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20th October 2018

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Auckland

Public transport groups push for rail from Auckland CBD to airport

Public transport groups are renewing calls to run trains from the Auckland CBD to the airport.

A public meeting has been called by the Public Transport Users Association and NZ Transport 2050 to argue that trains, not modern trams, are the best form of rapid transit to the airport.

In recent months, New Zealand Transport Agency chief executive Fergus Gammie has said the best route between the CBD and the airport is by train to Puhinui, and transferring to buses or trams for the final 6km leg to the airport.

The transport agency still intends to build a $3.7 billion line for modern trams, referred to as light rail, from the CBD to the airport but sees the lines as combining transport and development opportunities.

Next Tuesday’s meeting will highlight an alternative transport strategy called Start, “Straight to Airport Rapid Trains”.

NZ Transport 2050 chairman Paul Miller said the Government and Auckland Council have been sold a lemon which won’t solve the massive congestion issues caused by the trending growth at Auckland Airport.

“It seems that officials have been hijacked into something which simply does not solve the congestion problem, wastes the billions we have spent on trains, will cause significant issues for those living on Dominion Rd and won’t remove a single truck from the roads trying to reach the expansive airport logistics and surrounding manufacturing zones,” he said.

Meeting organisers will present information to highlight the disadvantages trams will have to an airport, including how the bus link from the airport to Puhinui station is not a First-World solution.

An artist's impression of light rail running down Dominion Rd to Auckland airport. Image / Auckland TransportAn artist’s impression of light rail running down Dominion Rd to Auckland airport. Image / Auckland Transport

“A modern, fast train linking the airport to every single Auckland railway station and south to Hamilton and Tauranga is what we need the Government to take a serious and objective look at.

“The Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford, needs to be open minded on the airport congestion issues before he commits taxpayers to fund one of the slowest tram/light-rail links in the world to Auckland airport and a “user unfriendly” airport bus shuttle link from Puhinui railway station,” said Miller.

Jon Reeves, national co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association said: “If the NZTA are going to fund any large-scale transport project we would like it be a something that benefits the widest reach of Auckland, the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.

Jon Reeves, from public transport lobby group Campaign For Better Transport, wants trains to run from Britomart to Auckland Airport. Photo / Brett PhibbsJon Reeves, from public transport lobby group Campaign For Better Transport, wants trains to run from Britomart to Auckland Airport. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland has spent over $6.5b on our railway network in the past 16 years, and the city rail link tunnel will further open up reach of our rail system. To not capitalise on that investment by operating fast, modern airport trains is purely crazy, Reeves said.

High-rise sized cranes from China welcomed at Ports of Auckland with a waiata

Auckland’s port has just become home to the largest cranes in Australasia.

Three massive container-lifting cranes, each one larger than central Auckland’s HSBC building, completed the final leg of their month long journey from Shanghai, China, to Auckland on Friday morning.

The special delivery was the culmination of 20 years worth of preparation, and a $60 million investment.

The cranes, which stood 82.3 metres tall and weighed 2100 tonnes each, docked at Ports of Auckland in Mechanics Bay after 9am.

From there they will be offloaded onto the Ferguson North Wharf using specially designed rail tracks.

Three gigantic cranes arrived in the Auckland harbour on Friday morning.

Ports of Auckland boss Tony Gibson said they were the most technically advanced cranes on the market.

“They lift four containers at once and they can lift containers out of the hull of a ship at different heights – which is a first in the world”

He said the cranes’ capacity would greatly increase of the port’s ability to load and unload ships.

The cranes stand 82 metres tall and weigh 2100 tonnes - each one larger than central Auckland's HSBC building.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
The cranes stand 82 metres tall and weigh 2100 tonnes – each one larger than central Auckland’s HSBC building.

“They weigh a massive 2100 tonnes each – about 1000 tonnes heavier than our existing cranes.”

The cranes were manufactured by Chinese multinational engineering company ZPMC, especially for Auckland’s port.

They could stack containers on ships 9 high. New Zealand’s current largest cranes can stack containers only 7 high.

The special delivery was the culmination of 20 years worth of preparation, and a $60 million investment.
ALDEN WILLIAMS
The special delivery was the culmination of 20 years worth of preparation, and a $60 million investment.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff said with such precious cargo, it was lucky the ship had not passed through a typhoon.

