Paying to drive on the motorways? There should be a referendum

Opinion from Councillor Cameron Brewer
Eighteen months ago, Auckland Mayor Len Brown promoted a public referendum over the council’s preferred option to address Auckland’s $12 billion transport funding gap. With the Consensus Building Group set to release a discussion document tomorrow on its proposed additional funding options, the Mayor should recommit to his idea of a referendum following public consultation and the council adopting a position.

On 18 October 2011 when the Mayor was talking up the concept of tolling Auckland’s existing motorway network he stated on National Radio that ‘if we had a referendum, then I think that would really clarify things and give a pretty strong mandate over and above the mandate that I already as leader of the city’.

Following public consultation on the CBG’s discussion document over the next two months and then the CBG’s final recommendation to the council in July, the Mayor should then put any specific funding proposal to the people via a referendum and preferably as part of the postal ballot at this year’s local body elections.

The Mayor is very keen on the prospect of road pricing in the form of network tolling or congestion charging and believes the public is about ‘about 50-50’ over the idea of paying every time they get on Auckland’s motorway network or pass through a cordon. Well 50-50 is not the strong mandate he is after. So once the council endorses a final recommendation in July, the Mayor needs to then deliver on his referendum.

I believe the Mayor has now backed off his referendum because he is worried about its result following growing public distaste for the likes of tolling the existing motorway network, with the council now only promising ‘separate formal consultation with Aucklanders on any specific proposal to introduce a new form of funding for Auckland’s transport system.’

Len Brown loves the idea of charging a few dollars every time drivers get on the motorway or pass through a cordon, but he knows Aucklanders don’t. He’s now trying to push it through without too much fuss but this could be a major cost imposition on households so it’s definitely worthy of a vote.

Eighteen months ago the Mayor told an Auckland business lunch that ‘strong community buy-in for tolls in a referendum at the 2013 local body elections would strengthen the case with whoever was in Government’ with commentators at the time commending the Mayor for showing the courage of his convictions and putting his funding solution up for popular vote.

Well the Mayor now needs to recommit to his own idea of a referendum to give the wider public some confidence that they will be asked and listened to on how to fund Auckland’s future transport projects.

Cameron Brewer (021) 828-016

 

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