Transit New Zealand's obsession with road tolls marches on unabated by public rejection. Transit NZ tries to push through its proposal to toll the Western Ring Route despite the opposition of all directly affected local and regional authorities who have made their decisions.
Manukau City is the only one yet to take a formal vote and it is likely to reject the proposal. So much for talk about Auckland not being able to speak with one voice.
Transit has pushed for tolls since the Land Transport Management Act 2003 opened the possibility for toll roads under restricted circumstances. It has to be a "new" road with a "free" alternative road available and the project needs a "high degree of support from affected communities".
The first toll project approved was the Orewa-Puhoi (the so-called ALPURT B2 link north of Orewa). Transit deployed some very questionable tactics to get that approval, which is likely to be challenged through a judicial review in the High Court.
However, Transit has a major problem with ALPURT B2 - the cost of collecting and administering the toll. Cabinet papers indicate this will cost as much as 75c in every dollar collected.
Transit desperately needs another toll project to reduce these costs, after a toll for the Tauranga bridge was dropped by the Government, thanks to Winston Peters' objection.
Now it is the Western Ring Route's turn to bail out Transit's misconceived ALPURT B2 project. The Auckland Regional council members who have unanimously rejected Transit's proposal saw this connection clearly and mentioned it in their deliberations. The councillors also had the benefit of a presentation by Transit chief executive Rick van Barneveld, which they described as "evasive", "deceptive" and "less than truthful".
That is how the whole Transit campaign to convince Auckland of the benefits of tolling the ring route, including Mr van Barneveld's Perspectives article (November 29), can be characterised.
Nowhere are the costs of tolling mentioned. A Herald reporter extracted an admission from Mr van Barneveld halfway through the "consultation" process that collecting the $800 million funding shortfall would cost at least another $800 million just in collection and administration costs.
Traditional methods of revenue collection, such as through a petrol tax, do not cost one cent extra.
Transit's whole argument is based on a Clayton's choice: getting the ring route completed by 2015 by accepting tolls, or by 2030 without tolls.
This choice is false, not based on any facts, and amounts to blackmail. So far, the Government has allocated $1.3 billion dollars to keep the ring route project going for at least the next six years.
Transit does not have a crystal ball telling them that future governments will not cover the shortfall when funds run out. Politicians are responsive to voters demanding a taxpayer-funded road.
The Western Ring Route will be completed by 2015 regardless of what Transit says. Transit deliberately confuses the public by touting the benefits of the timely completion of the Western Ring Route in great detail - benefits which are not disputed. Everybody wants it. Where do we sign? The benefits or drawbacks of tolls are never mentioned.
The other deliberate confusion is that between toll and congestion charges.
"Time savings could not be maintained if the route is not tolled, simply because without a tariff influencing the people choosing to use the route, new traffic would quickly fill the new motorway capacity," Mr van Barneveld said. But a thorough report by the Waitakere City council puts that in perspective: "The (toll) lanes are modelled to carry a maximum of 3500 vehicles a day in each direction by 2021, compared with almost 16000 now using each lane of the motorway.
"The council officers cannot identify a situation where such an amount has been spent on building road capacity that would be so heavily under-utilised, adjacent to free traffic lanes that are so heavily utilised."
Do we really want Lexus lanes v loser lanes?
The problem with creating a hybrid between toll and congestion charges is that they are mutually exclusive. A tolls system tries to increase traffic on the road to make as much money as quickly as possible to pay back the loan. Congestion charges are aimed at reducing traffic, but there must be a viable public transport alternative, which Auckland does not yet have.
If tolls are such a good idea, why would Transit use deception to convince us? The answer is simple. I put $1000 cash on the table at the Auckland City Council meeting for the first councillor to come up with one good reason for tolls. There were no takers. There is no good reason.
* Dr Hans B. Grueber is spokesman for Highway Robbery Incorporated, www.highwayrobbery.org.nz