area next year.

The London mayor's famous stubbornness is seen as a major ingredient in driving the scheme through the opposition, and consultants promoting road-pricing say it is essential to find a similar champion for any such scheme.

But local critics of road-pricing point out that London and Auckland are worlds apart, and Mr Livingstone's scheme would not have had a show without a highly developed public transport system used by 85 per cent of commuters.

"As an ex-resident of London I can safely say in terms of transport that comparing the two is like comparing a donkey with a space shuttle," said North Shore resident Dean Whittaker in an email to the Herald.

"I am disgusted at the proposal to fiddle fellow citizens out of their hard-earned money through congestion charges. The fact that I don't even drive should tell you something about the level of my disgust. Instead I use the miserable bus which only comes every hour. I have to walk 15 minutes to get to it and then stand in the pouring rain on a bad day."

Mr Hubbard said he was not suggesting a London solution be super-imposed on Auckland, and denied he may try to emulate Mr Livingstone, who was "vilified before he introduced it [road-pricing] and is now being elevated to sainthood".

"My style would be a bit different to Red Ken's - and it's up to the Government to decide in the end.

"All we are doing is asking for more work to be done," he said of his council's submission, which is due to be sent to the ministry before today's deadline.

"We can't afford to be isolationist - we can't have an ideological approach of no road pricing. A form of road pricing was practised here in the 1860s in Manukau Rd. And would we have got a harbour bridge without someone in the 1950s persuading Aucklanders to accept a toll?"

His council's stance is supported by Auckland's other three cities, with a strong condition that far better public transport be provided before any form of road-pricing is adopted. The regional council has also fallen into line despite bitter opposition from senior members.

Regional council chairman Mike Lee and strategic policy committee chairman Paul Walbran are leading opposition from that quarter on the basis that the region should not be distracted from an urgent call on the Government to bridge a $700 million public transport funding gap.

"You'd need to put the money in before road-pricing," said Mr Walbran in a furious council debate on Wednesday night. "This sequencing is completely wrong."

But transport policy committee chairman Joel Cayford succeeded in arguing for investigations to continue in readiness for when the conditions may be ripe for road-pricing, even if not for 10 to 15 years.

He also appealed to Aucklanders to regard it as an investment in fuel and time savings.

* The Transport Ministry said yesterday it had received 1000 submissions.

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