It is a pleasure for the Green Party to follow the speech of Larry Baldock who has challenged us on a few points. The Greens will be supporting this bill because we think it is right that road users, through this additional fuel tax, do help cover the cost of road accidents.
As we understand the bill, it is not just a tax on petrol. There is a provision in the bill for that tax to be extended to other fuels such as diesel, which I think is very important, because trucks use a lot of diesel and are disproportionate contributors to road accidents, and very much so if one looks at the statistics. So it is right that the tax is extended to diesel. I hope, in implementing this law, that that will occur.
I think incentives result from fuel taxes being increased. It means that there will be a move towards a greater level playing field between road transport and, for example, rail transport. At the moment rail operators have to pay the entire costs of the operation – the infrastructural cost of the rails, as well as the operational costs of running trains and carriages over those rails. With road users it is true, as the last speaker said, that money is put into the *consolidated account. But if one adds that money-the 18c referred to and the other taxes – it still does not add up to the real costs to the community of the roading infrastructure and what are sometimes called the externalities.
One does not look at just the costs of building and *upkeeping roads, one has to look at all the other costs to the community. *Infrastructure Auckland funds different infrastructural projects in Auckland with money from the Ports of Auckland etc. It published a study a few years back and estimated it would cost about $2.5 billion a year if one added up all those externalities including the health costs of the fumes from roading. It is estimated by the Auckland Regional Council that about 400 deaths a year in Auckland are caused by the pollution put into the air by road transport, which is equal to the number of people who die annually in road accidents. The health costs go beyond that in terms of. the stress on people using road transport as against other forms of transport, including costs of traffic noise, particularly in urban areas and on the big highways. There is also the costs to the environment in terms of fossil fuels, which are obviously in short supply, and the costs in terms of the contribution of *greenhouse gases to global warming. If one adds these and other externalities, as Auckland Infrastructure did in its research project, it adds up to a lot of money, and even with this tax the road users will not be fully covering the costs of their use of the roads.
So at least this legislation provides an incentive for the community to move towards less accidents, a better transport structure, and possibly if we did reduce the accident rate very substantially we might have to pay less tax in this regard. It is also an incentive, I think, to move freight from road to rail.
This is one of the aims, of course, of the Government, supported by the Greens, to move more freight and passenger transport by rail as opposed to roads. The more we give incentives to road users or freight operators to say “well, perhaps it’s getting a bit more expensive on the roads because of this tax, perhaps we’ll put more of our freight towards the rail.” That will be good for the community.
There is also an incentive for commuters who are driving their cars to work, in the big cities in particular, to say “it’s going to cost me more to take my car, I’ll have to look at the cost of going by public transport.” I think that this tax will encourage commuters to use different modes; rail, ferry, bus, or other alternatives such as using one’s cycle or walking, or a combination of those different modes.
It is also an incentive for local government and central government to do something to decrease the rate of accidents so that there are less of them and they are not so bad. One can do that by various means – both local government and central government – by improving roading design, making sure that there are good cycle lanes so that cyclists are not in danger on those roads, and making sure that there are proper pedestrian facilities so that fewer pedestrians are being killed. Improvement of road design is one thing this measure could encourage.
We can look at the question of enforcement of the laws. I think that would reduce road accidents substantially with the police dealing more effectively with some of the things that I notice, like cars following too close, which could be penalised a little more to get our roads a bit safer, and to penalise people overtaking in very dangerous circumstances, which I think is a major contributor to road accidents, particularly on highways.
In addition to that this will encourage Government and local bodies to do more education on road safety. More could be done in that direction. I have had a driver’s licence for many, many years and I cannot see that there has been a lot of pressure on me to do courses or take educational opportunities such as defensive driving courses. There is a lot of room for greater community education of existing drivers, and also new drivers, to decrease the frequency of accidents.
Within this discussion we are having on road safety, and how to fund the accident compensation component of it, we also need to look at the question of not having longer or heavier trucks on the roads. I know there was a proposal to increase the allowable length of trucks on the roads and the weight of those trucks. There was much discussion on that a couple of years ago. The Greens got a huge amount of public support with letters, emails, and telephone calls because we opposed any increase in the weight and length of trucks. Hopefully, this sort of discussion we are having now will encourage the Government not to go ahead with that. It is a big issue. It is very difficult for a lot of travellers on roads who are already scared that there are a lot of big trucks going around corners and making it very difficult for them.
I talked to a resident of Gisborne recently who is very scared to travel from Gisborne to Wairoa because logging truck after logging truck goes around there on a very narrow road. Again, that is an argument for pushing more of that freight, such as the logs coming on stream, on to the rail from places like Gisborne, rather than increasing the number of logging trucks and other trucks, or increasing their length or weight. That will only create more accidents and put a greater burden on the ACC system.
I am glad that when the Minister made the introduction that he referred to the land transport strategy that the Greens were involved in. That is a strategy developing alternatives to road use across the range from a strategy for more people walking and cycling to the development of public transport in all its forms, and innovative things like I referred to in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald, the walking bus system that is developing in Auckland and around the country where parents get together to take their kids to school in a walking bus rather than a whole of lot individual cars going to school and making it more dangerous for the children themselves with the crush of traffic around schools. A whole of innovative solutions are coming out of that land transport strategy and are being implemented.