Auckland motorists face petrol tax or road tolls

By Mathew Dearnaley, Greg Dixon

Traffic banked up on the Southern Motorway after a van crashed into a lamppost, killing the driver. Photo / Greg Bowker
Traffic banked up on the Southern Motorway after a van crashed into a lamppost, killing the driver. Photo / Greg Bowker

Aucklanders face paying to drive on city roads unless they are prepared to swallow hefty rates or fuel tax rises.

On Monday, an advisory group assembled by Mayor Len Brown is set to announce its recommended solutions to plug a $12 billion funding gap and fix the city's ever-growing traffic jams.

The mayor says he will back whatever the "consensus-building" group recommends, even if that means tolling motorways or charging motorists to use arterial roads by 2021.

The issue has been thrown into sharp relief after the city's roads again suffered gridlock for two out of the last three nights.

After some motorists took an hour to get home on the night before Anzac Day, peak-time traffic banked up again on the Southern Motorway yesterday evening from a crash that killed a van driver and put two other people in hospital.

Police closed all the northbound lanes between Manukau and Otara, causing widespread jams.

In an interview in today's Weekend Herald for a canvas investigation on the so-called City of Snails, Mr Brown referred to two road charging schemes as options to raise $400 million extra for roading and public transport in each of the next 30 years.

One is motorway tolls, and the other would involve setting up one or more cordons around the city, where passing drivers would be charged for using existing arterial roads.

The ideas were proposed by the Ministry of Transport in 2006 but were parked up after proving highly controversial among Aucklanders.

Many critics said such charges would be inequitable unless low-income earners gained far better public transport alternatives.

Mr Brown admitted there was "no way" he would have had anything to do with tolls or user charges on roading five years ago.

But although he still rated his chances of persuading Aucklanders to accept those as only "about 50-50 at this stage", he was prepared to champion the cause, believing they shared his frustrations about transport challenges facing the city.

"My assessment is that Aucklanders have had about enough of our challenges as I have," he said.

Asked if he would back congestion charges or tolls if the group recommended them, he replied: "Of course I'll back it, and I'll get out there."

Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne said the mayor's comments looked like "an attempt to distort" the consensus group's agreed position, which was that existing funding tools were capable of raising enough extra money until 2021. "They are not a fair and accurate assessment of the [group's] conclusions."

Only then would either of two main funding options be needed, one involving hefty increases to rates and fuel taxes and the other entailing road pricing to supplement traditional revenue sources.

Despite acknowledging that road charges would have an added benefit of reducing traffic jams, Mr Lambourne said Aucklanders should be aware that congestion would be far worse with the influx of a million more residents by 2041, regardless of which option they went for.

Group chairman Stewart Milne said the discussion paper acknowledged there were "very limited" funding options available in the short term, but major rises in rates or fuel taxes would be needed by 2021 without some form of road pricing.

Greater Government funding and "small" fare rises for public transport users will also be called for.

Although the Government last year ruled out allowing tolls on existing roads, or a regional fuel tax, Mr Milne said his group hoped to dispel a notion in Wellington that Aucklanders could not agree on important issues.

Robert Reid, representing the Council of Trade Unions on the group, said he was pleasantly surprised by "absolute support" from business leaders around the table for the $2.4 billion underground railway project which is the centrepiece of Mr Brown's transport programme.

- NZ Herald

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