Key Points:

    • The Government has released its draft 10-year policy statement on land transport
    • A fuel tax increase of between 9 and 12 cents a litre has been proposed
    • Aucklanders face fuel tax hikes of about 20 cents a litre if the Government's increases and a regional fuel tax are brought in
    • Funding on public transport will increase by 46 per cent
    • Funding allocated for state highways will be cut by 11 per cent
    • $4 billion will be allocated over 10 years to establish Rapid Transit, such as light rail, initially focusing on Auckland

Aucklanders face a double whammy of fuel tax hikes of about 20 cents a litre if central government fuel levy increases and a regional fuel tax are brought in, but Transport Minister Phil Twyford says he believes Aucklanders understand the need for it.

Auckland Council is expected to introduce about 10 cents a litre in regional fuel taxes to pay for its share of major transport projects and the Government's new 10-year policy plan for transport proposes a further nationwide increase of 9-12 cents litre over three to four years.

That is to fund projects such as light rail in Auckland and other measures.

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Twyford said he believed Aucklanders realised the gridlock that was happening now could not continue and it was not fair to ask those who lived in places like Levin and Whanganui to pay for all of Auckland's transport woes.

Twyford said other cities would also benefit from rail and rapid transit options, as well as Auckland.

The Government's new transport plan will cut the funding allocated for state highways by 11 per cent while an initial investment of $4 billion over 10 years will be ploughed into Labour's plans for light rail in Auckland.

The overall plan

The Government has released its draft 10-year policy statement on land transport – the guide which sets how the Land Transport fund should allocate about $4 billion in funding each year.

It will see funding on public transport increase by 46 per cent to expand the routes available and subsidies for public transport.

On top of that, it sets a new class of Rapid Transit under which $4 billion will be allocated over 10 years to establish rapid transit investment, such as light rail, initially focusing on Auckland. That would ramp up over time.

About four times as much will be spent on expanding cycling and pedestrian pathways than under National.

The money for regional roads will double from about $90 million a year to $180 million a year in 2019/20 and up to $210 million for four years after that.

That comes at a cost for future large-scale motorway upgrades such as National's policy of $10 billion for 10 further Roads of National Significance.

Instead, Twyford said there will be "targeted" improvements to state highways.

Twyford said it was an important step to making roads safer to reduce the road toll.

"We're going to invest in what makes the most difference – regional and local roads and targeted improvements to the State Highway network."

Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford answer questions about the proposal. Photo / NZH
Jacinda Ardern and Phil Twyford answer questions about the proposal. Photo / NZH

"The previous Government did not spend enough on road safety and instead wasted funds on a few low-value motorway projects. This has created an imbalance in what is funded with a few roads benefiting at the expense of other areas."

One of Labour's key election policies was to build light rail from the CBD to the airport and extend that to include routes to the central suburbs and West Auckland over the next decade and then to the North Shore.

It also wanted a bus rapid transit line from the eastern suburb of Howick.

The new statement sets safety as the top priority, followed by access, the environment and value for money.

That contrasts with National's policy statement which had economic growth and productivity as the top priority, followed by safety and value for money.

Those with an interest in the plan such as local government, transport bodies and community groups have until May 2 to submit on it.

Petrol levy increases

Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead.

He said the previous government had not disclosed that transport officials had advised it that petrol levies needed to increase to fund its plans for expressways.

"We've chosen to limit increases in petrol levies to the lowest end of [former Transport Minister] Simon Bridges' range."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Labour was seeking feedback on proposed fuel tax increases of between 9 and 12 cents a litre to fund its transport proposals.

Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority. Photo / NZH
Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority. Photo / NZH

She said National leader Bridges had been told that to meet National's ambitions, they would need a fuel levy increase of 10-20 cents a litre.

Ardern said the Government was prioritising safety and investing in roads neglected by the former government.

"What you won't see is investment in a small number of dual carriage highways while local roads and other transport options suffer."

