Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Mayor hits back over financing of city rail loop

Len Brown. Photo / Janna Dixon
Len Brown. Photo / Janna Dixon

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has hit back at Transport Minister Steven Joyce for virtually ruling out road tolls to help pay for the $2.4 billion inner-city rail loop.

"We can either bury our heads in the sand or discuss ways of fixing Auckland's transport crisis," Mr Brown told the Herald.

The mayor was responding to Mr Joyce's rejection of a regional petrol tax and "significant reservations" about tolls and congestion charges, which are being investigated by the Auckland Council as alternative cash sources for large transport projects.

Mr Brown's office produced Government papers saying it would make sense for the council to consider innovative ways to pay for big projects.

"That is what we are doing and I expect Aucklanders are sick of hearing excuses as to why we cannot get on with it and build an integrated transport network.

"We face huge projects, like the additional harbour crossing and inner-city rail link, both of which will help unclog our roads and promote economic growth," Mr Brown said.

Mr Joyce said that with the greatest respect to Mr Brown about socking the motorist to pay for the next transport projects, the council had options other than tolls to pay for projects, including a strong balance sheet and a "betterment" levy.

The minister said Mr Brown did not want ratepayers to pay for the rail loop or rearrange his asset base, but would go after the motorist.

"We need to be a bit more inventive than that."

He accepted that the rail loop was the next big rail project in Auckland, but said there was no consensus yet on what it would achieve.

On Thursday, Mr Brown flagged tolls, congestion charges, a regional fuel tax and a "betterment" levy on properties which benefited from the rail loop to contribute to its cost.

A council team has spent months investigating alternative cash sources for large transport projects. A discussion paper canvassing options and funding models is due next month.

Mr Brown must provide funding for the rail loop in the 10-year budget being prepared under his name, and say where the money is coming from before it is approved next June.

Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne said motorists would not tolerate being treated as an ATM machine to pay for the inner-city rail loop, which the Ministry of Transport said would remove only 1400 cars from city roads in the morning peak.

"Motorists have already paid for the roads through fuel tax - 11 per cent of that fuel tax also goes into subsidising public transport," Mr Lambourne said. Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said Mr Brown was right to be considering congestion charges, adding a discussion was needed about a range of modern funding tolls to deliver a better city.

"The response from Wellington is disappointing. They have demanded that we Jafas step up and make a contribution to our growth aspirations, but when they get the first whiff of us beginning the debate they seem to be raining down hard on us," said Mr Swney. "We need them to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem."

- NZ Herald

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