Forget road tolls – Auckland needs free public transport


Instead of road tolls which punish low-income workers who live the farthest from their jobs, Auckland City should be looking at free public transport. The arguments in the article below published earlier this week relate to Christchurch. An even stronger argument can be made for free buses and trains in Auckland. It is far cheaper and in fact beneficial to everyone compared to the typical neo-liberal “user-pays” solutions promoted by people like Len Brown and Auckland’s business elites.

A big, bold solution to Christchurch transport woes

The recent suggestion of residents car-pooling between the northern outskirts of Christchurch and the city to decrease traffic congestion is a good one. Reducing the number of cars on the road is the key to the free flow of traffic, particularly in rush hour.

However car-pooling by itself will not solve the problem of stressed residents spending an extra hour in their cars each day rather than at home with their families. Auckland is the obvious example. For a host of reasons car-pooling has not reduced traffic to any significant extent in our largest city where “gridlock” is a better description than “congestion” for the daily grind to and from work.

Fortunately there is another solution to getting people out of their cars in large numbers – free and frequent public transport.

Imagine comfortable, modern, low-emission buses, fitted with free wifi, providing free and frequent travel along transport corridors to all parts of the city alongside plans to develop commuter rail with double tracking along existing lines.

Paying for the policy is the easy part. In fact it would save us all money because it would reschedule into the future the need for the big, eye-wateringly expensive, proposed roading projects as the city expands north and west.

The cost of free public transport would be about $20 million per year which is the amount currently collected in fares. It would require capital investment to increase the number of buses over the next five years as residents move to public transport.

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This is less than the cost of a single kilometre of proposed new roading.

The government wants to prioritise a massive motorway to carve through the north of the city at enormous cost to all of us. In reality such huge roading projects are a subsidy for trucking companies. A single eight-tonne axle (big trucks may have several of these each) does the equivalent damage of 10,000 cars over the same road.

Nowhere in the world has any city been able to tarseal its way out of traffic congestion. The common experience is that new roads just mean getting to the traffic jam quicker.

It’s also irresponsible to promote roads in the shadow of the environmental crisis we face through global warming. With much of the city low-lying we should be taking the threat of our over-heating planet and rising sea levels more seriously.

Currently 67% of Christchurch’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport – mainly cars and trucks. Public transport is far cleaner and greener and this policy would significantly reduce Christchurch’s carbon footprint. In fact this is the single most important environmentally-friendly policy the city could put in place.

Everybody benefits. Even those who never use a bus or train will be able to travel on a congestion-free roading network.

Christchurch wouldn’t be the first city to do this. Worldwide over 50 cities have some form of free public transport.

An added benefit includes stimulation for the real economy as residents spend less on petrol and more on family necessities. The Mayor of Tallinn (the capital of Estonia which has had free public transport for several years) calls it the “13th monthly salary” because of estimates the policy saves a month’s salary each year for workers using the free service.

Bizarrely the government-run Environment Canterbury is consulting on increasing bus fares to compensate for lower bus passenger numbers. ECAN is locked into the 1980s. It sees so-called “user-pays” as the only solution for residents – an approach which has helped lead to our deeply divided city. And all the while they are happy to prop up trucking company profits from the public purse.

In times of global warming, rising sea levels and deep social and economic divisions Christchurch City could adopt this win, win policy and move into the 21st century with a bold new approach to solving transport problems.


  1. Government say they have no extra money for rail!

    So toll the roads only after building/restoring all our regional rail services for rail freight & passenger services.

    This would then give everyone the options of using more expensive toll roads or safer cheaper rail services which is a way to speed up the cheaper use of clean transport emissions while it also will lower Greenhouse emissions and save our planet.

    A win win win option Hon’ Simon Bridges!

  2. The left and the Greens are to cooperate, bla bla and this git says forget tolls.Is he trying to retain the support of his VW Combie and Austin. Allegro driving support base. Tolls have their place in encouraging the use of public transport and a means to help fund it.

    • Tolls, without also having the readily-available means to avoid them by using public transport, are theft. If people are forced to live so far out of town they have to use a toll road and have no other options they get exemptions and the planners get a tune-up.

      We’ve seen that coercion to pay the unavoidable too often, thanks.

      Making people pay extra tax on roads, fuel, vehicles – particularly when said people are rarely to never likely to use the roads – is parochialism. Auckland has been doing this for years and the results are dismal. (Like forcing ratepayers to pay for a stadium so a select few can view ‘their teams playing’ in a few select codes. Mean. Partisan.)

      If getting Auckland sorted, transport-wise, is in the national interest, then the work is paid for from government borrowing and general taxation. With a Very Large Message to Auckland that they aren’t the favoured child, and once the work is done then other infrastructure, elsewhere, gets dealt with.

