Key Points:

Life in the fast lane is too expensive for Work and Income New Zealand staff and some Auckland Regional Council officers.

Their employers are urging them not to use the Northern Gateway Toll Road at $2 a trip, as part of internal cost-cutting schemes.

The ARC's general manager of regulatory services, Janine Bell, issued a memo after an executive team meeting.

"As a general rule, the toll road [between Orewa and Puhoi] should only be used in responding to emergency situations, and for the majority of our work staff will be expected to use the existing route," the memo stated.

Weekend Herald sources said staff were incredulous at the expectation of the region's environmental watchdog - concerned with vehicle air pollution - that they should not use a route which saves 10 minutes of motoring by cutting out 4km of winding and hilly road on the alternative road that goes through Orewa and Waiwera.

The memo affects 13 vehicles used by the Harbourmaster's Office, Civil Defence Emergency Management Group and environmental inspectors.

The Transport Agency said any trips north by these staff to attend emergencies such as oil spills would not be charged anyway.

The ARC's communications group manager, Andrew Bristol, said the council would monitor toll-road use over the first month of operation to see whether it was worth the money. The analysis would bring in environmental benefits.

"The decision to monitor the use of the toll road reflects the current economic climate and how we must ensure we get maximum benefit from the money that we spend."

Mr Bristol said a decision would be made in early March on whether ARC staff would use the toll road for normal business.

A Ministry of Social Development spokesman said Work and Income staff had been told that if they chose to take a work vehicle through the toll road it would be at their own expense and they had to pay the toll before entering the road tunnel rather than later.

It was expected that staff would continue to use the alternative route through Orewa and Waiwera.

Child, Youth and Family has nominated specific work vehicles that are permitted to use the toll road.

A spokesman said: "This is to ensure social workers are able to access the most efficient route when an urgent situation arises. Pre-paid cards have been purchased."

Private companies are taking a different view. Transcon Warkworth general manager Ian Ward said the company's vehicles were cutting "upwards of 20 minutes" off their trips between northern Rodney and Auckland by paying the $4 toll for trucks.

"The money is well spent."