What would you spend the fuel tax on?

So, you might have missed it in all the fuss about GST but the government tax on petrol rose by 3 cents/litre on of the 1st of October.

I wouldn’t mind paying this increase if it was going to improve our rail, bus, walking and cycling options.

But instead it will mainly be used to pay for the government’s Roads of National Significance (RoNS).

It’s hard for me to believe that Puhoi to Wellsford (whose predicted benefit cost ratio (i.e., return on investment) is 0.8) or Transmission Gulley (return on investment 0.6) will close the gap between us and Australia.

As a friend of mine recently put it, building motorways to fix congestion is like buying a new pair of trousers to fix your obesity. And widening existing motorways is like buying a bigger belt.

What do you think? Will the RoNS get us hopping along the primrose path to prosperity? What would you like the government to spend your extra fuel tax on?

15 Comments Posted

  1. @LucyJH. I’m not actually sure I did comment on the benefits or otherwise of car travel but I would hold the view you do credit me with.
    In terms of Paris most people think of it as being the area within the historical boundaries, and which is catered for by the Metro. The last time the roading system in that area was changed was by Baron Haussmann in the middle of the nineteenth century, ie about 50 years before the motor car.
    In terms of Hong Kong the system theoretically gets no public subsidy. What actually happens is that (very valuable) land is handed over for nothing to the Transit Authority and they then develop it not only for transit purposes but for building developments which they then gain a large income from. The transport system does not really break even, much less show a profit. It is getting the land free that is the real subsidy.
    Hong Kong also has about 7 million people in an area of about 1000 square Km, of which only about 30% is actually used. There is nowhere in New Zealand that like that, thank goodness.

  2. I refuse to by gas. I have an electric lawn mower and I ride my bike to work. I haven’t purchased gasoline in 5 years…I plan on keeping it that way and I encourage you to do the same if you have the means. Consider cap pooling if you have a longer commute, or ride the train, or bus. Do what you have to do, but make the changes where you can.

  3. @ Alwyn. I agree that there are lots of benefits from driving. I don’t think anybody would like to see a NZ without cars. But if everybody drives then nobody wins as we end up with congestion – like Auckland.

    The issue in NZ right now is that private vehicles (cars, trucks) are being subsidized MUCH MORE by the state and general public (who bear the cost of road maintenance, air pollution, lack of land in our cities leading to high house prices etc etc) than passenger transport or walking, cycling, sea or rail freight.

    We need to spread those costs out more evenly so that different modes get a fair share. I am not sure which cities PT runs at a profit in – I have heard that Hong Kong is one of them

    I’m not sure if Paris is a good example because I believe they went through a period of building massive motorways throughout the city. But am no expert on France’s transport history.

  4. Rimu, “Who pays for the roads?” State Highways are paid for by motorised road users. But half of the cost of local roads is still paid for by ratepayers, thats the same as 50 years ago despite huge increase in the amount of traffic. IMHO the most important thing to do with the extra 3 cents and some of previous increases over the last 10 years is to reduce the ratepayers contribution to a minimum of 10% of local road costs. The only reason for not making motorists pay the full cost of local roads is because local councils don’t want roads nationalised.

    The claim that 50% of LA’s land is covered by roads and parking was a popular myth in the days becore Google maps made it easy to check things out using satelite images. The fact is less than 5% of LA’s land area is covered by roads and carparks. Most traditional high density cities are much worse than LA. The impact of buildings on ecosystems is much worse than the impact of roads. However the monoculture “greenery” of suburban sprawl made possible by freeways is a serious threat to biodiversity and water quality and quantities. But that’s problem with it’s roots in urban planning and government incentives for home ownership for political reasons. Ie compare Sweden’s state housing from the 1960s and 1970s with New Zealands state housing policies of the 1950s and 1960s.

  5. rimu,

    The answer is that everyone pays, whether they drive or not.

    Surely in a workers paradise, ALL costs are shared equally along with the benefits, therefore where is the problem?

    Are roads not for the collective good?

    Or you never ever use one?

  6. Rimu, half the problem with your measures is that you cannot measure the cost with any certainly. With the roads, they are largely paid for by road users, although it is unfortunate that local roads are half paid for through council rates. In terms of free parking, that will exist with or without council restrictions – a shopping centre would find it difficult to compete if they suddenly charged motorists for parking.

