Paul Goldsmith: Government is making motorists the enemy

Opinion 17/06/2019

Most people would think the purpose of government is to make people’s lives easier. The current Government, however, seems to think its role is to frustrate Kiwis. Nowhere is this more evident than in its transport policy.

Picking a fight with people who drive is an odd strategy given the vast majority of us do. But Phil Twyford and his associate minister Julie Anne Genter are resolute in their mission to frustrate motorists out of their cars. They want them piling onto trains, buses and scooters instead to get from A to B.

The battle plan is simple.

It involves increasing petrol taxes and lowering speed limits.

They are also cancelling almost every major roading project that was being planned before they came along, and pushing ahead with eye-wateringly expensive light rail in Auckland and Wellington that will provide minimal improvements for a sliver of the population.

The past few weeks has seen the Government launch an almighty assault on the humble vehicle. Its first act after delivering the Budget was to introduce more than $600 million in extra fuel taxes over two years, at a time when prices at the pump are some of the highest we’ve seen.

Auckland motorists are most under siege.

They’re being asked to pay a regional fuel tax on top of everything else. All up, with GST, the motorist tax grab nationwide is $1.7 billion.

But what really irks motorists is that they’re getting less in return for all the extra taxes they’re paying. The Government hasn’t built a single new road, yet it has cancelled, delayed or gutted a dozen major transport projects across the country.

Its next battle will be waged over speed limits.

Transport authorities say the limits on 87 per cent of our roads are too high, and only five per cent are suitable for 100kmh. The Government is now looking at whether speeds of between 60kmh 80kmh should apply.

The reality is, the Government’s stated goal of improving road safety is appropriate. Everyone wants that. The previous National Government put a lot of time, effort and money into improving and building high-quality highways, as well as its Safer Journeys Strategy, which delivered vital safety upgrades, a lower drink-drive limit and tougher driver licence tests.

The problem with the current Government’s tactics is that tilting transport spending so heavily towards public transport at the expense of roads is going to unbalance the network and exasperate the motorists whose pockets are being picked in the process.

Cutting speed limits is too simplistic an approach to road safety.

Especially as speed isn’t the only thing impacting our road toll. Drug and alcohol impairment, driver distraction and shunning seatbelts all play a part.

It could also pull the handbrake on our economy. If it suddenly took 30 per cent longer to move freight our national productivity would drop, freight costs would rise and our international competitiveness would fall.

The Government appears blind to all this. Julie Anne Genter would be better off investing in new, high-quality roads that people can feel safe driving on at 100kmh, and introducing roadside drug testing, which she opposes because of her party’s liberal approach to drugs.

Going to war with motorists and labelling people “car fascists” because they desire better roading infrastructure is not the way to win the war for people’s hearts and minds.

Paul Goldsmith is National’s Transport spokesperson.