For whom the road tolls

I arrived in New Zealand, in Wellington, in 1984. There was talk of a motorway going through Transmission Gully then, and by all accounts, there had been for some time. For most of that time, it was a pipe dream, but it became a reality when Steven Joyce, as Minister of Transport in 2009, announced the government’s commitment to the project, as one of seven roads of national?significance. Construction started in September 2014.

Surprisingly, construction has continued without too much controversy. I have heard stories about how the Australian construction contractors that make up parts of the Wellington Gateway Partnership have been trying to run roughshod over environmental issues in the area, and have learned really fast that this is a place that wants development but also respects its environment. Nevertheless, the project is reasonably expected to be completed on time in 2020 – only two years away now.

Of course, with the new government taking the approach of taxing everything that moves, and doubly taxing everything that doesn’t, it seems Transmission Gully is now set to be a toll road. This is not an absolute surprise to Wellingtonians, who will at least have the choice of the new road or the more scenic route of old, but the reasoning behind it is stunning. It is not because the road is expensive. It is expensive, but it has been provided for by the previous government. No. It is to become a toll road because the government does not want driving to become ‘too attractive’.

Yes. You read that right. God help us all if we actually enjoy something. Not under this government’s watch.?Stuff?reports: Quote:

Paying to use the Transmission Gully motorway is creeping closer to reality?after the Transport Minister was warned the $852?million road north of Wellington could make driving too attractive.

A briefing document from the New Zealand Transport Agency to Transport Minister?Phil Twyford, released to?Stuff?under the Official Information Act, recommended he green-light investigation of a Transmission Gully toll?to “shape demand” for the new four-lane expressway, which will connect northern Wellington to the K?piti Coast when it opens in 2020.

Twyford has since confirmed he gave the recommendation his blessing. This signals a significant lane-change for the Labour Party, which did not publicly support the idea of a toll when it was in Opposition. End quote.

Of course, they didn’t support it. It is a road. Cycle lanes good, roads bad. They would have opposed anything the National government approved as a matter of course. Now they intend to profit from it. With more taxation. Quote:

The Transport Agency briefing document says tolling the 27-kilometre gully motorway would help make the main commuter route between Wellington and K?piti more “mode neutral”, meaning everyone does not simply?drive. End quote.

What exactly does ‘mode neutral’ mean? Does it have pram lanes and cycleways? I’m fairly sure it doesn’t. Quote:

When open, the motorway was expected to reduce the cost of road travel, which would encourage more people to get into their cars at the expense of public transport, primarily rail,?the document said. End quote.

No worries, Phil. By the time the road is open for uses, petrol taxes will be so eye gouging that no one will be able to afford to drive anywhere. That will turn it into a regular white – erm, grey – elephant, won’t it? Quote:

“Tolls could counter the perceived cost reductions of travelling by road.”

Tolls were an important?part of the transport agency’s toolkit because they provided an extra source of revenue, the document said.?They were also useful for transitioning New Zealand towards a more “responsive” pricing system.

“Tolling gets people used to paying as they travel, and paying extra for certain benfits.” End quote.

(Sorry, but I deliberately left in the typo. When it is your job to get these things right, there is simply no excuse.)

I don’t really have a problem with tolling if it is, in fact, a way to pay for the road. It worked in Tauranga, and at the time, the alternative was to go a much longer way round, but there was an alternative. There is an alternative here too, but it seems the reason for the toll will not be to fund the road itself. That is funded by a Public Private Partnership, signed in 2009. No. This road will be tolled because the Minister of Transport, along with his many minions and colleagues in government at present, do not want drivers to enjoy driving. And it is important to remember that this is an arterial route. If a major earthquake hits, it may be the only way in or out of Wellington. Roads of such significance should not be tolled.?Quote:

Twyford told?Stuff?he was not opposed to tolling roads?if it was the right option for a particular project.

“We were critical of the previous Government’s financing of Transmission Gully through a public-private partnership because it increased costs over the life of the project,” he said.

“Now that the project is going ahead under the former Government’s arrangements, it may make sense to establish a revenue source to off-set some of those costs.”End quote.

“Not opposed.” How absolutely generous of you? Yes, Phil. Let us see this for what it is. More tax to fund your baby bonus. Or to fund a fee-free year for tertiary students. Or to fund beneficiary fraud. Or all of the above. Take your pick. It is nothing to do with making driving attractive. It is just another form of taxation. That is all it is.