Business advisers to the Auckland Council are backing network-wide motorway tolls, despite opposition from the Automobile Association.
The council's business advisory panel believes a toll of about $2 a day would be fairer and more effective than 12 other options raised by Auckland Mayor Len Brown to fill an $11.7 billion transport funding gap.
Councillor Cameron Brewer, who chairs the forum, said yesterday that there could be some variation in the toll according to time of day and location but an average of $2 would raise about $700 million a year.
"That would go a long way to servicing and making inroads into the $11.7 billion funding shortfall," he told the Herald.
He said the advisory panel, which includes representatives of the Property Council, the Employers and Manufacturers' Association and Heart of the City, concluded that network charging was "a no-brainer because it is arguably the fairest of all the options".
"You can raise some serious cash, have some impact on driver behaviour and it would be arguably the fairest geographically and in terms of hitting a lot of Aucklanders lightly."
Mr Brewer acknowledged that a network toll would have a disproportionately high impact on low-income Aucklanders, but said it could be adjusted so that shift workers such as people in the service sector would pay less for off-peak travel.
A premium may also be put on certain parts of the motorway network, such as Spaghetti Junction, as well as on peak-time driving.
The Automobile Association remains opposed to tolling existing roads, saying motorists have already paid for these through fuel taxes, and it distanced itself from an Auckland Business Forum submission in November backing a network charge.
But Mr Brewer said motorists should realise that 57 per cent of transport funding proposed by the 30-year Auckland Plan was for roading projects, leaving 40 per cent for public transport proposals such as the inner-city rail tunnel and 3 per cent for walking and cycling.
"If you don't pay it through tolls, then you're going to have to pay it through your taxes or rates," he said.
"At least a network charge levies Auckland's biggest road users the most, and leaves the little old ladies who only get around their suburbs largely alone."
A motorway toll would also be fairer than a regional fuel tax, which the Government has opposed and which would hit farmers and others living in remote areas who were not contributing much to Auckland's traffic congestion.
Mr Brewer said he believed those using the roads at peak times such as trucking firms would be prepared to pay a toll to help reduce the $1.3 billion that congestion is estimated to cost the Auckland economy.
Even so, he acknowledged that the risk of extra congestion on arterial roads from drivers trying to avoid motorway tolls should be assessed thoroughly.
"You'll get people who will think a bit more about their travel and won't take peak trips if they don't need to, but you have just got to make sure you don't transfer that gridlock to somewhere else."
Faced with dissent from the AA, the Auckland Business Forum has in a new submission to the council's draft 10-year plan given what it calls preliminary support to a "low-level" roading network charge to raise money for top priority transport projects.
These are for an extension of the Southeast Auckland package of transport improvements to an east-west highway to Onehunga and the city rail tunnel by 2021, and a new Waitemata Harbour crossing by 2031.
But the forum says that although it does not believe the other 12 funding options will raise enough money, they should all be left on the table for assessment, including three which were rejected by councillors ahead of public consultations which ended last month.
10 transport funding options still under council consideration:
Higher general rates, targeted rates, development contributions, tax increment financing, a regional fuel tax, tolling new roads, charges on existing roads, extra parking levies, visitor taxes and a new airport departure tax.
Three ruled out by councillors:
Regional GST, income tax and payroll tax.
Ruled out by Mayor Len Brown before options list compiled:
Council asset sales.