Political confusion yesterday surrounded the Government’s proposal to introduce what in effect would be a congestion charge
on Auckland’s motorways.
Two Labour MPs took opposite view on the proposal while National’s unofficial candidate for the Auckland Mayoralty opposed the proposal.
Meanwhile, officially, Labour and the Greens yesterday were presenting a united front in their reaction to the proposal.
Unfortunately, one other Labour MP took the opposite view.
Greens Co-Leader James Shaw told POLITIK that Labour and the Greens had not consulted each other on their statements.
Instead, he said it showed how Labour had moved towards the Greens position on transport.
“I think this may be one of those things where we are of one mind rather than a united front,” he said.
Both parties are saying that they will not support congestion charges without suitable alternative public transport.
And they found surprising support in the centre right Auckland mayoral candidate, Victoria Crone.
“I am supportive of tolls where you are building a new road, but [not] just a general congestion charge when many people, particularly east Auckland and further west Auckland, just don’t have a choice,” she told RNZ.
Not surprisingly Mr Shaw agreed.
He said that without faster, more frequent bus and train services, people living on the outskirts of Auckland and those on low incomes will find it more expensive and harder to get to work in the city.
Ms Crone’s opponent, former Labour Leader Phil Goff, however supported the Government’s proposals.
“I think it’s far fairer actually to put a charge on that both influences behaviour and raises revenue without requiring rates to rise,” he said.
“A regional tax could be brought in first until the GPS technology is ready in about five years to be used in a variable road pricing system across the network.” he said.
But his Caucus colleague and the party’s transport spokesperson, Phil Twyford went on to question how Transport Minister Simon Bridges could offset congestion charges against road user charges and fuel taxes to make them revenue neutral.
“There’s no regional breakout in road user charges or petrol tax so I’d be interested to know how they are going to do that,” he said.
Mr Twyford says many of his constituents have little choice but to use the motorway to get to work.
The Transport Alignment project report underlines the problems faced by his west Auckland electorate.
The report proposes that a north western busway be completed within ten years and doing that would bring 45,000 jobs within a 45-minute commute for western residents.
It’s that sort of alternative that both Labour and the Greens believe should be the priority and that the Government should be prepared to fund it.
“The report is right to suggest that demand management tools like variable pricing and network charging have a role to play in managing Auckland’s transport system in the long term,” said Mr Twyford.
“But the Government has been so negligent over the past eight years to to raise now the prospect of Aucklanders paying a motorway tax is an outrage.
“If you are going to do it you would need to ensure there is a damn good public transport system.”
James Shaw takes an optimistic view that a demand management system might not be so important if public transport was much better.
“One of the reasons why people are driving is because they can’t get on a bus,” he said.
“The trains and buses are so crowded that people are actually switching back to driving their cars.
“So if you provide the option of better public transport, then people tend to chose it over vehicles because it is less stressful and gets them to work faster.”
The two centre-left parties might have been surprised to find they had support in their opposition to congestion charging from the right wing blogger, Whaleoil.
“I don’t care what the report says; the politics say that if you implement tolls on Auckland’s motorways, you will lose the next election,” he wrote yesterday.
“Most Aucklanders will tell the government to get stuffed. Those motorways are already funded, by road user charges and petrol taxes.
“Adding on extra taxes for using roads that are already paid for is political suicide.
“We wouldn’t have a problem with tolls for new roads, but it is political suicide to propose, or even mention, putting tolls on our motorways.”
The whole issue of road tolls in Auckland is now highly political.
Given that there was a lack of enthusiasm for them from within National to begin with, the opposition of Ms Crone will further enhance the perception that National is not really serious about this solution.
Watch Labour and the Greens jump on that.