“This means that we have the most technologically advanced cranes and we can cope with the largest ship coming to our port.”

He said the upgrade was good for Ports of Auckland, and therefore a “bonus” for the ratepayers.

Ports of Auckland workers, standing on the decks of the old cranes, lined up for an unobstructed view of the new Chinese imports.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
Ports of Auckland workers, standing on the decks of the old cranes, lined up for an unobstructed view of the new Chinese imports.

“Ports of Auckland is of course owned by Auckland council, so its dividends feed directly into the ratepayers.”

Port’s spokesman Matt Ball said the cranes were needed to keep up with Auckland’s growth.

“More people in the city means more freight. The ships that bring our goods from overseas are getting bigger, so we need to make sure we can handle them.

The new cranes will work at double the capacity of the current ones.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
The new cranes will work at double the capacity of the current ones.

“With these new cranes, and the new deep water berth they will sit on, we’ll be able to handle the biggest ships coming to New Zealand.”

CRANES BY NUMBERS

– 82.3m tall, current cranes are 69.2m.

– 2100 tonnes, current cranes are 1300 tonnes.

– Able to lift four containers at once, current cranes can lift two.

– Able to be remotely operated – a New Zealand first.

– Able to lift containers stacked at different heights.

– Can reach 21 containers across, current cranes can reach 19 across.

Stuff

Auckland wharfies plead for action on safety

View from the harbour. End of the winter 2016.
Maria Slade for The Spinoff

Following the death of a young wharfie there are claims Ports of Auckland is encouraging unsafe practices by paying bonuses for moving cargo faster.

Last month 23-year-old wharfie and father Laboom Dyer suffered fatal injuries when the straddle carrier he was driving tipped over at the Ports of Auckland. The tragedy has prompted a member of another watersider’s family to speak out about the safety culture at the port.

The person, who does not wish to be identified, says the wharfie community feels changes need to be made to prioritise safety over productivity.

In an open letter to the port’s board and management (published below), they identify the ‘box move’ bonus system which rewards workers with a financial bonus for moving a higher number of containers in a month.

Wharfies can earn up to an extra $600 a month under this system, the person claims.

“A few of the old boys say as soon as that was brought in they noticed such a change in drivers. It really had people pushing boundaries… to get that extra money,” the person told The Spinoff.

However Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) says its commitment to safety is “genuine and deep”.

“Everyone at Ports of Auckland, including the board and management, have been deeply affected by this accident. We mourn the loss of one of our own,” it said in a statement. “We want to know more than anyone why this accident happened, so we can work to prevent anything like it happening again.”

Around 60 percent of POAL’s wharfies are members of the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ). Union secretary Russell Mayn says the box move bonus is port policy and not part of any workplace agreement. “The Maritime Union does not support a bonus that encourages productivity by speed,” he says.

POAL is the only New Zealand port operating such a system, and also allows the straddle carriers – the freight vehicles used to move containers – to be driven faster than anywhere else in the country, he claims. Top speed at Auckland is 25kms an hour, compared with between 20-23kms at other ports, he says.

Following the death of Laboom Dyer the union asked POAL to reduce the maximum speed to 22kms and put the box move bonus on hold but was declined, Mayn says.

The port company said it declined the request because there was no evidence that these factors contributed to the accident.  “All factors will be included in the investigation,” it said.

Ports of Auckland is carrying out its own investigation into last month’s fatal accident and is assisting the independent investigation by WorkSafe New Zealand.

Relations between POAL and MUNZ may not be as acrimonious as they were during the great port dispute of the early 2000s, but they remain tense to say the least.

The collective agreement finally hammered out following that protracted and bitter industrial battle has expired, and port and union are once again in facilitation trying to find common ground.

In the past year alone two disputes have ended up at the Employment Relations Authority – one over last-minute changes to shift times, and a second over breaches to rules preventing workers from being rostered on for more than 60 hours in a seven-day period. In both cases the authority found largely in the union’s favour.

The union is sensitive to publicity: It would not agree to an interview with The Spinoff without several members of its executive and its lawyer being present.

At Ports of Auckland there is a poor culture of safety and trying to maximise profit at the expense of workers, Mayn claims. “Before the last collective agreement I don’t believe there was a culture like that.”

The union’s main concerns in the current collective negotiations are around hours of work and fatigue risk management, he says.