Twyford said over Easter eight people had died, the worst road toll in several years.

He said early work by officials suggested $800 million worth of safety improvements that could make a significant difference.

"This shifts policy priorities away from costly white elephants."

He said transport spending in many regions had decreased under the previous government.

"Half of vehicle journeys are on local roads, yet less than 5 per cent of the funding has been spent on improving them."

He said the rapid transit network would help free up roads.

"This is the first time spending on rapid transport will take place under the Land Transport Fund."

It also proposed spending money on rail under the fund for the first time, saying Labour believed all forms of transport should be funded under it.

Phil Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead. Photo / NZH
Phil Twyford said there would be petrol levy increases, but those would be at the lowest end of what National would have needed had its motorway proposals gone ahead. Photo / NZH

Walking and cycling a priority

Associate Transport Minister Green MP Julie Anne Genter said making it safer for people to walk and cycle was also a priority and it would provide safe cycleways that were separate from vehicle traffic.

The areas around schools would be a focus.

She said every day in Auckland a pedestrian or cyclist was hit by a car and injured or killed.

Regional Development Minister and NZ First MP Shane Jones said he was expecting some backlash from the regions because many had been "fed a line" that motorway upgrades would resolve their problems.

He said KiwiRail was a key part of NZ First's plans on better freight and tourism offerings so he welcomed its inclusion under the plan.

The Government is also considering allowing coastal shipping to be funded under the fund.

Roads of national significance

Twyford said about seven of National's Roads of National Significance which were already underway would continue - but the nine further RONS projects it had put up as an election policy were not funded and would not go ahead.

While some work would take place on those roads it would not be to the same extent.

Asked about the proposal to get four lanes through to Whangarei, Jones said he would prefer to see unsafe local roads fixed "rather than this pipe dream that by 2032 we were going to get four lanes through to Whangarei".

He said the short-term focus was tidying dangerous areas and increasing rail.

Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker

Transport groups reply to Government's new policy

Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland said the new plans so far look "very impressive".

"It is a big step forward from what we have had in the past and giving focus on areas that have been lacking for quite some time – particularly around safety and public transport," he said.

"The safety one is a big one. We have just had the worst Easter road fatalities for a number of years, and the death toll on our roads is increasing.

"That is a really concerning trend as it had been trending down for a long time before that, so we do need to improve our safety."

Lowrie said the announcements looked to improve on former government policy.

"A lot of that funding for the last decade was pulled away and put into some really large motorway projects. While they are safe, they are very expensive and sucked a lot of funding away from the necessary projects that can actually help improve safety for a lot of people.

"What I think we are going to see now is a focus on a lot more areas which have actually shown to be working well, particularly safety, where we can safe peoples' lives and reduce the number of people dying on our roads."

Lowrie said it was also good to see a strong acknowledgement of public transport funding.

"Some of that is coming through in the form of rapid transit funding – which is light rail and busways - it is the high quality options that are key to driving up public transport use, which is going to make it easier to get around as well."

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website Dog and Lemon, also described the policy as a welcome change of direction.

"The fact is we don't need new motorways, we need to fix up the roads we already have. It is rural roads where people are dying and it is rural roads where the money needs to be spent so this is plain common sense," he said.

"Also, the roads with the lowest road toll tend to be the ones with the best public transport systems so it is not just freeing up gridlock, it is actually likely to save lives."

Although Matthew-Wilson did not agree with fuel taxes, calling them "misguided".

This view was mirrored by the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union who said the government's proposal to increase fuel levies breaks Jacinda Ardern's promise of "no new taxes".

"Fuel tax is particularly harmful because of its regressive nature – the people it hurts most are poorer families living in fringe suburbs. This will ultimately mean less food on the table," executive director Jordan Williams said.

"And as if fuel tax hikes didn't sting enough, the Government is going to be using the revenue to fund cycleways and trams, at the same time they're slashing funding for highways. In other words, drivers are paying more to receive less."