If motorists are part of the problem, they should be part of the solution. And part of that solution could be a regional fuel tax, according to Tauranga Labour MP Jan Tinetti.
If that brings on cold sweats and makes Tauranga motorists fidgety while snarled in more peak-time traffic congestion on Turret or Hewletts Road, then relax. At least in the meantime.
Because there will be no regional fuel taxes to fund transport issues in Tauranga – not in this parliamentary term, and not this election cycle. “But there’s certainly the possibility it could happen further down the track,” says the MP.
She supports an RFT. “From the perspective that when you have so many local road users, as they do in Auckland, then they have to be part of the solution.”
Motorists in the great metropolis are still smarting from the imposition of a RFT – 11.5 cents per litre from July 1 to raise $1.5 billion over ten years towards upgrading the city’s rail and bus networks. The AA says that will add about $125 to the annual cost of running a car in Auckland.
“It’s hugely unpopular,” admits Jan, “absolutely. But I hear on a daily basis – more than once, twice or three times a day – that traffic is horrendous out there in Tauranga, where travel times are way longer than they have ever been.”
But she says any solution you come up with is going to be hugely unpopular with a sector of people. “What’s equally unpopular is the situation we are trying to find solutions for – in this case Tauranga’s ever-increasing traffic congestion.”
And there would be socials impacts. The Salvation Army suggest RFTs would mean car-dependent families struggling to meet costs and would cut food spending, then the power, to defray the increased costs of getting to and from work.
And people tell the MP the RFT hits people who can least afford it. “Well, that’s when we really need to look at our public transport systems as well, and encourage those people, and all people for that matter, out of their cars and onto alterative transport, such as buses.
“They do have to be part of the solution, because Tauranga does have to do something about unclogging the roads and pinch points around the city.”
And with a solution, there is a cost. Someone is going to get hurt along the way.
“Unless we get free money from somewhere, and there’s no such thing,” says Jan. “Even if it comes out of central government coffers, those coffers are also dependent on a tax take to generate funding, so in turn it impacts everyone.”
So, is the MP softening the city for a regional fuel tax?
“It could be a possibility in the 2020 parliamentary term,” she admits. “I can’t crystal ball gaze, but you can’t rule it out.”
Opposition leader Simon Bridges has reportedly said he would repeal the Auckland regional fuel tax if National were elected in 2020.