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Society subsidises road transport

31 March 2005

Society subsidises road transport

A new study into the true costs to society and the environment of rail and road transport underlines the fact that Kiwis need to change their transport habits, Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says.

The Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study report, released this afternoon, starts to put numbers on the well-known fact that land transport, particularly cars and trucks, impose significant costs on the environment and society, such as air pollution, climate change, and noise pollution.

The study found that the true costs to society of road and rail transport are more than $1 billion higher than the amount of money the Government collects from road users, in the form of petrol tax, road user charges, motor vehicle fees and other fees.

“Our current transport system costs far more than road users seem willing to pay for it,” Ms Fitzsimons said. “Something has to change or else our transport system will start to, literally, cost us the earth. The true costs of endlessly building more and more roads for more and more cars are simply too high for our society and our environment to bear.

“The true cost to society of our current road and rail systems is about $3.7 billion. The Government only collects $2.6 billion from road users. The message is clear: we need to dramatically reduce the costs of our transport system, by changing its focus away from the simplistic clamour for building more and more roads.

“We need to develop ways to encourage more people to use public transport, to walk, to cycle, or to car-pool. It is simply no longer sustainable for our society or our environment to have empty seats in cars going in and out of our major cities every day, causing congestion and its associated pollution.”

Ms Fitzsimons said the most concerning aspect about the study was that it didn’t even take into account all the real costs of our transport system.

“This $1.1 billion gap between what our transport system costs us as a society and what road users pay for it would be much, much greater if all the environmental costs were taken into account. The study does not look at issues such as community severance, loss of amenity, or biosecurity risks. Nor is there any analysis of the economic and social risks of dependence on oil, or any analysis of the massive impact climate change will have if we continue as we are.”

The study also found that, in 2001/02, almost three-quarters of the regular money spent on land transport went on construction and maintenance of roads, 17 percent went on safety and administration, and only 9 percent went on public transport and alternatives to roading.

“This was before the Greens and the Government announced increased funding for public transport and alternatives to roading,” Ms Fitzsimons said. “However, despite the howls of protest from AA and RTF, the bulk of money still goes on roading. Suggesting that we spend all petrol tax on roads is like suggesting we spend cigarette tax on tobacco factories or alcohol tax on booze barns.”

Ms Fitzsimons said that, although there would be discussion about charging people for the true costs to society of their transport habits, there were other steps that had to be taken before that would be a fair way forward.

“We need to provide people with real alternatives before we start charging them much higher prices. The priority for now must be on public transport, walking, cycling and demand management. Any suggestion that more money ought to go on motorways is simply adding to the problem.”

The study also found that trucks pay far less of their true costs – only 56 percent – than freight rail, which pays 82 percent.

“This illustrates that the freight playing field is tilted in favour of trucks. We need to do more to ensure that rail becomes a more viable option for moving goods around New Zealand, which would bring New Zealand great environmental benefits, reducing the true costs of our transport systems considerably.”


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