16 Jul 2013

Govt not ruling out nationwide fuel tax

10:10 pm on 16 July 2013

The Government is leaving open the possibility of adding new petrol taxes to help fund transport projects, especially in Auckland.

A think-tank commissioned by mayor Len Brown on Monday presented the Auckland Council with two packages of fundraising ideas, saying the city faces a $12 billion shortfall. One option relies on higher rates and fuel taxes, as well as tolls on new roads. The other includes higher public transport fares and charges to use existing roads.

Gerry Brownlee.

Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ

The Consensus Building Group has been considering public views on its earlier report on how to find an extra $400 million a year for future transport projects, including new arterial roads and the downtown rail tunnel.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said on Tuesday that new ways to fund major projects are being explored. He ruled out regional fuel taxes but said no-one could rule out an extension of the 3 cents per litre fuel tax hike, which began this year and is planned for 2014 and 2015.

But Mr Brownlee rejected the urgency of the Auckland report, which wants decisions within two years on funding a 30-year programme, and said the Government would not disclose what future funding options are being studied by officials.

The council will next week consider the Consensus Building Group's report and decide how to pursue funding options.

Gerry Brownlee said the Government won't support any fuel taxes or tolls on existing roads, both of which would require Parliament to pass legislation. He told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme the Government is, however, comfortable with tolls on newly-built roads or possible funds coming from the sale of state assets.

"We've indicated too that we're having our own look at how ongoing transport infrastructure is funded across the country and Auckland is not separate from that. There's no immediate difficulty."

Mr Brownlee said the think-tank's view that firm decisions have to be made within two years is not reasonable.

Business, transport groups support charges

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce and the National Road Carriers Association, which represents commercial road users, support some form of road toll or charge.

National Carriers Association chief executive David Aitken says the group has opposed road tolls and charges in the past where there's been no clear benefit, but it supports the proposal in this case.

The chairman of the Consensus Building Group, Stewart Milne, told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that Aucklanders have indicated they are prepared to pay their share to solve the city's transport problems.

Mr Milne says once the group understood the size of the problem it came to consensus, and the same thing must happen between the council and Government.

Road user group the Campaign for Better Transport says Auckland council and the Government must find an equitable way of paying for the city's major transport projects.

Spokesperson Cameron Pitches said motorway congestion charges could encourage drivers to use public transport and travel at off-peak times.