Auckland road tolls clear first hurdle

By Mathew Dearnaley

Controversial options for pricing Aucklanders out of their cars and on to public transport cleared their first political hurdle yesterday after heated debate at a city council committee table.

Auckland City's transport and urban linkages committee approved a submission to the Ministry of Transport accepting that a road-pricing scheme for the region was feasible and should be investigated further with a view to being adopted.

The ministry is giving Aucklanders and other interested parties until April 28 to respond to a mammoth report on a two-year study of various pricing options which could cost some motorists $750 to $2500 a year more in road or parking charges to ease traffic congestion.

They have a choice between four road-charging schemes with maximum daily fees of $5 or $6 to drive in certain areas during the 6am to 10am traffic peak, or a parking surcharge of $10 a day in the central business districts of the region's four cities, including Newmarket.

That scheme would, if adopted, apply to parking in all non-residential central-city properties - whether publicly or privately owned.

The other schemes include cordons around the Auckland isthmus, which could cost $3 or $6 to cross, or a $5 fee to drive anywhere inside a large central area including Ponsonby, Mt Eden, Parnell and part of Remuera.

Ministry officials expect vehicle trips within coverage areas to be curbed by 23 per cent to 47 per cent, depending on which scheme may be adopted, and envisage that much of the revenue raised will be spent on better public transport and other social "mitigation" measures.

The Government has yet to indicate a preference and has suggested it will back off if Aucklanders and their leaders pour cold water on the proposals.

That was just what Labour councillor Richard Northey tried doing yesterday, arguing against "wasting" more resources on studying any of the schemes in greater detail, saying Auckland was far from being in a position to offer a serious public transport option to many residents.

"If you talk to anybody in the street, they will say: How on Earth can you seriously consider road-charging when there is no serious alternative for me to get into the central city for my work or my study except in my car?" the former Labour MP said.

Mr Northey said administrative and technical costs would drain away a huge proportion of revenues raised, and although there might come a time when such schemes became feasible, pursuing any of them now would risk losing public credibility for the future.

He preferred exploring other options being looked at in parallel with road pricing, including a regional petrol tax.

But although supported by fellow City Vision-Labour team members Glenda Fryer and Leila Boyle, he was outvoted after coalition leader and deputy mayor Bruce Hucker joined Mayor Dick Hubbard in advocating further investigation into road-pricing. "I find this amendment from a colleague I normally agree with a very conservative approach to the region's needs," Dr Hucker said of Mr Northey's stand.

Mr Hubbard said road-pricing stood to provide $200 million to $400 million of essential public transport improvements.

The council would be seen as "Luddites" if it supported Mr Northey's amendment.

By offering to raise money locally through road-pricing, Auckland would make it more politically acceptable for the Government to inject more funds for the region's transport needs.

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