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Transport Minister Phil Twyford's Predicament

Transport Minister’s Predicament: No Smooth Road (Or Rail) Ahead
For Phil Twyford

New Transport Minister Phil Twyford will be facing different pressures and juggling new priorities within weeks of starting his new job. Not only is there a sharp revision to overall policy, but there is also pressure to sort out some current infrastructures failures sooner rather than later.

While less emphasis will be on new motorways and more on rail and public transport, the problem of Auckland’s traffic congestion will not go away with a change in Govt.

Twyford got a taste of the strong feelings around transport issues, when NZ Herald readers reacted to a report he will introduce a fuel tax in the city to help fund light rail to the airport and other transport projects. Some readers threatened to fill up out of town, while others said they would leave the city.

Twyford says the Govt will change the law to allow Auckland Council to introduce a regional petrol tax, likely to be set at 10c a litre. The tax could be introduced within "four to five months.”

Past attempts at introducing regional fuel taxes have resulted in petrol companies evening out the cost around the country.

As reported in the trans-Tasman’s sister publication, NZ Transport Intelligence Business Alert, there are also pressing problems in other parts of the country, most notably finding a solution to the Manawatu Gorge blockage. The vulnerability of the South Island’s transport links north of Christchurch seem to have been fixed for now, but they are an indication of how quickly problems can emerge in NZ’s fragile transport infrastructure.

Key decisions agreed by Labour and the Greens include reprioritising National Land Transport Fund spending to increase the investment in rail infrastructure in cities and regions.

The Green Party’s call for a start on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland has also been agreed. Auckland’s East-West motorway link (estimated to cost $327m a kilometre) will not proceed “as currently proposed.”

The parties have also agreed to reduce congestion and carbon emissions by substantially increasing investment in safe walking and cycling, frequent and affordable passenger, rail and sea freight. They will also investigate a “Green Transport Card” as part of work to reduce the cost of public transport, prioritising people in low-income households and people on benets.

The trucking industry, which has argued the National Land Transport Fund should remain intact, applied to resolving roading problems, will be concerned if it is used to fund other areas.

Expectations KiwiRail can step up to the mark in moving more freight hinge largely on how far the Govt will fund upgrading railway infrastructure. There is also the nagging doubt that, even if it is built, will the freight business follow?

Regional airports are seeking more Govt funding. So too are local bodies to upgrade their transport systems. Even though the Govt inherits Crown accounts in good shape, it will be tested thoroughly in setting its priorities.

If the dollar remains low, the price of petrol is also likely to rise further. Higher transport costs will mean higher inflation.

This will cause headaches for many more people than the Transport Minister.

Trans Tasman’s sister publication, The New Zealand Transport Intelligence Business Alert, is a weekly source providing you with in-depth news, analysis and opinion on NZ’s transport and logistics sectors.


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