Losing $3 billion should drive us crazy

Auckland Mayoralty

Phil Goff – 

For the past several years, my car journey into town from South Auckland has steadily been taking longer. In peak hours, the Southern and South Western motorways have got a lot more congested.

A trip that normally might take 35 minutes now can take up to an hour and a half.

The peak hour traffic period is getting longer and even on the weekends, motorway traffic is becoming heavier.

It is increasingly difficult to plan how long a journey might take.

I joke at meetings that I am either half an hour late or half an hour early getting there depending on whether traffic congestion was worse or better than I anticipated.

Not a joke

It is actually not a joke. Traffic congestion is hugely frustrating and consumes hours of our work and leisure time every week.

It adds to our fuel consumption and to the pollution we put into the atmosphere. Organisations like the Productivity Commission and Council for Infrastructure Development estimate that traffic congestion costs Auckland, and therefore New Zealand, up to $3 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and other costs.

That is money wasted from which we get nothing back. If we invested three billion a year in improving our transport infrastructure, at least we would have something to show for it.

This problem will get worse and Auckland is heading towards becoming increasingly gridlocked. This is a great city to live but not if we cannot make our way around it.

Step-Change Plan

Last fortnight, a Report produced jointly by the central government and Auckland Council and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project finally acknowledged that the problem was getting much worse and stronger action, a step-change plan, was needed to address it.

I was pleased to see an acknowledgement of many of the concerns that I have been raising for some time.

The North-Western Motorway upgrade, for example, that will be opened later this year does not incorporate a separate busway, only bus lanes. We know from the North Shore that busways work. It was incredibly short-sighted to do the tens of millions of dollars of work that has been carried out on the North-Western Motorway without planning for the future. We’ll now have to add a busway on later with more traffic disruption and much higher costs that we could have avoided.

Rail Link

There is also implicit acknowledgment that to get substantial increase in public transport use, we need to move beyond buses to light rail because we already face bus congestion in areas like Symonds Street.

As an increasingly international City, we need light rail where each rail unit can carry 400-500 people; the same as ten buses.

 

As a City that attracts around three million tourists a year, we also need a rapid transit link between the airport and the city.

The question is how we pay for the $20 billion investment that Auckland has to make in infrastructure over the next ten years.

Without this, we cannot meet the needs of the half million extra people who will come to live in the city in the next couple of decades, and our quality of life will suffer.

The most promising potential source of funds, in my view, is long-term infrastructure bonds. That would allow Kiwis a safe place to invest their savings with a guaranteed return while contributing to a better city. The interest we pay to people on these bonds should be financed by road charges, not rates. That way those of us who benefit are the ones who pay.

Sharing GST

I would also argue to government that since over 50% of the entire growth in New Zealand each year is happening in Auckland, a fair share of the extra GST and income tax payments central government receives from this should come back to Auckland. We are having to carry the cost of providing for this growth and it is only fair that Government gives Auckland a proportionate share of the revenue it gets from that growth.

Phil Goff is former Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice Minister and has been Member of Parliament for 35 years. Elected from Mt Roskill, he is today Labour Party’s Spokesperson for Defence and Ethnic Communities. Mr Goff is a Mayoral candidate for Auckland, postal voting for which will be held from September 16 to mid-day on October 8, 2016.

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