Pukekohe motorway commuters may face toll charges

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Pukekohe motorway tollMayor Len Brown says Auckland is facing a $12 billion shortfall to fund its transport infrastructure and the city’s residents (including Pukekohe) have to face the fact that they are going to have to pay for it one way or another.

Auckland Council’s budget committee released two reports this week looking at the issue.

The first from the Independent Advisory Body (IAB) presents two alternative funding models for Auckland to raise the money needed to pay for the fully integrated transport network outlined in the Auckland Plan.

While the second report from the Auckland Council group sets out two different transport budgets. One budget is based on the limited revenue streams the council is currently working with, while the second looks at using alternative sources of funding to pay for the network outlined in the Auckland Plan.

Mayor Brown says Auckland residents will have to pay for the shortfall, either through increased road user charges and rates, or tolls on the city’s motorways.

“Aucklanders tell me every day that we need to fix this city’s transport problems and I know a basic network isn’t good enough for them, so let’s debate, discuss and decide if and how much we are prepared to pay to finally fix Auckland’s transport problems.”

He says if the city is prepared to pay for a world class public transport system it could reduce congestion by up to 20 percent over the next 10 years.

The funding would help pay for new roads, rail and ferry services, busways, cycleways and supporting infrastructure needed to cope with a population set to hit 2.5 million in the next three decades.

“Achieving this level of transport performance will deliver economic benefits to the Auckland region of $1.6 billion in improved productivity and reduced costs.”

Auckland Council will start public consultation in January next year to establish which transport system Aucklanders want. If they choose the fully integrated system in the Auckland Plan they will then be asked how they would like to pay for it.

The final decision will then be made during the council’s Long-term Plan process in May and June 2015.

Councillor Arthur Anae supports the idea of introducing tolling on the motorway network.

“At end of the day Auckland can’t move forward with its transport problems if we don’t address the city’s congestion,” Mr Anae says. “I’ve always been a supporter of tolls, with the proviso that there are alternative routes, that you have a choice. It’s a fair user pays system. If they only use the toll road once they only have to pay once.”

He says he would ultimately like to see a flat rate toll at peak times and make the motorway network free at other off peak times.

“The idea behind tolls isn’t to just build more roads, it’s to free up our transport network.”

But the latest debate on how to pay for Auckland’s transport infrastructure isn’t without its critics.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the city must have a transport system that meets the demands of its growing population and the government is committed to working with the Auckland Council to help make sure that happens.

But he says he remains sceptical about the options presented to Aucklanders this week and whether they will further alleviate congestion.

“Aucklanders would need a very clear sense of what results they are getting and whether the new projects would deliver tangible value for money for commuters. They also need to have the discussion about how much more Aucklanders are prepared to pay for their transport.”

Mr Bridges says while rates issues are a matter for the Auckland Council, the government wouldn’t support a regional fuel tax or an increase in the national fuel tax.

“The government is not supportive of new taxes or raising the national tax for the benefit of one region. We are also not at all convinced by the motorway charge, and we have been clear that it’s not our preferred policy.”

He says it’s also important to note that Auckland’s motorway system has been paid for by taxpayers and any revenue raised from it would firstly belong to taxpayers.

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