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Howard's End: Road Tax A Blunt Instrument

For a government who consistently pushes smart intervention to support innovative economic growth, the blunt instrument of a universal increase in fuel taxes and road user charges to ease congestion is a dumb solution! Maree Howard writes.

If Auckland, or any other city, has congestion problems, the way to fix it is by directing existing smart technology at the problem instead of upsetting half the country by raising fuel tax and road user charges across the board.

Just last week the UK Commission for Integrated Transport recommended using existing global positioning satellites to monitor vehicles in targeted areas via electronic transponders (meters) attached to windscreens of vehicles.

Exactly why our government chose to do what it has is puzzling to say the least, particularly when New Zealand is already part of the global positioning satellite system.

By using those satellites and attaching inexpensive transponders to the windscreens of, say, all targeted Auckland vehicles, drivers in the region would pay a set amount for each journey taken with the money collected used to build roads, rapid rail, bus lanes, and cycle tracks specifically for that region.

Like the UK, the information can be beamed back to computers at the highway authorities for collection but with strict controls to protect privacy.

Pricing can be set or automatically adjusted to suit levels of congestion with those choosing to travel at peak times paying more than off-peak. Travel would be free in quiet areas in the off-peak period.

In the UK, the transport commission has warned that even huge improvements to train services and bus routes and massive road building projects would not be enough to clear chocked roads.

Commission chairman Professor David Begg, said, " Without congestion charging we are not going to solve it - we can never road-build our way out of this or provide enough public transport."

Begg said even doubling the capacity of train, tram and bus networks - a near impossible task - would only absorb about five years' worth of traffic growth before the roads become grid-locked again.

What's the bet that even with our increased fuel taxes and road user charges that scenario will exist here in a few years as well?

And at least the Brit's aren't so money-hungry as our government. They plan to scrap vehicle excise duty - the annual road tax disk - and reduce fuel taxes by between 2p and 12p a litre in return for the launch of road pricing.

The Commission wants the UK Government to make motoring taxes fairer by linking them to congestion rather than vehicle ownership or flat-rate fuel tax, which penalises rural motorists.

The motoring lobby agrees but says the UK Government is anti-car anyway.

While large trucks in the UK will not initially be effected by their scheme and large New Zealand trucks will not have to pay the increased road user charges, within two years lorries in the UK will be charged on the basis of distance travelled, weight and emissions, with cleaner vehicles paying less.

In Britain, the Government has come under fire for the collapse of Railtrack and the sell-off of air traffic control, as well as failing to solve the wider transport problems which is effecting efficiency in commerce and industry in the main centres.

But Begg has already warned the UK Government that without serious moves to persuade motorists in the cities to leave their cars home, it will not even achieve its own modest target of reducing national congestion by 6 percent in 2010.

London Lord Mayor, Ken Livingston, has said he will also go ahead with congestion charging for London by 2003 at 5 pounds a day for cars. He firstly plans to use roadside beacons and gantries that display prices - with satellite technology likely to be used at a later date.

In New Zealand? Well, we use the blunt instrument of across the board taxes just like the ancient Romans did. When it upsets half the country in an age of technology and smart growth, it's just plain dumb - and ancient!

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