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John MacDonald: Road user charges for everyone not the answer

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Sep 2023, 1:18PM
(Photo / File)
(Photo / File)

John MacDonald: Road user charges for everyone not the answer

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Mon, 11 Sep 2023, 1:18PM

For an outfit that doesn’t like red tape, the National Party seems to be having some sort of brain explosion. 

Because it doesn't just want EV owners to pay road user charges - which I don’t think anyone would disagree with - it also wants to go the whole hog and get rid of fuel taxes completely and make everyone pay road user charges. 

So, at the moment, if you drive a petrol vehicle, you pay your bit for building and maintaining roads through a fuel excise tax. Which is simple as, because - being a tax - you pay it every time you go and fill the tank. 

But National wants to turn all that on its head. It wants to get rid of the fuel taxes and make everybody do what people with diesel vehicles do right now. Which is, pay road user charges ahead of time - based on kilometres. 

And then, when they’ve travelled all the kilometres they’ve paid for, they have to go and pay for more kilometres. 

Which is why diesel is, technically, cheaper at the pump. Because the fuel tax isn’t applied to diesel because not all diesel vehicles actually travel on the road. 

For example, you might have a diesel-powered digger which never goes on the road. So it would be unfair to make the digger owner pay a tax to raise money for road building and maintenance when the digger is never actually used on a road. 

The argument National’s making for everyone paying road user charges, is that it doesn’t think it’s fair that people with petrol vehicles pay varying amounts of tax for building and maintaining roads, regardless of how much they use them. 

Which is an interesting argument, because you might assume that how much fuel you buy is dependent on how much driving you do. 

But National reckons it would be fairer for everyone to pay based on distance - or how much they use our roads - instead of a flat tax rate per litre of fuel. 

National acknowledges that a fuel tax is the simplest way of collecting revenue, but reckons it could have the new system up-and-running in its first term of government. It's also making noises about more tolls on roads and congestion charges. 

Which I think is pretty ambitious, given that Waka Kotahi is already saying that it’s going to be a struggle coping with increased road user charges for EVs. 

Documents released under the Official Information Act show that Waka Kotahi expects to be dealing with an increase in what it calls “non-compliance and debt” when EV owners have to start paying road user charges. 

The documents say: “There will not be enough resource to cope with the increase in education, engagement and enforcement needed.” 

So, if they reckon they’re going to struggle with the EVs, how on earth would they cope with every Tom, Dick and Harry being expected to pay road user charges? 

Because the great thing about fuel taxes, is that even the crims pay them.  

And what about those renegade boy racers who rack up thousands of dollars of speeding fines? Do you really think they’re going to go all legit and make sure they’re up-to-date with the road user charges? They can’t avoid the fuel tax. But do you really think they’re going to worry about road user charges?  

And what about all those muppets who are quite happy to drive around in cars with no warrants of fitness? If they can’t be bothered about getting a warrant and are quite happy to run the risk of getting a fine for that, are they really going to bother with road user charges? Of course not.  

Which is why I think National is dreaming on this one.  

Yes, I get the theory that it might very well be fairer to charge people based on how much they actually use the roads. But, as far as I’m concerned, this is an area where theory is trumped by reality. And why we would want to do away with the very simple and straightforward system we have now? 


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