“Really our main concern is there’s been three deaths [in our industry] in less than 18 months. We believe there should be an industry code of practice that is regulated.”

The full text of the open letter and Ports of Auckland’s response is below.

An open letter to the directors and management of Ports of Auckland, Aotearoa

Last week the unimaginable happened. A critical accident involving one of our young men that ended with us laying a brother to rest.

Following the accident that stripped a beautiful young lad from the prosperous life he was bound to live, what changes as a company have you made to ensure the safety of our whānau inside your million-dollar gates?

Your workplace is a high risk working environment. The men and women employed by you face such imminent risks as soon as they swipe into your front gates. Those men and women are our partners, our children, our siblings and our whānau. They’re more than just employees there to get a job done.

As someone whose life could have been affected in the same way this young man’s family has been now, I ask you, ‘what you are doing to prevent this from ever happening again?’

Those inside the wharfie lifestyle know far too well the pressures that can be placed on your workers. It is not only expected for them to do the long hours of their job efficiently and effectively, but to get that job done as fast as possible.

But will you rebut by saying that is simply not true? Well then why did you as management implement a ‘box move’ bonus system? This system rewards the drivers of your company with a financial bonus for the greatest amount of container box moves they are able to make within a month.

Does that not seem to you like you are creating a culture that places productivity above the personal health and safety of your workers and their peers?

I know many of those affected by this devastating accident just want to see appropriate culture changes made and better health and safety protocols implemented for the safety of our whānau.

For all those whose lives this has affected, it is something we will remember for a lifetime – but what happens in 10 years when a new bunch of young men and women think of this as nothing but a story?

I plead with you to take action. Do some reflecting on the state this company is in and make changes that will ensure this NEVER happens again.

Your company is supposedly based on ‘family values’ – if that is the case then now is your time to show it.

We should have never had to lay our brother and a beautiful young father to rest last week. Rest in love Boom – a life taken far too soon.

Sincerely,

A devastated member of the wharfies’ greater community.

Response from Ports of Auckland

“We completely understand the feelings expressed in this letter. Everyone at Ports of Auckland, including the board and management, have been deeply affected by this accident. We mourn the loss of one of our own and our condolences continue to be offered to his family, all who loved him, worked with him, socialised with him and everyone his life touched.

“Our commitment to safety is genuine and deep. We want to know more than anyone why this accident happened, so we can work to prevent anything like it happening again. We are carrying out our own investigation and we are assisting the independent investigation by WorkSafe New Zealand.

“While these investigations are underway we can’t comment on what we think might be the cause.”

Auckland’s new fuel tax cost us $13.2 million in its first month

Auckland’s Regional Fuel Tax has generated $13.2 million in its first month of operation – about $700,000 more than initial estimates.

The fuel tax came into effect on July 1, when petrol stations across the super-city put prices up by 11.5c per litre.

It was introduced as a means to raise funds to improve road safety and congestion across Auckland’s choked transport network.

Of the $13.2m (excluding GST) collected from 1-31 July, Auckland Council said $11m would go directly into transport projects – including rural road safety upgrades in Rodney and Franklin and new red light safety cameras.

A $1 million one-off lump sum would then go to the New Zealand Transport Agency for the administration costs in setting up the tax.

Auckland's Regional Fuel Tax has generated $13.2 million in its first month.

SIMON MAUDE/STUFF
Auckland’s Regional Fuel Tax has generated $13.2 million in its first month.
The rest would be spent on rebates and service costs.

The Regional Fuel Tax is collected by NZTA, which forwards the revenue to Auckland Council, less any expenses.

Before it was brought in, it was estimated it would raise $1.5 billion over 10 years, allowing the council leverage to invest $2.8b into the $28b Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the majority of which will be spent upgrading the city’s rail and bus networks.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said with raising road fatalities and serious injuries in Auckland, spending on road safety would be an immediate priority from the revenue.

“Last year 64 people died on Auckland’s roads and 749 suffered serious injuries. The increase in deaths and serious injuries was three times higher than elsewhere in New Zealand,” he said.

“The human, social and economic cost to our community of the road toll is huge and must be addressed.

“Aside from road safety spending, the focus of new investment from the RFT is to fix Auckland’s congested transport network.”

Auckland Council’s manager of financial strategy, Michael Burns, initially said the tax meant the council would be receiving on average an extra $12.5m per month.

