A Regional Fuel Tax

I’ve been thinking about the silly survey which Auckland Council sent out and the idea of a regional fuel tax. Obviously, in its current form, it’s a complete and utter dud (just another way for Lenny to get his greasy paws on our money). But then I was thinking, what if roading was separated into a Regional Land Transport Fund, which could only be used to fund road improvements, road maintenance, and directly associated staff (roading managers, maintenance workers, etc.). This would politically separate roading from other council ‘services’ and, specifically, could be applied so that land transport (in this context) is limited to roads of which at least 50% of the road is available to general traffic (id est, you can’t go around building busways and calling them ‘roads’, but some HOV / bus lanes are allowed).

By breaking this away from other ‘transport options’ (ferries, railways, etc.) it would provide greater transparency and make it impossible for councils to mix up ‘transport’ with their pet projects (although pet road projects would be possible) and eliminate another mechanism to subsidise their pets.

My biggest concern is around compliance costs (on the petrol station owners) and appropriate oversight (of the Regional Land Transport funds and councils). On that basis, I was thinking NZTA could be given an auditor / oversight role for councils (I’m envisioning this be applied nationwide, rather than just to Auckland). In terms of compliance, if this was attached to the current mechanism for collecting petrol duty, it could be levied more easily, and distributed accordingly. As for allocation of funding within the regions (where local councils, rather than regional councils, retain roading responsibility), I was thinking this could be left to the regional councils and local councils to decide, but with NZTA acting as the arbiter (in case disputes arise, such as one area having no petrol stations, but having road users nonetheless). For diesel users, simply apply it based on the place of residence (for the driving licence).

Anyway, was just pondering this, as part of the problem here is that councils have ‘general responsibility’, which creates this problem. If they were forced to separate the budgeting (and revenue raising) and couldn’t cross-subsidise other services with it, they’d have to deliver actual roading outcomes (or not charge people, accordingly). You wouldn’t get stupid statements like, ‘We can’t have any more projects because we have no more money, as we’ve already spent everything on our toy train set’. If road users get benefits, they won’t complain (as they won’t be specifically harmed). I, for one, would be happy just knowing my expense is actually going to my benefit (a novel idea in government, it seems).