Allan Griffin: Road users perfect source for rail funds

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Work to build the Tauranga Eastern Link project will start next year and, like the Tauranga Harbour Bridge was, the road will be tolled. Photo / Alan Gibson
Work to build the Tauranga Eastern Link project will start next year and, like the Tauranga Harbour Bridge was, the road will be tolled. Photo / Alan Gibson

I cannot understand all the angst over the funding for the upgrade to suburban rail services in Auckland.

A simple and effective solution is readily available and it is a matter of the politicians having the testicular fortitude to implement this without delay. It is simply a matter of placing tolls on all major motorways in the Auckland area and then using this revenue to fund the extension of an urban rail system.

I can already see the people choking on their lattes in Ponsonby and Benson Rds, but this solution is affordable and has many downstream economic and lifestyle benefits.

This is how it can work. By 2011, average daily vehicle movements on Auckland motorways will be approximately 800,000 per day. Of these 5 per cent, or 40,000, will be heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes. I suggest that tolls be implemented as soon as possible and set at levels of $1 for cars and light trucks and $5 for heavy vehicles.

After adjustments for weekends and holidays, this is likely to generate total revenue of $328.5 million a year. From this we allocate $28.5 million for operating costs and maintenance and we are left with $300 million a year to fund rail projects.

When the centre city loop is operational, it would be appropriate to double these tolls so that commuters are encouraged to get out of their cars and use the trains and also to ensure that adequate funding is available for future expansion of the network.

Why, you ask, should road traffic fund rail development? You cannot go on building motorways forever.

Firstly, it is an uneconomic use of land which is a scarce resource in the city. Secondly, every time we build an extension to a motorway, surprise surprise, we create another traffic problem 4km further down the road.

The classic example of this is the joining of the Southwestern Motorway (State Highway 20) to the Southern Motorway at Manukau where the created congestion is worse than the original problem.

The effective way to eliminate the ongoing need for motorways is to force people onto public transport. In environmental planning terms, even a relatively short 50 years ahead we will not survive in Auckland without an effective rapid rail network.

This needs to include the centre city loop, an airport loop (Onehunga-Airport-Manukau), a southeastern loop from Manukau-Botany-Pakuranga-Mt Wellington, and a loop from Onehunga-Mt Roskill-Balmoral-Eden Tce to the city.

The side benefits of this proposal include: Fewer motor vehicles on the road, less motorway construction, lower carbon emissions and less wasted time spent travelling to work or play.

Also a reduced requirement for inner city parking which means parking buildings can be converted to facilities that contribute positively to the economic wealth of the city, kerbside parking will be available again and it will also eliminate the need to implement congestion taxes. With a solid funding base the suburban network can be upgraded to world standards and the result will be an upwards spiralling success.

When suburban rail acquires quality rolling stock and can run to a timetable, people are going to use the service as it will be the most convenient and economic method of travel.

Now, about tolls. In most toll road situations it seems to be an intrinsic right that an alternative toll free route should be available.

This can be achieved in respect of all motorways in Auckland and the toll collection facilities will logically be placed where avoiding them is very inconvenient when linked to the measure "time value of money".

Ideally, the Harbour Bridge toll facility would be replaced in its original location, for the Southwestern Motorway on Mangere Bridge, for the Southern Motorway near Market Rd and for the Northwestern Motorway near Bond St.

With the application of modern electronic tolling equipment, it is no longer necessary to have hundreds of people employed to collect tolls.

As I recall, the Dartford Tunnel on the M25 in Britain has only one manual collection lane in each direction.

Look at all the dynamic cities in other countries. They all have comprehensive suburban rail networks.

Perth has recently made this transition and the change in the ability to get around has improved dramatically. When a new suburb is planned in Sydney, the rail service is established at an early stage so that new residents become accustomed to using it from the outset and maintain that habit.

Even London does not have motorways into the city centre as is the case in Auckland. It is necessary to battle your way through suburbia to gain access to the M25 ring road.

Driving north out of Sydney the main route traverses suburban streets for some distance before linking with the motorway.

The business of building motorways that deliver ever increasing numbers of vehicles into the city centre has to stop now. It does not make long term economic sense. It has an adverse affect on the environment, it impinges on the ability of the citizens to move around for work and play and it will leave a legacy that our grandchildren will curse.

To Mayor Len Brown I say that you have been given a mandate by the people and a realistic funding package is on your doorstep. Just get on with it.

* Allan Griffin is a former director of finance for the Tauranga City Council and involved in the financial issues related to the construction and operation of the original Tauranga Harbour Bridge, then the only toll road in New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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