A newly-announced 12c hike in fuel taxes has been slated as an “assault” on Kiwi motorists and a “further slap in the face” for those already struggling financially during a cost-of-living crisis.
But Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown and the Automobile Association (AA) are lauding the critical roading and public transport projects the increased taxes will fund.
Those projects include a new Northwestern Busway, rail improvements and road maintenance as part of the Government’s new $20 billion transport budget, announced yesterday.
The Minister of Transport also revealed new details to the Herald about the busway plans, which will mostly involve new lanes separated from the Northwestern Motorway.
Other upper North Island projects earmarked in the Draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) include an “enhancement” to State Highway north of Auckland and adding additional track to main rail lines.
The Government’s focus on SH1 from Warkworth to Whangārei included what Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said was the highest priority project - the Brynderwyns area - which is vulnerable to severe weather events.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s preferred option for the Brynderwyns is to build a new road around the hills rather than tunnel under them.
The GPS also includes a new railway line between Avondale and Onehunga, removing and upgrading level crossings, “refocusing” road safety budgets and a commitment to integrated planning with the council.
Brown welcomes progress on the Northwestern Busway.
Aucklanders wanted a faster, more resilient transport system, he said, adding that the Government’s GPS announcement showed it was “listening and responding to Auckland.”
“The announcement reflects ... the priorities .. we have been discussing with the Government.
“I also like that we ... get more funding for maintenance and renewals. This is progress,” Brown said.
However, the announcement comes as Auckland’s transport network suffers yet another setback with three ferry routes being cut for at least the next 18 months as the city’s operator says it needs to train new crew - forcing them to axe services.
Ferries to Birkenhead, Te Onewa Northcote Pt and Bayswater will stop running on October 1 and those to Gulf Harbour and Half Moon Bay will operate to a reduced timetable.
Auckland Transport (AT) announced its bus driver shortage was over on Wednesday, “mean[ing] more buses and more reliability across [the] network”.
The 12c tax hike to help pay for projects would be applied over three years, with 2c increases every half-year for the first, and a 4c hike over each of the remaining two years.
It would see total fuel taxes on unleaded 91 reach almost 90c a litre, and in Auckland - where the Regional Fuel Tax applies - the total tax would be almost $1 a litre.
The Taxpayers’ Union said fuel taxes were justified “on the grounds they fund road maintenance” but said they were “being used as a slush fund to cover the costs of public transport and cycleway investment”.
The union’s campaigns manager Callum Purves said the announcement suggests “motorists are going to continue to be used as cash cows to subsidise non-road projects”.
“The Government’s plans will be a further slap in the face to New Zealanders who are already struggling with the cost of living.”
Purves argued the Government could increase investment in roads without increasing fuel taxes by only spending existing taxes on maintenance and upgrades.
“Fuel taxes hit the poorest and rural communities, who rely on their cars to travel and get to work, the hardest,” Purves said.
The National Party’s transport spokesman Simeon Brown also criticised the tax increase, saying it was “extraordinary that Labour is hitting Kiwis with big fuel tax hikes in the middle of a cost of living crisis”.
He said, “Kiwis are under assault from the cost of living” and the tax increases were “unjustified and unnecessary”.
More investment could be sought from superannuation and KiwiSaver funds instead, Brown said.
The Green Party, meanwhile, said the GPS prioritised roads, which was “the exact opposite of what Aotearoa needs right now”.
“We’re pleased to see some rail, and recognition of necessary safety improvements but the focus is still too much on new roads, and not low-carbon alternatives,” the party’s transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said.
“Funnelling billions into building more roads, instead of investing in low carbon transport options like regional rail, shows Labour are not serious about climate change.”
The AA, however, said the Government’s promise for more road maintenance would be “music to most drivers’ ears”.
“No one is ever going to be happy about a tax increase, but the roads and public transport improvements that most New Zealanders want do come at a cost,” a spokesman said.
“The recent pothole plague that we’ve experienced is the symptom of a funding problem that goes back over a decade with consecutive governments neglecting to keep up with the required maintenance.
“Politicians are still going to have to really focus on work being delivered over the next several years to get the roads to where they need to be.”
The Northwestern Busway plan had the potential to be as successful as the Northern Busway by cutting congestion and giving commuters a “real alternative” to driving a private vehicle.
“The key test for the Government will be delivering better-maintained roads and progress in some of these major projects for the increase in fuel tax and road user charges that people will be paying,” AA said.
“If motorists are paying more, it’s fair enough for them to want better results in return.”
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.