New and additional sources of funding are needed to help fix Auckland’s traffic congestion and growing pains, Transport Minister Phil Twyford says.
But Twyford believes it is not fair for the rest of New Zealand to pay for its biggest city’s woes.
Rail and coastal shipping will be a focus for both Auckland and elsewhere, he said.
The newly named minister made the comments in his first address at the Road Transport Forum’s annual conference in Hamilton on Saturday. “If we had a decent passenger rail from Auckland to Hamilton paid for out of the Land Transport Fund, then I could have been here much earlier,” he joked, referring to what RTF Chief Executive Ken Shirley had said to him after arriving late to the conference, having got stuck in traffic.
During the conference at Claudelands Event Centre, Twyford outlined the government’s direction on the future of transport throughout the country.
Creating a “resilient and multi-modal transport system, reducing carbon emissions and fixing Auckland’s congestion” were the priorities.
“We know the transport system is about networks and productivity and changes to one mode can have flow-on consequences.”
Transport in New Zealand needs to be resilient in the face of shocks, such as the recent earthquakes that shut down the major north-south highway in the South Island.
To do this, changes to funding is required.
Roading is currently funded through the Land Transport Fund, from road user charges, petrol tax and vehicle registration, which generate $4 billion a year.
“We need to tackle the problem of new and additional funding sources and the challenge of dealing with Auckland’s growth pains is one of the pressures here.”
Decades of under-investment and congestion in Auckland is costing the city $1.3b a year in lost productivity, he said.
Aucklanders want it fixed, but Twyford said it will come at a cost.
“They understand that it costs money to do this.”
The Government is committed to a $15 million, 10-year programme that includes a rapid transport system in Auckland, which will join up with the road and highway system.
“We believe rapid transport should be funded in the same way as state highways and there are benefits for at least part-funding the rapid transport through the Land Transport Fund.
“We need to find additional sources of funding as well and we cannot ask the rest of New Zealand to pay the costs of Auckland’s growth.”
If asked, the Government will pass legislation to allow Auckland Council to levy a regional fuel tax, he said.
“We’ve talked about 10 cents a litre and that would generate about $150 million a year, about 10 per cent of the investment that is needed for the Auckland Transport Plan.
“Aucklanders have to be willing to chip in a bit extra.”
Income from targetted rates on what will be “massive increases” in the value of the land around the light rail network in Auckland could be reinvested in the rapid transport system, he said.
“The Government is going to continue to fund rail above and beyond the national transport fund, but what we want is to generate new and additional sources of revenue.
“In the long term, petrol excise will not be a sustainable way to fund the transport system.”
Previous governments had disproportionately invested the fund into motorway projects, leaving regional roads starved of funds, he said.
“Our coalition partner placed a very high premium on investment in the regions, so that will be a priority.”
Reducing carbon emissions
Another priority would be reducing carbon emissions from the transport industry, which make up 18 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Exploring coastal shipping is one way of doing this, he said.
“I believe if we level the playing field, coastal shipping can be a cost-effective way to move heavy bulk freight that is not time-dependent.”
He also addressed one of the biggest concerns from the industry – the shortage of top-class drivers.
Attendees said the driver-licensing system had become complicated and expensive.
Twyford said the government wanted to weave driver licensing into the school curriculum.
“When people don’t get their licence or never graduate to a full licence, it has downstream negative consequences for them to get jobs.”
He said stemming migrant numbers would not affect those in the transport industry.
“You’ll know the intention to change the immigration settings, as we believe the open door policy of immigration had quadrupled net migration.
“We think we can combat this by taking out the rorts and the scams in the education sector, where so-called education providers have been giving back-door visas.”
There are genuine skill shortages and regional skill lists will mean a particular regions can attract people in to live and work in that region, he said.