      That includes replacing crumbling substations for electricity, either. Those electricity supply companies have been cream-skimming for decades and have had plenty of time to operate as an intelligent ETHICAL entity. (Ha!) Any lines company pleading poverty and profits gets nationalised. Worked before.

  3. We already pay double what Australia does for its petrol. Most of that money in New Zealand should be funneled into free public transport.

    User pays roading via petrol and RU charges should fund free transport and bus lanes on all urban roads.

    That will immediately lower the numbers on the roads.

    If lorries do as much damage as 10,000 cars, shouldn’t RU charges for trucks and lorries go up by at least 1,000%?

  4. Free, safe, regular 24/7 public transport. – and all council emplyees should be required to use it. Perhaps then improvements will be transformational; we can but dream.

  5. +100 John Minto.

    Free transport is an easy and quick solution. The government seems to think they are benefiting from the artificial increases in population especially Auckland, now they need to get their cheque book out for the problems it is causing. You know user pays, their favourite phrase!

    Government wants migration and SHA and housing developments all around Auckland, government pays for migration issues like gridlock transport and zero housing available.

    The cost of public transport is shocking in Auckland. Going 2 stages (approx 12km) x 2 each day with 2 adults and 2 kids in Auckland is approx $28 on the bus while costing something like $2.20 in petrol.

    Is that COO efficiency????? People can’t AFFORD to use public transport, let alone all the other issues such as bad service and infrequent routes.

    Now they are thinking about tolls. You are punished by not using the very expensive and poor public transport, so they invent a way to punish and take way people’s choice further. Can you imagine it? Something like $17 was being potentially touted per DAY even $2 is too much. People can’t afford the cost of living as it is in Auckland adding something like $28 – $119 just for government tolls!

    No wonder NZ productivity is falling, minimum wages are soon to be on par with a toll to get to work each day!

    Just get the cardboard city out under the bridges in the CBD, because that is the only way Aucklander’s are going to be able to afford to live in Auckland with the governments and AT ridiculous transport ideas and pricing structures.

  6. John, You are environmentally astute.

    During the last election we saw you on a panel discussing Climate change policies with all “minor Parties” at the Christchurch University with students do you remember?

    You was sitting next to Russel Norman also if my memory serves me right?

    There your Internet/Mana Party almost as big on all provincial freight and passenger rail as was Tracy Martin was from Winston’s NZ First Rail transport policy.

    Can you please also show more rail support now with the same drive as then because the provinces are dying from Northland or Otago and all between so if the rail infrastructure was improved/upgraded and reopened!

    We could see then see a choice in the provinces to use rail rather than compete with increased trucking freight on our single lane windy, unsafe, substandard, roads mate?

    Use this Aut study doc for back up.,-politics-and-diversity-report.pdf

    See below.
    Just read what is happening in Gisborne here!

    Gisborne Herald

    Truckers ignore closure
    by Andrew Ashton Published: June 24, 2016 12:46PM

    Logs moving by night on closed Motu Road.

    POLICE will be brought in to stop logging trucks from defying a road closure and carrying cut logs under the cover of darkness.

    The Gisborne District Council issued a road closure notice and erected “road closed” signs on Motu Road last week, after traffic during a 30-truck-a-day logging operation from Opotiki damaged the road.

    Tairawhiti Roads general manager Dave Hadfield yesterday told The Gisborne Herald the road remained closed because it was in an unsafe condition for both motorists and cyclists.

    However, some log trucks had ignored the closure.

    “Motu Road is still closed and will not be reopened until Monday. While the road has been closed, some transport companies have been using the road at night to extract cut logs, causing more damage to the road.”

    Mr Hadfield said council contractors had reported finding “road closed” signs pushed over when they arrived on site in the mornings.

    “We have contacted the local transport operators and the police about enforcing the road closure.

    “There are landowners who require access to homes (Downers have towed one vehicle out of a rut) and Opotiki District Council would like to reopen the Motu Cycleway.”

    Mr Hadfield pointed out that the cost to repair damage already caused by the logging trucks was anticipated to be about $55,000.

    “We believe we were getting 30 trucks a day prior to the closure.”

    Waipaoa ward councillor and GDC infrastructure committee chairman Graeme Thomson said the issue had been raised with him by landowners and he was “seriously concerned.”

    “If the roads are officially closed and people are going through them, then we should refer them to the police if they are breaking the law.”

    Cr Thomson pointed out that Gisborne-based forestry companies had to pay a roading differential five times that of other ratepayers and this meant local users were subsidising out-of-town operations.

    “It’s going to cost Gisborne ratepayers a lot of money and it’s actually getting damaged by activity that occurs in the Bay of Plenty.

    “Certainly we have to do something about it, especially when people are not paying any cost to use our roads.”
    Landowners in the area were “not happy.”

