In proposing an interim fixed levy on ratepayers to start addressing Auckland's transport woes, Mayor Len Brown made one particularly salient point. "Aucklanders in record numbers, during consultation, and in an independent study, have been clear that they have been prepared to pay their share to get the transport network we need," he said. The mayor now wants this to involve households paying $2 a week over the next three years. This is not the ideal outcome or the one that most people wanted. But Aucklanders are clearly convinced they will have to dip into their pockets in some way to get their city moving.
As much was confirmed by the study and consultation referred to by the mayor. In the first instance, Colmar Brunton's survey of 5022 Aucklanders found a clear majority favouring an ambitious $10.3 billion programme over the next decade. It includes new roads, rail, ferries, busways and cycleways, as well as the City Rail Link. Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed wanted a $2 motorway toll to fund this, while 31 per cent preferred a mixture of a 1 per cent rate rise and a regional fuel tax. Submissions to the council produced broadly the same result.
The message was clear. The only problem was that the two funding options, the recommendations of an independent advisory board, were unrealistic. The Government has reiterated often that it will not facilitate a motorway toll or a fuel tax. As much as Mr Brown, the Automobile Association and the Council for Infrastructure Development may want it otherwise, it has shown no inclination to change its position.
That has left the mayor with an effective rate rise, in the form of an interim levy, as the only viable ingredient of those options. The Government cannot veto that. Residential ratepayers would have to contribute $99 a year and businesses $159. That equates to a rates jump of about 4 per cent, on top of the 2.5 per cent average increase pledged by the mayor in the first year of the council's 10-Year Plan. This will be attacked by those angered by the size of the imposition. It would also have been preferable for those who will benefit most from the improvement in traffic movement to supply the bulk of the funding. That is not householders.
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Nonetheless, such criticisms do not trump Aucklanders' undeniable wish to tackle the city's transport problems. In addition, there are certain pluses to Mr Brown's approach. It is a targeted levy, rather than being buried in a general rates rise. It also has a sunset provision. Aucklanders will need to be vigilant to ensure the levy is used for its stated purpose and the deadline is observed.
Almost 60 years ago, Aucklanders were convinced of the merits of a harbour bridge. They were prepared to pay tolls to see it built. It quickly became apparent, however, that the bridge was a victim of short-term thinking and penny-pinching. Aucklanders today have indicated that they want to avoid a similar outcome. They back an ambitious approach to tackling congestion. The mayor's proposal represents a viable means of making a quick start on that.