  7. Alwyn, cars are subsidised also.
    Who pays for the roads? Who pays for the air pollution? Who pays for the noise pollution? Who pays for the ‘free’ parking? Who pays for poor land use when it is covered in roads and parking (~50% of the land area in places like LA)? Who pays for the climate change? Who pays for the oil wars?

    The answer is that everyone pays, whether they drive or not.

  8. I would be interested if LucyJH could tell us of any cities where public transport runs at a profit.
    I was recently in Paris, which has an excellent and very heavily used Metro but the subsidy on each trip is apparently twice the ticket price.
    With about 2.4 million users per day and an average fare of, say, 1.10 euros that is a subsidy of about 5 million euros a day.

  9. It’s a transport tax, so spend it on further transport options that’ll benefit everyone: the cycle ‘gateway’ sections to join the National Cycleway Initiative tracks to the cities. That’ll get more people cycling (so safety in numbers), and therefore less cars on the road so better for the motorists.

  10. @ Stephen. Yes, to a certain extent. But you might argue that as you improved the rail system you would then start getting more money in from fares. And as you spent less on road maintenance/building new roads you would have more available funds. But the reality is that almost all transport modes (car, bus, rail, bike, walk) are subsidized by the state and almost always will be.

    It is only in some cities in Asia and Europe that public transport systems run at a profit and that is because they have never subsidized car use through their planning and funding systems.

  11. I don’t know if this is in any way the Greens’ proposal, but doesn’t spending fuel tax on say rail then make funding of rail dependent on a certain level of car use?

  12. In the case of Wellington I would spend it on extending heavy rail into the CBD. Although I support the Greens idea of expanding the Wellington network they have got it very wrong on using light rail to extend the present system. The biggest flaw of the plan is running light rail on the existing network. It would severely reduce capacity, and increase travel times. To provide similar or greater capacity and travel times to the exisiting rail network using tram-trains would probably end up costing more than extending the existing heavy rail into the CBD.

    Anyone who thinks tram-train is a good idea; read this first:


    All those super-often running, low capacity tram trains stopping at the proposed extra stations all over the place would be a waste of track capacity, making it impossible to run express trains from the Kapiti coast (and elsewhere). Consider the Capital Connection which leaves Paraparaumu at 7:35 and arrives in Wellington at 8:21. 46 minutes travel time. Looking at the timetable of an all-stops Paraparaumu to Wellington one leaves at 5:20 and arrives in Wellington at 6:18. 58 minutes travel time. 12 minutes longer. Now if you add in tram trains you can’t fit the faster trains into the timetable, they will either travel slowly behind, or would become all-stoppers. Add in even more stations and that 12 minutes becomes 15 or more. It is quite a bit of time to gain or lose. If the tram train system was built then I would expect many who travel from the coast by train would revert to cars, because for them they would have a trip that was 15 minutes longer. As the plan has continued use of heavy rail north of Plimmerton then no one on the coast would have the benefits of continuous rail into the CBD, they would still be forced to transfer at Wellington station. Only in this case not onto a bus but onto a different vehicle that had been travelling slowly in front of them irritating them during their now 15 minute longer trip.

    The only way to solve this is by triple of quadruple tracking parts of the rail network (perhaps even more near the station entrance too). The Johnsonville line would probably need some rather expensive capacity improvements, not to increase the capacity of the line but to match it’s existing heavy rail capacity (3x Matangi per hour = 3000 passengers, would require 10-15 light rail units per hour).

    Solution: just extend the heavy rail into the CBD.


    light rail bad. capacity low. irritates people north of plimmerton, makes them use cars.

  13. What would you like the government to spend your extra fuel tax on?

    Here is a suggestion – bypassing all the little hamlets that are currently on major routes such as State Highway 1. I am willing to bet that we are about the last First World country where such a major route goes through every town, village and hamlet.

  14. No it wont, this govt is fiddling at the margins in all eco endeavors, making just enough press to keep the public from getting too upset until the next election. There seems no long term strategy in place, so any path you see is random and at the whim of current public opinion.

    I guess I will be waiting years to see the nation cycle ways built, around Wellington I dont think anything has even started. I want to ride my electric skate board into the city for the daily commute.

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