The Council issued a press release today highlighting that it’s shifting to the next phase of analysing ways in which to bridge the $10-15 billion funding gap between the projects that are (supposedly) required over the next 30 years and the amount of money available under traditional funding schemes. Here are the details:
Alternative options for funding critical transport projects such as the additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, City Rail Link, Penlink, rail to the Airport and the East-West Link will be considered by Auckland Council on Thursday.
“If and when these projects proceed, Auckland will be required to fund part of the cost alongside government contributions.”
“Auckland Council is considering a number of funding options which can be used instead of loading all the burden on to Aucklanders’ rates bill,” says Len Brown.
“While the proposal does not rule out other funding mechanisms such as tolls or fare charges, it does identify three options that need additional work, as a result of public feedback. The proposal is for council to consider doing further work around regional fuel taxes, congestion and network charging and additional car parking charges.”
“I remain open-minded to a number of funding options. What is certain, however, is that Council must consider new ways to fund these major transport projects in a way which is affordable and fair for Aucklanders.”
The report follows a discussion document released earlier this year entitled “Getting Auckland Moving”. Eighty-five per cent of submitters felt additional funding was required to address the region’s transport infrastructure challenges.
“Alternative funding options are required because we face a $10-15 billion funding gap between Auckland’s future transport needs and what rates and taxes can cover. Auckland’s congestion will significantly worsen as the region’s population continues to surge. Auckland and the government need to invest in a mix of road and rail projects to provide the region with a transport system which will cope with a population of two million plus.”
The five most popular options were tolling on new roads, regional fuel taxes, congestion charging, development contributions and additional car parking charges. As tolling of new roads and development contributions are permissible under existing legislation, it was felt they did not require the same level of investigation.
The report proposes that further investigation of the three funding mechanisms take place with the aim of taking a funding proposal to government in 12 months recommending relevant legislation be changed. A consultative working group comprising council, government, community organisations, business and transport groups will be set up to consider and develop the proposals.
“The citizens of Auckland will be given the chance to have their say before any final decisions are made. It is important that we develop fair and affordable funding options for further consideration,” says the Mayor.
Further detail is in a report going to the Council on Thursday, which includes quite a lot of information around the feedback received on the discussion document.
This will be an interesting discussion to be had – particularly around the issue of regional fuel taxes and congestion/network charging – where Central Government has made it quite clear they’re not a fan of either way to raise additional revenue for transport projects. A few months back I highlighted that I think tolling existing motorway onramps (generally known as network charging, although it’s debatable whether that’s the appropriate phrase) was a dumb idea because it would shift traffic from motorways onto local roads. A regional fuel tax was almost introduced in 2008 before the incoming National government canned it, and the idea of road pricing & congestion charging seems to raise almost everyone’s heckles. It seems like additional parking charges might be the easy one out of the lot, although it won’t necessarily raise much cash.
However, I disagree with Mayor (and it seems around 85% of submitters) in that I’m not convinced whether significant additional funding is required to sort out Auckland’s transport woes. While many of the expensive projects on the Council’s wishlist are justified (like the CRL), a large number quite possibly aren’t, plus I think we shouldn’t necessarily consider all these large projects as over and above “business as usual” funding. Much of “business as usual” might not end up being particularly high quality spending (like building heaps of new roads to service growing urban sprawl) plus there should be ways to improve the efficiency of much of our operational spending – like getting better bang for our buck around how we operate public transport – to generate savings that can be reinvested.
Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that congestion charging, parking charges, tolling new roads or a regional fuel tax aren’t justifiable – or aren’t good ideas. In fact I think all of them might have some merit – though generally through their ability to promote behavioural change and modeshift. But maybe we don’t need to squeeze as much money out of them as previously thought if we’re tougher about which projects make the cut, or perhaps we can offset the money raised through lowering rates as a way of getting public support to implement something like congestion charging.