Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland drivers oppose rates rises to improve transport system

AA spokesman Barney Irvine. Photo / Jason Oxenham
AA spokesman Barney Irvine. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Auckland drivers favour sticking with a transport levy to fill an annual $400 million transport funding gap.

They are strongly opposed to hiking rates and divided on asset sales to raise money to pay for transport infrastructure.

An Automobile Association membership survey of 1100 Auckland motorists tested views on five possible alternative funding sources - raising rates, keeping a transport levy, a regional fuel tax, motorway tolls and selling council assets.

They resent the idea of paying more to a council they see as wasteful and mismanaged
Barney Irvine, AA

The survey sought motorists' responses to a new strategy between the Government and Auckland Council to develop Auckland's transport system over 30 years, which found a $4 billion funding gap in the first decade.

AA principal infrastructure adviser Barney Irvine said most motorists supported or would "grudgingly accept" a regional fuel tax, motorway toll or asset sales, but it was the council's $114 transport levy that had most support.

The annual levy of $114 was a last-minute addition to the 2015 long-term budget when the Government refused to let Auckland Council introduce motorways tolls or a fuel tax.

The levy, or targeted transport rate, is due to expire next year. New Mayor Phil Goff has signalled he will have another crack at seeking government approval for a regional petrol tax to replace the levy.

Said Irvine: "Rates rises are really unpopular, but people don't see the levy in the same way. It seems to be an amount of money that most households can cope with, and that most have now adjusted to."

When Goff presented his first budget proposal at Wednesday's finance committee, he said a regional petrol tax of 10c a litre would raise about $150 million a year, compared to $60 million raised by the transport levy.

Irvine said the survey results highlight the need for the council to look seriously at whether any of the new schemes make sense, before bringing them to the public for consultation.

He said it was likely to be 10 years or so before the Government starts overhauling the fuel tax system and replacing it with road-user charges, and questioned the need for new schemes in the meantime.

A plan to develop Auckland's transport system over 30 years found a $4 billion funding gap in the first decade. Photo / Brett Phibbs
A plan to develop Auckland's transport system over 30 years found a $4 billion funding gap in the first decade. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The beauty of the levy, he said, was the income generated about $175 million of investment each year.

Goff said the levy was not a suitable tool to meet the urgent need for greater investment in transport, saying it only raised a fraction of what was needed and was grossly inequitable because someone who barely used transport or someone on a low income paid the same as someone who used a lot of transport or a big corporation.

Irvine said AA members were by and large prepared to pay more, but beneath the surface there was a lot of frustration and many would rather cut the new transport plan.

"They resent the idea of paying more to a council they see as wasteful and mismanaged, and they're looking at the existing transport system and asking 'Why should I pay extra so they can just dish up more of the same?'," Irvine said.

Options for raising more money*

Rates increases
Comfortable with this - 6 per cent
Open to this - 21 per cent
Opposed - 69 per cent
Don't know - 4 per cent

Regional fuel tax
Comfortable with this - 20 per cent
Open to this - 31 per cent
Opposed - 45 per cent
Don't know - 4 per cent

Motorway toll
Comfortable with this - 31 per cent
Open to this - 30 per cent
Opposed - 36 per cent
Don't know - 3 per cent

Transport levy
Comfortable with this - 32 per cent
Grudgingly accept it - 35 per cent
Opposed - 28 per cent
Don't know - 5 per cent

Asset sales
Comfortable with this - 15 per cent
Comfortable with the sale or partial sale of some assets but not others - 26 per cent
Grudgingly accept it - 11 per cent
Opposed - 42 per cent
Don't know - 6 per cent

*Based on 1091 responses from AA members in November

- NZ Herald

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