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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tolling for a loop

And that loop is Mayor Len Brown. He has said he was in favour of tolling Auckland's roads before the election and now he's floating the idea of putting it to the people by way of referendum. It's a hazy, crazy, lazy, idea and ought to be rejected.

NZ Herald: Tolls and congestion charges will be included in his first 10-year budget as alternative funding sources to rates and taxes to meet a $10 billion funding shortfall for major transport projects.

Mr Brown yesterday told a Herald Project Auckland business lunch that he was considering a referendum to get a mandate...

No, no ,no. Tolling is the worst option and the referendum should be that the whole of Auckland remain toll-free - I would like to see that as the question. Furthermore when the replacement to the Auckland Council is established the City's charter should enshrine the toll-free status of Auckland.

Why anyone would put their hand up for yet another set of charges is beyond me.

Tolls are wrong:
1. It means only the wealthy can move about as they please while the poor are restricted due to cost, therefore the freedom of movement becomes unnecessarily divided on class lines.
2. The damn roads are already paid for - the only argument possible for tolls is on a new bit of roading that would not have been possible otherwise.
3. 'Rat-running' of local streets to avoid the tolled bits (or areas in the case of a "congestion charge") creates another set of problems in those suburbs. The problem is moved rather than solved.
4. The congestion ideas are just tolls by another name and it punishes those who have to travel at certain times or to certain locations that are not within their control (so it gouges them without being able to change their behaviour).
5. There is little if any off-setting increase in the quality, availability or frequency of public transport services for all the increases in the rates and charges already in existence, so it is highly doubtful that will change.

I've said it a million times so I might as well say it again: the reason there is no rail loop through the city and the train system isn't electrified - even after 50+ years of planning - is because there has never been a stand-alone institution tasked with doing it and no credible long-term funding plan for such an agency. If there was a dedicated rates portion (as there is currently for general public transport - which mainly goes to subsidise the bus companies) levied specifically for the purpose of rail on areas within say a mile of a rail station and that money went directly to the rail transit agency then they would have the means to build the system. It would take a lot of time and a lot of money but if we had started 50 years ago it would probably be complete by now. If we keep dicking around without that plan we will still be in a mess in another 50 years - and that is where we are going.

If the local bodies (now just one local body) keeps dividing the funding up between different modes as it has done then rail will always lose out as it is the hardest option needing the most money and planning to work. It is however the best system - as every other city of a similar size and type in the world will attest. If you keep subjecting rail to the political and short-term 3-5 year thinking of Councils and the governments of the day then we will never have the system. A rail agency for Auckland needs its own legislation and funding stream.

Foisting an unfair tolling regime that will endure forever - let's be realistic it will only be ratcheted upwards once established - on the long-suffering motorists just to build a single rail tunnel is a continuation of the failure of forethought and political courage that has marred Auckland for generations.



At 18/10/11 10:42 pm, Blogger libertyscott said...

Tim, presumably you oppose fuel taxes as well, because they impose an effective toll of 2/3c per km on all road use, regardless of whether you get an unsealed dirt track or a six lane motorway, regardless of whether you're the only person on an empty road, or whether you're contributing to gridlock when there is a train passing you by.

Roads are NOT already paid for, they constantly cost money as they are depreciating assets that need capital injections at regular intervals to be maintained and then replaced. The Newmarket Viaduct in Auckland was paid for, but who pays for it to be replaced? Anyone who think they can not spend money on a road after it is built is sadly mistaken.

Yes rat-running is a factor of poor design and price. There is little evidence of this in Singapore, Stockholm, London or Tehran where there is congestion charging.

Charging everyone by fuel tax gouges those with larger older vehicles who can't afford new ones, it gouges those who never drive at peak times to pay for the road and public transport capacity that are only needed at peak times. Why should pensioners, mothers at home and the unemployed who drive at off peak times be paying for major projects that are only needed at peak times?

Tolling, if done well, should be revenue neutral, and charges those who demand more road space at peak times for the cost of that, and rewards those who drive off peak or in places that don't have congestion.

It has worked to greatly ease congestion and reduce vehicle emissions in Singapore and Stockholm, or do you think it is better that the new efficient BMW driving motorist using the new Victoria Park tunnel who wont use the trains should pay less than the rural worker in his 1980s vintage Falcon driving on roads that are little changed from when they were first sealed?

At 19/10/11 11:33 am, Blogger Tim Selwyn said...

Some good points there Scott. The person buying petrol for the motormower is also subsidising the roading system too - so the fuel tax is far from perfect as a "user charge" for roading goes, however one of my issues with introducing any new form of charge/tax/toll is that it will spiral upwards without any increase in service and that it will not be revenue neutral at all. Will Len Brown or any other future Mayor and Council drop rates down if they impose a charge? Highly, highly, highly unlikely. Will they increase the charges and/or spread the extent of the charges? Highly, highly, highly likely. For that reason I would prefer using mechanisms, like the transport rate (in current rates bills), to be better targetted and used for a specific legislated purpose rather than put new charges (like tolling) on.

You use Newmarket Viaduct as an example. I'm glad you did because that is perhaps the worst case of unnecessary squandering of funds in Auckland's roading history. Over $200m on replacing something that did not need replacing - and all for a net gain of only 1 (one) single extra lane! If that money had been spent on rail (by a properly mandated and accountable rail agency) it would have been better used. As I say it is the structure of the organisations and how they are locked into short-term planning and political decisions that is mostly the problem in Auckland.

At 23/10/11 9:00 pm, Blogger jane said...

I agree, Auckland, built around the quarter acre section, sprawls for mile upon dirty mile and would be well served by an upgraded and independently administered rail system. At least there would then be some hope for getting around after the price of gas hits $3 a litre.


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