Barney Irvine: AA has 3 concerns about an Auckland fuel tax
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It may come as a surprise to some that the Automobile Association isn't opposed to the idea of a regional fuel tax in Auckland.
While making many people pay $125 a year more to travel around their city is a step that shouldn't be taken lightly, new approaches need to be looked at. Auckland can't rely on the rest of the country to fund the shortfall in its transport budget.
Or, to put it another way, Invercargill doesn't want to pay for Auckland's trains.
When a regional fuel tax was proposed by the last Labour government, the AA was in favour. But it has to be carefully managed. If you are asking the public to give you more of their money then they need to see it as a fair deal.
Here are three things that the Government and Auckland Council need to do:
First, Auckland motorists need to know what they're getting for their money. Part of this is making sure that the tax is tightly linked to specific projects, but it also means clearly spelling out the benefits of those projects.
New Transport Minister Phil Twyford has signalled the money would help to fund light rail connections to the airport and the West, but we haven't seen anything in the way of business cases for those projects.
We don't have any sense of what they would deliver in terms of connectivity and congestion relief, or exactly what they would cost.
There are still question marks about whether the step up from dedicated busways to light rail makes sense. This sort of detail needs to be provided before the scheme is locked in.
Secondly, give Aucklanders a say. Alternative funding, including a regional fuel tax, has been at the centre of the transport debate in Auckland but the public has not had a proper chance to have its say.
The upcoming consultation around the council's Long-Term Plan (in February and March next year) is the right time to gauge how Aucklanders feel about a fuel tax to help fund light rail, and how they see it sitting alongside other potential funding options such as general rates, targeted rates, or asset sales.
When we surveyed AA members this time last year, we found grudging acceptance of the idea of a regional fuel tax to help bridge the funding gap - 51 per cent were comfortable with it or felt it could at least be considered.
But what we also found was that there was more support for asset sales, and still more for simply continuing the interim transport levy under which Auckland households currently pay $114 a year.
A meaningful conversation with the public will give the plan greater legitimacy, and will give the council a steer on how to mix and match funding options in a way that people can get behind.
Thirdly, keep the tax to Auckland. There needs to be a firm commitment from the Government that the regional tax will not be extended to other regions if they follow Auckland's lead in requesting one.
Other parts of the country don't face infrastructure pressures as critical as those of Auckland, and aren't set to create the same burden for taxpayers on a national scale.
Forcing motorists elsewhere to pay more - especially when they often already face higher fuel prices as a result of smaller, less competitive markets - wouldn't be fair or reasonable.
Whether it's a regional fuel tax or another tool, alternative funding will require officials to make a clear case to the public for the benefits it will deliver. If they don't, the risk is that it will result in two steps backwards, rather than the step forward Auckland desperately needs.
• Barney Irvine is principal adviser, infrastructure and motoring affairs, for the New Zealand Automobile Association.