Quarterly reports would go to the council’s Finance and Performance committee, with the first report due in November.

AA’s Auckland infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said the revenue generated was line with the association’s expectations.

“For us, the bigger question is whether all of the extra cost is being charged in Auckland, or whether fuel companies are spreading it around to other regions as well,” he said.

“We’ve heard some suggestions that this is happening, but it’s still too early to say. The Government’s due to report back on the performance of the scheme after the first three months, so we’re expecting that to provide a lot more clarity.”

 – Stuff

Auckland regional fuel tax a ‘political sham’ says Road Transport Forum boss

The Auckland Regional Fuel Tax has been labelled “a political sham” by the Road Transport Forum NZ chief executive Ken Shirley as he called for the market around the country to be opened up to cheaper competitors.

Mr Shirley told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that while the falling NZ dollar and global geopolitical issues meant oil prices fluctuated, many parts of the country still pay more than Aucklanders at the pump despite the 11.5 cents a litre tax in our biggest city.

“The whole Auckland regional fuel tax is a political sham, it’s done for political reasons to make it appear that the revenue is coming out of Auckland but in fact we all know it’s being spread across the whole country and this is just living testimony of that,” Mr Shirley said.

“Many parts of the country are paying 20 cents more than the market up there (in Auckland) so we do get fuel tax spreading, regional variations, that’s not surprising.”

Mr Shirley said if you lived south of “a line roughly from Masterton to Levin” you paid a lot more because Gull is not in the market in the lower North Island and South Island, something he wanted to see change.

“Because we don’t have Gull in the market in those areas, therefore you pay more because the competition is less,” he said.

“I’d like you to see Gull have better access to the southern North Island and the South Island to make sure those pencils are kept as sharp as possible.”

He rejected the AA’s suggestion that GST be dropped from fuel, but said that taxes made up 40 per cent, or a $1 of current fuel prices, and motorists should be concerned about what that revenue was being spent on.

“We’re now going to see road user and motorist taxes which previously had being going in to improving the highways being diverted into other uses.”

“Now that’s a first and it is a concern, there’s actually been an 11 per cent cut in the highway budget in the government policy statement for NZTA.”

Auckland’s $6 billion plan for modern trams could extend to Kumeu

Dave’s comment – When so much money has been or is being spent on development of the Auckland heavy rail network, why do Auckland council and the Government continue to ignore the expert’s calls for the proposed CBD – Dominion Rd – Mangere – Airport to be abandoned in favour of minor extensions to the heavy rail network?  At lower cost and with significantly less disruption than the proposed tram lines.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald, NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie said the plan for trams from the CBD to Westgate will probably be extended to Kumeu.

Gammie also revealed that NZTA believes that the best route between the CBD and the airport is by train to Puhinui and transferring to buses or trams for the 6km leg to the airport.

What we are trying to achieve in the longer term is a system that enables people to spend a lot more of their life on public transport.

The transport agency still intends to build a $3.7b line for modern trams, referred to as light rail, from the CBD to the airport but sees the line as combining transport and development opportunities along the corridor, Gammie said.

For this reason, the project has been renamed the CBD to Māngere project, which will still serve the airport and allow workers to travel to the airport, a major employment centre.

The changes have been made after Labour handed over responsibility for light rail from Auckland Transport to the transport agency, which is going from being a road builder to looking at all forms of transport to benefit people and communities.

New homes like this one in Westgate are adding to congestion in the northwest
New homes like this one in Westgate are adding to congestion in the northwest

“What we are trying to achieve in the longer term is a system that enables people to spend a lot more of their life on public transport,” Gammie said.

Labour has promised to build light rail from the CBD to the airport and West Auckland within a decade, described as a “game changer” by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Labour’s plans for fast public transport separated from vehicles, known as rapid transit, also include a busway running from Botany to Puhinui train station, and on to the airport.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Phil Twyford issued a brief statement, saying the minister was on the same page as Gammie and there was nothing more he could add.

Extending modern trams to Kumeu is being driven by already congested roads from a housing boom and projections of 25,000 more homes in the northwest by 2032.

However, the idea is not supported by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA), which favours extending rail from Swanson to Kumeu and running rail directly from the CBD to the airport via Puhinui.

