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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tolling a division of society

The clamour for road taxes continues. The Council staff pushing for tolls want a million bucks from Council to keep pushing for tolls...
NZ Herald: Auckland motorists face a growing possibility of paying tolls to keep using existing roads under council staff recommendations for plugging a transport funding gap of up to $15 billion.

A special meeting of Auckland Council's governing body has been called for Thursday to consider a report recommending a $1.1 million study of three options - road tolls or "congestion charging", regional fuel taxes and higher parking fees.

Tolling - or "congestion charging" or whatever euphemism is employed - is the worst option.

Once a toll is set it is very easy to put it up and very difficult to remove it (the Tauranga Council kept charging tolls on a bridge even after the legal authority had ended and kept charging even when the Attorney-General sent a letter saying they were acting unlawfully!). And to toll any road that is already built and paid for is unacceptable, and iniquitous.

To ration the road in such a monetary way  (tolls and also the penalties for not paying the toll) means that it will see the poor and working classes relatively disadvantaged and the wealthy unaffected. The only transport behaviour influenced will be at the lower income deciles who the staff at the Council imagine will forego their cars for (under-funded, patchy and sporadic) public transport and thus leave the middle classes (such as themselves) at greater ease on the motorways without all the peasants and their shit heaps clogging up their roads. A public sphere becoming a private sphere. The potential for a divided, first and second class, society will be one step closer if tolling is ever imposed.

The issue of civil rights, eg. freedom of movement, is a bit lofty for local government types to consider, but is of critical importance in understanding the philosophical implications of tolling. For a city such as Auckland, with the isthmus and two harbours creating natural barriers, the free passage of people and vessels and vehicles (for trade amongst other purposes) is important for the functioning of the city. Tamaki Makaurau - and the portages in particular - have always been a place of transit as well as a destination for many centuries.

The free passage through and within Tamaki Makaurau was established under Maori custom and ought to be respected as a useful and valuable principle. Treaties in the 1830s relating to the Tamaki river were made between tribes - it would be interesting to see what they have to say on the issue.  The concept of free passage is worth defending and worth amplifying into the modern era by declaring that no tolls should be put on any roadway in the city. The question as to whether this should apply to new roads that will not be built without the tolling revenue (such as how the Auckland Harbour Bridge was funded) is a moot point typically dealt with by a fixed term of tolling (but see the Tauranga example above).

NZ Herald:

Preferred funding tools, based on 161 submissions:
57 % Tolling new roads
48 % Regional fuel tax
43 % Congestion charges on busy existing roads
38 % Property development levies
34 % Extra parking charges
28 % Extra airport departure taxes
26 % Visitor taxes
23 % Network tolls
23 % General rates
22 % Targeted rates.

My suggestion - one I've put to previous Councils - is the least popular: the targeted rate. At the moment (or at least under the old ARC - and why would it have changed?) there is a transport rate applied to areas with public transport. The map shows it is rather too wide - some areas with very sparse bus services are in the zone. I'm not sure how much money this raises, but it will be only a small fraction of the amount spent (the rest being general rates and central government subsidies).

A stand-alone rail authority is the only realistic way that Auckland's rail infrastructure will be planned, built and managed - with its own board, with its own funding and under its own statute, free of the Council lolly-grabbing at present where the expense, difficulties and long-term nature of rail will always mean the funds are distributed to the shitty buses and other peripheral things, with rail losing out every time, every year, year in and year out since the 1920s when a CBD rail tunnel was first planned, and especially since they dismantled the tramways in the late 1950s and opted for a motorway culture. A separate rail authority would change that, but it seems politically beyond the small minds in office and the even smaller minds in the bureaucracy to contemplate any of this. (As an example of how fixed the staff are, the last time I checked there were NO feasibility studies whatsoever into bringing rail to the North Shore!)

The funding for the rail authority should come from their own targetted rate - to be set narrower than the present general public transport rate: a whole rate in areas 1km from a station and a half rate from 1km to 2km from a station. 2km is about 15-20 minutes walk.  It may be the least popular idea but there is a practical justification in so far as properties closer to a train station would be expected to have higher valuations because of the proximity.



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