Motorist-pays ideas top council list for filling funding gap

By Mathew Dearnaley

Officials trying to treat drivers like ATM machines for transport projetcs. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Officials trying to treat drivers like ATM machines for transport projetcs. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland motorists face a growing possibility of paying tolls to keep using existing roads under council staff recommendations for plugging a transport funding gap of up to $15 billion.

A special meeting of Auckland Council's governing body has been called for Thursday to consider a report recommending a $1.1 million study of three options - road tolls or "congestion charging", regional fuel taxes and higher parking fees.

No figures have been proposed, although the Council for Infrastructure Development has suggested tolls ranging from $1 at quiet times to $3 at peak periods on Auckland motorways.

Mayor Len Brown said yesterday he remained open-minded about other traditional options, such as development levies or targeted rates, but that the council must consider new ways to raise transport funds that were "affordable and fair for Aucklanders".

A consultative working group of council, government, community, business and transport user representatives would be established to develop a proposal to take to Wellington by next July.

Possible transport subsidies have been suggested for low-income Aucklanders who may have trouble affording tolls, in a bid to shore up a strong public consensus.

But the Automobile Association said the proposed "consensus-building" group was being hamstrung from the outset by council officials trying to narrow a list of at least 10 options to just three aimed squarely at motorists.

"It's the clearest indication yet of the council's intention to treat motorists like ATM machines to fund Auckland transport projects," said spokesman Simon Lambourne.

He was upset ideas such as airport or visitor taxes raised in a council discussion paper in February were not promoted for further study, and the fact that there were only 161 responses in the midst of Auckland Plan submissions was "a joke".

Mr Lambourne acknowledged benefits to his members from public transport projects which eased traffic congestion, and said they were prepared to make a contribution.

"But they do not expect to be considered either the primary or secondary funder of additional public transport."

The Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, was not available for comment but has previously reiterated views of his predecessor Steven Joyce, who last year ruled out a regional fuel tax and had "significant reservations" about tolls and congestion charges.

Labour's transport spokesman, Phil Twyford, said the party was very supportive of Mr Brown's initiative in opening the funding debate as Aucklanders "want a world-class transport system and we've got to find a way of paying for it".

But the council's shortlist was missing an important option - "central Government paying its fair share for Auckland's transport projects", starting with the $2.86 billion underground rail proposal to double the capacity of the existing network.

And although Labour had kept an open mind on the various funding options, it had serious concerns about the fairness of road charges.

"That would be a really unfair imposition on ordinary working Aucklanders who have to use the motorway system to get to work every day," Mr Twyford said.

The submissions to the earlier council paper indicated greatest support for tolling new roads, which is already provided for in legislation, followed by regional fuel taxes and charges for using congested routes, both of which would need law changes.

Submitters proposed several ideas not listed in the paper, including a poll tax on individuals and an Auckland transport lottery like the one used to build the Sydney Opera House.

WHO'S TO PAY?

Preferred funding tools, based on 161 submissions:

57 % Tolling new roads
48 % Regional fuel tax
43 % Congestion charges on busy existing roads
38 % Property development levies
34 % Extra parking charges
28 % Extra airport departure taxes
26 % Visitor taxes
23 % Network tolls
23 % General rates
22 % Targeted rates.

- NZ Herald

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