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John MacDonald: My one reservation about universal road charges

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 1:07pm
Photo / File
Photo / File

John MacDonald: My one reservation about universal road charges

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 10 Jul 2024, 1:07pm

I bet if you drive a petrol vehicle and you’ve said anything about how much cheaper it must be to have a diesel, anyone who does have a diesel has jumped down your throat and started banging-on about road user charges. Or RUCs, as they’re known. 

Because when you buy petrol you pay a fuel tax. When you buy diesel, you don’t. But you have to —or you’re supposed to— pay road user charges.  

And, as we know, the EV drivers who have been getting away paying nothing are getting brought into the road user charge regime. 

So, while the diesel might be cheaper at the pump, it kind of all evens-out once you take the RUCs into account. That’s the thinking anyway. 

But the New Zealand Initiative think tank is saying today: “Wrong, it doesn’t even out at all”. They’re saying it’s actually very uneven. 

They’re saying today that we need to ditch the current road-user charging model because it's old-hat and isn't a fair way of getting the money needed to build and maintain roads.  

And they’re not just saying ‘stop doing what we’re doing’. They’ve also come up with an idea that they think would be fairer - which I agree with, to a point. And I’ll get to where I have reservations about it. 

So what the New Zealand Initiative wants to see is a system using things like smart technology to monitor vehicles and set individual charges for every vehicle owner based on the types of vehicles we drive, how far we drive and when we drive.  

It says a system like this would also make it easy to bring-in congestion charging, which it believes is also necessary to get traffic flowing more freely in our cities.  

So, essentially, what it's proposing is a different type of user-pays system to fund our roads instead of the petrol taxes and road user charges we currently have.  

It says it wouldn’t necessarily increase the revenue the Government gets from motorists, but it would spread the cost burden more evenly and fairly. 

Example: the impact of flat fuel taxes on people on low incomes. The NZ Initiative  makes the assumption that if you're on a low income, you tend to have a vehicle or vehicles that are less fuel efficient than something that’s rolled-of the production line this year. 

So you might not actually use the roads any more than the flash Harry with the new car. But you are penalised because your car’s less fuel efficient. 

So, generally, I get the thinking and I like the idea. But you’re not going to get me installing devices in my vehicles that keep a record of what I do with them.  

Call me paranoid, but I think there is enough monitoring going on. Find my iPhone, cameras everywhere. So, if this went ahead, I’d be saying ‘no thanks’ to the “smart” part of all this —the electronic monitoring— and I'd have to pay my road user charge ahead of time. Just like the system we have in place now. 

So, yes, I agree that the way we do it now is cack-handed and clumsy and we need to do things differently. 

And, yes, taxing people on the basis of road use instead of fuel consumption makes much more sense. 

But it’s a definite 'no' from me when it comes to installing more devices to keep tabs on what I'm up to. 

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