    “That road is the life link of the rural industry to Motu and they need it.”

    The Motu Road was an “icon” of a road and linked the area to the popular Motu Trails cycle trail.

    People who planted forests 25 years ago should have thought more closely about how they were going to harvest the trees, he said.


    Subject: Final edit for herald

    Rail Action Group has already interviewed the current three mayoral candidates for the October election.
    Although individual positions are becoming evident with both Geoff Milner and Tony Robinson coming out as pro-rail, and Meng Foon yet to confirm, we at Rail Action have not provided endorsements but will support pro-rail candidates overall — including councillors, who will swing the much-needed balance from previous stances.
    We looked at the scenario with 14 people at the helm who will be the decision-makers. From that, the last headcount if a division was called would be eight against and six for our rail.
    I will not mention names but in the near future Rail Action Group is going to host a meet-the-council-candidate evening — as would other lobby groups. We would like to allow the public an opportunity to hear the candidates’ views on rail and see how the public will perceive it.
    One focus we need to undertake is encouraging participation of direct democracy and educating our voters to participate when it is time to vote.
    The stronger the voter turnout, the stronger the voice for such mandates to take place.
    In order for this to happen we hope to lobby a strong campaign that will highlight the significance of why people should vote. Something else we wish to promote is the need for people to know that if it seems their views are not being implemented, there are ways they can be empowered — for example, by forming a lobby group with the intention of having views heard by the wider public.
    It’s no different to why Rail Action Group was formed, because change was needed. Since 2012 we have been awaiting the change, yet very little has come to fruition — hence the reason four years later this lobby group is still standing up as a positive advocate for our community and trying to save our rail.
    Meanwhile there has been a lot of coverage around the need and importance of rail in this region.
    So, firstly, I would like to acknowledge all of those who have contributed to a healthy debate. I mention here both Tony and Geoff, for their input in creating a diverse democracy for all audiences who are being enlightened on why rail is an important part of our infrastructure, economy and environment.
    I would also like to mention that in 2004, Gisborne District Council committed $52,000 of ratepayers’ money per year over a five-year period to support Tranz Rail, which ran our rail at that time.
    It is now 2016 and that funding has not and would not have been reallocated to continue the council’s commitment to the line since 2009.
    Many scenarios can be pondered upon, but one key question still remains — who will pay for what and how? It is early days yet, but the gate is wide open for all contenders to think about this.

    Mary Liza Manuel


    Rail Action Group

  7. John Further reasons to support regional rail. Use this current regional issue for an example to toll these roads after the rail is restored.

    1. Lifeline Threats to an Isolated Community

    There are strategic lifeline implications for the Gisborne District, as one of New Zealand’s most isolated communities. Recently, with the Waioeka Gorge closed and a major slip on SH2 north of Napier, Gisborne was effectively cut off. To deal with time critical and perishable freight this situation was only resolved by running trucks from Gisborne to Wairoa, then transhipping onto rail to complete the trip to Napier.

    It is essential for Gisborne and Northern Hawke’s Bay to have the route security of two transport modes – road and rail.

    2. Dependence on a Difficult and Unsafe Road

    Without the rail option freight transport will be entirely dependent on State Highway Two (SH2). SH2 between Napier and Gisborne is challenged by geology and geography as it traverses fragile steep hill country. It is winding, narrow and prone to slippage and already carries a relatively high volume of heavy traffic, particularly logging trucks gridlock the roads making other users face unsafe journeys.

    3. Intermodal Choice Lost – Price Competition Diminished

    There will be adverse economic effects on businesses in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay if modal choice and pricing competition between road transport operators and KiwiRail is lost.

  8. ‘Free’ public transport eh?

    This from the guy that also wants ‘free’ education

    And exactly who is going to pay for all this ‘free’ stuff?

    • The same people who pay for billions of dollars of more and more roading, Andrew. How many more roads do you think our limited land-space can cope with?

      Think outside the square for once, Andrew.

      As for deriding “the guy that also wants ‘free’ education” – well, if it was good enough for the likes of John Key, Steven Joyce, Paula Bennett, et al from the National Party… Because so far, none of those bludgers have paid for their tertiary education.

    • Free’ public transport and ‘free’ education – yep it is called an ‘investment’, You know have highly skilled people in a population and encouraging people to get around the city outside of a car which is less congestion and less pollution and making it cheaper for people to get to work and do activities that creates movement in the economy.

      If we want to work out where the money comes from, lets think about how it is being spent at present. Who would think that AID which most people think goes to cyclone victims to rebuild their houses but under National goes to a private hotel chain in a tax haven for rich people to have conferences in. Now that sounds like the waste of money to me if you are worried about undeserving free loaders!

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