PTUA co-ordinator Jon Reeves said trams are slow and very expensive, whereas trains can provide fast, frequent and reliable service at less cost. What’s more, rail can carry freight to the airport and reduce congestion on the roads, he said.

Reeves said there had been no official study comparing the cost of rail, modern trams or a busway from Puhinui to the airport.

He said running trains directly from Britomart to the airport via Puhinui would take 33 minutes. Auckland Transport has estimated it will take 42 minutes for light rail via the Māngere route.

Jon Reeves, co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association.
Jon Reeves, co-ordinator of the Public Transport Users Association.

Gammie said the transport agency was undertaking detailed business cases for the two light rail lines, which would be completed by early next year, and would soon begin public consultation.

“These projects are not easy because they do make a big difference to the local community,” said Gammie, who as the former director-general for transport services in New South Wales was involved in light rail projects in Newcastle and Sydney.

“Every light rail project around the world has been disruptive, but everyone loves light rail when it is finished,” he said.

Trams or rail ‘as long as it’s faster’

Yelena Khalevina was excited to hear Auckland Transport's plans for a possible tram line to Kumeu. Photo / Greg Bowke
Yelena Khalevina was excited to hear Auckland Transport’s plans for a possible tram line to Kumeu. Photo / Greg Bowke

When quality time with your three-year-old son consists of being stuck in a car for three hours a day, the prospect of modern trams is very enticing.

Every workday, Yelena Khalevina, her husband and son leave home in Huapai at 6.30am for the long 30km crawl into the city. With jobs and daycare over, they get back in the car at 5pm and don’t get home until 6.30pm.

There’s a stash of books and toys for the “quality time” they spend with their toddler, who’s tucked up in bed soon after they get home and feed him.

“I would gladly take the bus,” says Yelena, except it takes longer than the drive to and from her job as a digital analyst in the city.

The family recently moved into a new subdivision in the rural community of Huapai, part of a housing boom in the northwest causing congestion with more than 18,000 vehicles driving on State Highway 16 per day and causing a bottleneck through Kumeu.

Yelena says the family made the decision to move to Huapai for the lifestyle, knowing that being stuck in traffic is something that goes with living in a big city.

They plan to live in the area long-term, says Yelena, who is very excited that one day, perhaps 10 years away, they will be able to go into the city on trams or rail.

As well as plans by the New Zealand Transport Agency for modern trams, locals are campaigning for trains to Kumeu/Huapai with billboards erected on the roadside encouraging people to sign up.

It wouldn’t make any difference, trams or rail, says Yelena, “so long as it is faster than being stuck in traffic”.

Traffic chaos on Auckland’s motorways causing commuter headaches

A truck has broken down on the Southern Motorway. Photo / NZTA Twitter
Photo / NZTA Twitter – Truck branding obscured by “unknown”

Crashes and a breakdown on Auckland’s motorways have caused headaches for commuters heading into the city this morning.

One crash on the Southern Motorway after the Te Irirangi on-ramp temporarily closed two lanes while a vehicle was recovered and debris cleared from the area.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says the crash occurred around 8.20am and that congestion through to Manukau was now easing quickly.

Meanwhile, a truck breakdown that partially blocked the citybound on-ramp to the Southern Motorway at Takanini has been cleared.

NZTA says that the truck has been towed from the area and asks that motorists allow for extra time for travel from Papakura to Takanini.

A crash on the Northwestern Motorway is blocking the left lane from Newton Rd heading towards the Port but is not currently causing delays.

Earlier today a crash on the Northwestern Motorway after Western Springs has resulted in congested traffic through the area.

New Zealanders spent $20b on transport last year

New Zealanders spent $20 billion on transport last year, according to Statistics NZ.

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

New Zealanders spent $20 billion on transport last year, according to Statistics NZ.

Transport costs for households jumped $2 billion within one year, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Between 2016 and 2017, the average amount New Zealand households spent on transport rose from $18b to $20b.

A decade earlier, households spent $13.4b on transport collectively.

Auckland public transport users spend $174 a month, according to an international report.

PHIL DOYLE/STUFF

Auckland public transport users spend $174 a month, according to an international report.

The numbers are pulled from Statistics NZ’s final consumption expenditure (FCE) calculations, which shows the cost of transport has been rising steadily since 1994.

 

A Deutsche Bank report said Auckland public transport users spent an average of $174.51 a month, making it the third most expensive city to commute in, after London and Dublin.

