4 Mar 2024

Labour, Greens warn transport fee increases will impact lower-income families

7:31 pm on 4 March 2024
Chris Hipkins

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The opposition has attacked the government over its plan to charge motorists more to pay for roading projects, labelling them broken promises that will only worsen the cost of living.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown announced the Coalition's revamp of the draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport on Monday afternoon following the week's Cabinet meeting.

The proposal would see 15 new Roads of National Significance, paid for partly through a $50 a year increase to vehicle registration fees by 2026.

While National had promised not to increase fuel taxes in this term of Parliament and to cancel Labour's proposal for a gradual 12-cent hike through to 2026, Brown's new plan also included an immediate 12-cent hike from January 2027, with subsequent increases taking the total to 22 cents per litre in 2029.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins argued the government had broken two promises.

"Christopher Luxon made cost of living his number one election commitment. He said that they weren't going to be introducing any new taxes. He said that they weren't going to be increasing fuel taxes. In fact, they're doing both of those things."

He said the increases to vehicle registration was effectively a new tax, and the increase to fuel taxes was more than Labour had planned.

They would be looking further into National's costings, he said.

"The National Party's campaign promises did not add up. They didn't add up before the election, they still don't add up now, and I think they should finally actually just bite the bullet and admit to New Zealanders that the promises they made before the election they're not intending to keep."

"We knew that the roads that they were proposing were going to cost more than they had budgeted for before the election, it's somewhat ironic that they're now doing something that just a couple of weeks ago they were criticising the previous government for doing: they've released a huge long list of transport projects without identifying how they're going to pay for them."

He said the increase to fuel tax would be a "massive blow" to low-income households.

"We proposed to step out the increase over time, they're now proposing to introduce it all in one hit and then continue to increase fuel taxes thereafter. Fundamentally what it will mean is households are still going to pay, they're just going to pay in bigger lumps."

He argued the the proposal for the new Road Efficiency Group was also an example of hypocrisy.

"This is a government that were very critical of working groups .... when the previous government did them. Just another example of how the campaign rhetoric hasn't turned into reality since they become government," he said.

He defended Labour's approach to potholes, saying National's promise had followed increases in funding for road maintenance.

"We did have a decade in which the previous National government had redirected money away from funding road maintenance in order to fund new roads instead. Actually, you need to be able to do both of those things, so we had some catching up to do."

He pointed to the effects of the major weather events of recent years, too.

"If you look at potholes, for example, what causes potholes? Well, the weather actually has a significant impact on the number of potholes that you end up with in the roads, and we've had a lot of much more extreme weather in recent years."

Greens: Transport plan 'extreme', 'unbelievable' and 'backwards'

Green Party Transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter also criticised the approach, saying it would only make cost of living worse.

"It's extreme, it's unbelievable. It's so backwards it's doubling down on the failed approach of last century and it will lead to more emissions, more congestion and higher transport costs for all of New Zealand," she said.

Green party MP Julie Anne Genter

Julie Anne Genter (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"It looks like they're completely gutting walking and cycling, and buried in the detail it says that big roading projects cannot use their funding for walking and cycling improvements - which is a huge departure from even the last National government."

"Everything the government is doing here is going to make cost of living worse, especially for those on the lowest incomes. They're looking at putting up public transport fares, they're increasing the cost of registration for vehicles, and eventually we are going to have to put up petrol tax.

"That means people will be paying more, but they won't have the option to take public transport or to walk and cycle safely or to get a train somewhere."

She said the government was missing the point about congestion charging.

"When you shift to direct charges, fewer people will want to drive at peak time - so you don't need as many roads, you need more public transport.

She also attacked National over its previous spending promises.

"I think that it's unsurprising National didn't do its homework. They've been irresponsible and misleading to the public on the cost of their projects and they've claimed that they could deliver more infrastructure with less direct charges or less money from taxes.

"It's just not possible. It doesn't add up."

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