The new Labour-led Government will introduce a regional fuel tax on Auckland motorists to help fund a multibillion-dollar investment in light rail to the airport and West Auckland.
Incoming Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed to the Herald last night that the coalition will make an immediate start on modern trams to Westgate as well as trams from the airport to the Auckland CBD.
Twyford and Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern have also confirmed the Government will change the law to allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax, likely to be set at 10c a litre.
Ardern told Morning Report yesterday that the regional petrol tax was not in her 100-day plan, but later in the day Twyford said "it won't be too long after that".
He said this morning that the fuel tax could be introduced within "four to five months".
The money it raised would contribute about 10 per cent of the $15 billion, 10-year infrastructure programme that Labour had committed to.
Twyford expects to have commuter rail between Auckland and Hamilton running in the next year.
We are proceeding with the policy we campaigned on, that is to building light rail from the CBD to the airport, and to West Auckland, starting immediately
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"If and when Auckland Council request the regional fuel tax we will legislate the mechanism as a priority," Twyford told the Herald.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff - and his predecessor Len Brown - have long been pushing for a regional fuel tax to boost the council's constrained budget for new infrastructure.
National refused to introduce the tax, campaigning against its introduction during this year's general election, but instead eyeing road charges to help tackle Auckland's crippling congestion.
Twyford said Labour was proceeding with its policy of modern trams, also known as light rail, from the CBD to Westgate in West Auckland within 10 years.
The confidence and supply agreement with the Greens included the $3 billion tram project from the CBD and up Queen St and down Dominion Rd to Mt Roskill where it will join SH20 to the airport, but did not mention trams to West Auckland.
It is understood the tram route will go up Queen St and via Great North Rd to Pt Chevalier to join the Northwestern Motorway to Westgate.
Ardern's first public appearance as Labour leader was to announce the party would spend $5b to build tram lines from the Auckland CBD to the airport and West Auckland within 10 years, and complete the first leg of the airport route to Mt Roskill by 2021.
"We are proceeding with the policy we campaigned on, that is to building light rail from the CBD to the airport, and to West Auckland, starting immediately," Twyford said.
"One of my first actions as minister will be to have officials advise on how quickly we can start, and how soon we can get it [light rail to the airport] built. I would expect Queen St to Mt Roskill within four years as a minimum. If we can do it faster we will."
The Te Atatu MP, who also has the portfolios of housing and urban development and largely shaped Labour's policies for Auckland, said he would be talking with Auckland Council about the regional petrol tax to get timeframes in place.
He said one of the Government's first steps would be to sit down with the council and renegotiate a joint government-council 10-year transport plan, known as the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).
This will determine the Government and the council's share of the costs and how to plug a $6b funding gap in the current ATAP 10-year plan. Last month, Twyford told the Herald the Government would pay most of the costs for trams but the council would shoulder a "significant share".
"It is a major priority for us to start immediately to roll out the rapid transit system for Auckland. To do this we need to have the funding commitments in place, including the regional fuel tax," Twyford said.
Barney Irvine, the Automobile Association's principal adviser for infrastructure and motoring affairs, said the AA's members are open to the idea of a regional fuel tax for such a project but he believes the new Government is "getting a bit ahead of themselves".
"This would mean introducing a new funding stream for a project that doesn't even have a business case," he said.
"In principle we have no problem with a regional tax for this project, especially the connection to the west, but our members would want to see the merits clearly laid out before they start paying 10c more per litre or whatever is proposed."
Aucklanders should also get a say, Irvine said, suggesting they could be asked as part of the council's Long Term Plan consultation early next year whether they would prefer a fuel tax, rate rise, targeted levy or some other option to fix the city's congestion.
Recent member surveys suggested a regional fuel tax would be more popular than a rates rise, Irvine said.
Phil Goff is returning from a trip to Europe where he has been looking at transport and housing issues and could not be reached for comment.