Auckland's fuel tax will cause transport spending to continue increasing.

1NEWS

Auckland’s fuel tax will cause transport spending to continue increasing.

New Zealanders’ spending on transport is set to continue to rise as Auckland implements an 11.5 cent per litre fuel tax and councils in other cities look to follow suit.

Post prices and goods like food may become more expensive too as freight firms who transfer goods around the country will incur the extra tax and pass it onto consumers.

 – Stuff

Auckland Council gives green light to 11.5c fuel tax to hit motorists on July 1

31 May 2018

Auckland Council’s controversial 11.5 cents a litre fuel tax has been approved by councillors at a budget meeting today.

Councillors voted 13-7 to approve the extra cost for motorists today.

Legislation allowing the tax is expected to be passed in Parliament to allow the tax to come into effect on July 1.

Auckland drivers face paying 25c a litre more in the next three years as the Government also proposes boosting fuel taxes in 3c to 4c annual hikes.

Motorists filling up with 91 unleaded this morning were able to get a best price of $2.03 a litre at the Gull Wiri self-service station in South Auckland, but more typically paid between $2.07 and $2.19 a litre, according to the Gaspy app.

A handful of service stations charged $2.20 or more a litre and the two Z stations near Auckland Airport posted the most expensive prices at $2.29 a litre.

Those wanting premium 95 unleaded had to dip a little deeper into their wallets, facing prices ranging from $2.14 to $2.41 a litre.

Mayor Phil Goff said the tax was critical to help pay for projects to improve transport after years and years of under investment.

“We cannot allow our city to gridlock and that is what we are heading toward,” he said.

Goff said the tax would raise $1.5 billion over 10 years but Government subsidies and development contributions would increase that to $4.3b.

To raise that money through rates would require a 13 per cent to 14 per cent rise.

The regional fuel tax was the fastest, cheapest and best way to raise spending to tackle traffic congestion, said the mayor.

Without the extra money, Goff said, the city would grind to a halt.

Manurewa-Papakura councillor Daniel Newman, the only councillor to advocate for higher rates as the way forward, said the tax would lead to a redistribution of wealth from some of the poorest people to those who have the greatest wealth and choice.

“I don’t think that is fair,” he said.

Councillor Chris Darby said the tax would lead to significant benefits across the city, as well as social and economic benefits.

“This regional fuel tax allows us to shift gears in Auckland in a way we have not seen before: out of planning and into delivery,” he said.

National MP Jami-Lee Ross said Aucklanders would not forgive Auckland Council and the Labour Government’s decisions to impose fuel taxes.

“They certainly won’t forget it every time it costs them more to fill up their cars.”

Ross said consultation had identified that 51 per cent of Aucklanders opposed the regional fuel tax.

“This new tax is not needed. If Auckland Council simply followed through on Mayor Goff’s promise to find between 3-6 per cent of savings in the council’s budget they could easily find the money that the fuel tax would raise,” he said.

“Instead, Auckland Council has been given the ‘tax and spend’ keys by Transport Minister Phil Twyford and hard-working New Zealanders will be paying the cost.”

How councillors voted
For
Mayor Phil Goff
Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore
Ross Clow
Josephine Bartley
Cathy Casey
Linda Cooper
Chris Darby
Alf Filipaina
Chris Fletcher
Richard Hills
Penny Hulse
Wayne Walker
John Watson

Against
Efeso Collins
Mike Lee
Daniel Newman
Greg Sayers
Desley Simson
Sharon Stewart
John Walker

READ MORE:
• Barry Soper: The hypocrisy of the Govt’s petrol tax position
• Aucklanders to have say on regional petrol tax before knowing how it will be spent
• Ken Shirley: Fuel tax poorly thought out solution to transport costs

The Auckland fuel tax always looked doomed, just not quite this quickly

New Zealand had a regional fuel tax during the early 1990s, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across the country.

SIMON MAUDE/STUFF
New Zealand had a regional fuel tax during the early 1990s, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across the country.
OPINION: When the Government signalled plans to introduce a special fuel tax in Auckland, transport officials warned Transport Minister Phil Twyford that such a measure had been tried before and failed. At least twice.

For all the good intention – that motorists benefiting from major transport projects pay their share – there is little that can be done to prevent the impact of the tax increase spreading across the country.

