Auckland drivers face paying up to 22 cents a litre more at the petrol pump in the next three years as the Government proposes boosting fuel taxes to fund transport plans such as light rail from the CBD to the airport.
The Labour Government released its draft 10-year transport plan yesterday, including cutting more than $5 billion from state highway upgrades and channelling the money into public transport such as light rail, urban cycleways and safety improvements on urban and regional roads in a bid to lower the road toll.
Big ticket items include about $4 billion over the next five years for the beginning stages of light rail in Auckland - one of Labour's election promises.
To pay for it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said further petrol tax hikes of between 9–12 cents per litre would need to be phased in over the next three years.
That would be a double whammy for Aucklanders who also face Auckland Council's plans to introduce a 10 cent regional fuel tax to pay for its share of transport projects. That would see Aucklanders confronted with tax increases of up to 22 cents a litre – adding about $15 to the cost of filling a tank.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford said he believed Aucklanders would understand the need for those increases.
"I think Aucklanders understand that what's happening right now is not working. Congestion has got measurably worse in the past few years. The city is losing $1.3 billion a year in lost productivity because of gridlock and it's getting worse. Aucklanders understand that something has to change and it's got to be paid for."
He said the regions could not be asked to fund all of Auckland's growth.
It will be the first time rail projects have been included in the Land Transport Fund, worth about $5 billion a year.
As well as the initial $4 billion for light rail to Auckland airport and other suburbs, the plan includes $740 million for other urban and regional rail, such as Labour's promise for commuter rail between Tauranga, Auckland and Hamilton.
The Government has also boasted of doubling the funding for regional roads – it will spend up to an extra $230m more than National planned over the next five years.
National's transport spokesman Jami-Lee Ross said that was peanuts compared to more than $5b being stripped out of the state highway network over the next 10 years which would have benefited the regions.
Ross said that left regional drivers "paying for trams in Auckland".
"This is an extraordinary blow for regional New Zealand, from a Government which has claimed to stand behind it. Instead, the Government is saying their needs are secondary and ensuring tourists can get from the Auckland CBD to the airport is more pressing."
Matt Lowrie from transport advocacy group Greater Auckland said the changes in focus from roads to safety and public transport were much needed. He said the fuel tax increases were no more significant than National had imposed in its time.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said he was expecting some flak from supporters of the motorway upgrades in the regions, such as the project to get four lanes to Whangarei on State Highway 1.
However, the regional roads funding was the most ever spent and would help ensure safer roads. Funding for rail to the regions was also critical.
Twyford dismissed National's planned "roads of national significance" as a "white elephant" and said the funding was better spent on measures such as safety improvements and public transport.
Ardern said the main priority for the new strategy was safety, which contrasted with National's economic growth priority.
The plan includes more funding for safety measures such as median barriers on state highways and local roads, consideration of lower speed limits and more funding for paths for cyclists and pedestrians to separate them from traffic.
The paper says New Zealand's road toll is high compared to other countries and needs more investment and policy changes.
10-year transport plan highlights:
• Up to $4 billion over five years for light rail, starting in Auckland.
• Up to $720 million for other rail projects, including a trial of commuter rail between Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.
• An extra $200m a year on other public transport.
• Paid for by fuel tax increase of 9-12 cents a litre, introduced over three years.
• Spending on state highway upgrades to drop from about $8.5b to $6b over five years.
• Motorway upgrades already under way to be completed but future Roads of National Significance scrapped.
• Increased spending on road safety measures, including policing and possible lower speed limits.
• More paths for cyclists and pedestrians
• The draft plan will be open for submissions until May 2.