National attacked the Government yesterday over increased road-user charges and a law passed last night allowing regional fuel taxes to fund large capital projects - but won't say it would undo them.
"How on earth can you justify putting more costs on to the poor old motorists, already suffering from very high petrol prices, and on the trucking industry," said National transport spokesman Maurice Williamson.
National finance spokesman Bill English said last night his party had not yet decided whether to revoke the tax if it leads the next Government.
Mr Williamson said there were other ways of funding capital projects such as infrastructure bonds and private-public partnerships.
As well, Land Transport New Zealand ended its last financial year with $220 million unspent.
The tax of up to 10c a litre when fully implemented will be limited to 2c next year and 5c a litre in 2010.
The Transport Minister will have to approve applications for regional fuel taxes and no more than 5c a litre can be applied to roading projects. Up to 5c a litre can be applied to fund public transport.
Acting Transport Minister Harry Duynhoven said the electrification of Auckland rail network would be an early project to benefit. The Land Transport Management Amendment Bill allowed the transport system to be planned in a fully integrated manner.
Apart from the regional fuel tax provision, the bill changes the planning systems for land transport.
Instead of being based on an annual cycle, as it is now, the National Land Transport Programme will be produced every three years and a policy statement issued every three years.
It also broadens the function of regional transport committees to include rail and coastal shipping and to plan three-year transport programmes and fuel tax schemes.
United Future leader Peter Dunne said transport funding was like the old saying: "Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die." Everyone wanted better infrastructure but no one wanted to pay.
The bill was supported by all parties except National and Act. National MP Lockwood Smith confirmed he had considered crossing the floor to support the bill because it would help the Penlink toll road from Whangaparaoa that was important to his constituents.
But National was aware of the need for urgency on the road construction.
Mr Williamson and Mr Duynhoven clashed in Parliament over the road- user charges in question time, with Mr Williamson saying it could be a "killer punch" for some operators in a road transport sector already under strain over skyrocketing fuel costs.
Mr Duynhoven scoffed at a suggestion by Mr Williamson that it could push up the running cost of a 20-tonne truck by $56,000 a year. "I am advised that for that figure to be even remotely possible, the most common type of 20-tonne truck would need to travel at an average of 330km/h - that is, over 200 miles an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What utter twaddle."
Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said New Zealanders should not be held to ransom by a trucking industry that had been heavily subsidised by taxpayers for too long.
She said a 2005 Transport Ministry report showed trucks paid only 56 per cent of the costs they caused to the economy and rail freight paid 82.
"That distorts the playing field between trucks and rail, we have more freight going by big trucks on the road rather than on trains. That's bad for all other road users."