Proving exactly who is paying what when it comes to excise tax on petrol is hard, because the giant tax bill is paid in bulk.

But there are signs that rather than spilling over when the tax comes into force, that the sharp price increase in recent weeks could be price spreading in anticipation of the price increase.

Prices are rising strongly in areas where competition is limited in comparison to Auckland, where the increase has been much more muted.

When Twyford introduced legislation to enable the new tax, which is supposed to add 11.5 cents a litre to the price of petrol in Auckland but nowhere else, the average petrol station in Auckland was charging about 4c a litre less than in Christchurch.

By last week, as prices hit the highest of all time in areas subject to the “national” fuel price, the average difference between Auckland and Christchurch, was more like 16c.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford was warned that regional fuel taxes had been tried and failed before and is now refusing ...

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF
Transport Minister Phil Twyford was warned that regional fuel taxes had been tried and failed before and is now refusing to discuss signs that the impact may already be being felt by motorists elsewhere.
 According to information from Gaspy, a mobile app which monitors prices based on observations of thousands of drivers, the growth in the gap between Auckland and Wellington has also surged since late March.

In rough terms, the degree of price increases in many areas has grown by the scale of the impending Auckland regional fuel tax.

So come July 1, if prices in Auckland do actually increase by 11.5c, can it really be said that Aucklanders are the ones paying the regional fuel tax?

Or, as the Ministry of Transport warned could happen (and has happened before), has the impact of the Auckland regional fuel tax actually been spread across the country?

It appears the fuel companies are doing something akin to front running the increase. A sharp price increase is coming to a highly competitive area and prices in areas where there is less competition than Auckland are quickly drifting higher ahead of the move.

Z Energy, which has consistently fronted up to comment when its rivals have refused, denies prices are rising in anticipation of the fuel tax.

A spokeswoman said the price gap between the cheapest and most expensive stations tended to grow sharply during times of rising crude prices, and then narrow when oil prices stabilised.

Gaspy, which crowd sources petrol prices from around the country, has noticed a conspicuous widening in the gap between Auckland prices and other parts of the country, especially Christchurch. Z Energy says the price gap is typical of periods when crude prices rise strongly.

Perhaps this is the case, but if so it would simply highlight how different areas are much less competitive than others.

The Z Energy spokeswoman also declined to give assurances that the gap would narrow as crude oil prices stabilised. Come July 1, the company would add the Auckland regional fuel tax to stations across New Zealand’s largest city, but then it would be a case of market forces at play.

A spokeswoman for BP said the recent changes in its national pricing “are a function of the rising crude/falling [New Zealand dollar] environment we are currently operating in, together with competitive factors playing a part, rather than a response to the proposed introduction of the regional fuel tax.”

If the regional fuel tax were legislated, BP “will apply the Auckland regional fuel tax from 1 July within the identified boundaries” the company said.

Larry Green, co-founder of Gaspy, said the price gap between Auckland and other areas was growing at such speed it was “impossibly unlikely” that it was not related to the impending price increase.

“The more they [the petrol companies] spread it over time, the less it looks like an anomaly”.

This has all happened before, suggesting Governments never learn.

During the early 1990s, New Zealand had a regional fuel tax, but it was abandoned as the impact spread across New Zealand.

The Government passed legislation for another regional tax in 2008, but never introduced it because of fears of price spreading.

We know this because it is contained in a very clear warning to Twyford about what could happen to his increase.

“If price spreading was to occur the larger companies have the ability to spread the cost of the tax to all fuel sales made across their network. For example, fuel companies could charge approximately three cent tax nationally across their network to cover a 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax required in for each litre of fuel sold in Auckland.”

To give Phil Twyford credit, it is not as if he is prone to simply accepting what government officials tell him.

When he didn’t like what Treasury said about how much of an impact KiwiBuild would have on the housing market, Twyford accused “kids at Treasury” of being “disconnected from reality”.

Whether or not he accepts that the regional fuel tax will have integrity is hard to know.

Apart from a vague promise to increase monitoring of prices to assess whether price-spreading occurs, Twyford is refusing to comment, saying there is nothing he can add.

But given how stark the warnings were, the regional fuel tax simply looks dishonest. The Government should admit it will not work, replace the regional tax with a smaller nationwide one and drop the charade.

 – Stuff

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