29 Apr 2013

Govt rules out fuel tax, road tolls for Auckland

10:19 pm on 29 April 2013

The Government is ruling out some proposals to pay for Auckland's transport infrastructure, saying it will veto any council decision to introduce a regional fuel tax or a toll on roads.

On Monday, a council-commissioned group released its report on how to meet a $12 billion funding shortfall for major transport projects such as the inner-city rail link.

Auckland needs to find an extra $400 million a year over the next 30 years to pay for new infrastructure so the roads can cope with increased traffic as the population grows.

Mayor Len Brown says the Government should step back and hear what Aucklanders have to say before weighing in on the discussion and believes locals will have to pay the price to get out of traffic congestion.

The proposals include a regional fuel tax, congestion charges and a road toll. But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said on Monday those options, as they stand, will never be agreed to and roads already built will never be tolled.

Mr Brownlee said New Zealanders won't be paying twice for roads when money has been generated through their excise duty or road user charges, and a congestion charge would not be appropriate on government-owned roads.

Other suggestions included increases in rates and public transport fares.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government doesn't like the idea of a regional fuel tax for Auckland because it creates artificial boundaries and is hard to administer.

Mr Key said what needs to be considered is whether people can pay for a fuel tax. He said a lot of infrastructure is already being built in the region, with more than $1 billion invested by the Government.

The Labour Party said the Government shouldn't rule out a regional fuel tax or road tolls so quickly, as these are the most obvious and well-argued solutions to the funding shortfall.

Aucklanders have two months to have their say.

Investment needed, says mayor

Auckland mayor Len Brown said the cost of new infrastructure could be higher than $12 billion - the best estimate at the moment - and the reality of the situation has to be faced.

Mr Brown told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Monday that Aucklanders realise investment is needed to fix traffic problems. "They know there'll be a price and that they'll probably have to meet a good part of that price."

Transport group member Stephen Selwood, from the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, said Aucklanders will end up paying either way - in lost productivity while wasting time sitting in traffic or by spending more on petrol and roads.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said if the city ignores the problem, people can expect gridlock on a daily basis.

But the Automobile Association is keen for motorists not to be targeted and for the costs to be spread out.

British transport professor Stephen Glaister said an improved bus system was crucial to the success of a congestion charge in London.

Professor Glaister told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme that the introduction of a better bus service helped persuade people not to use their cars and immediately reduced traffic volumes in the central city.