Transparency is the key to user-pays funding

In Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, July 20223 MinutesBy Nick LeggettAugust 10, 2022

Most road transport operators would agree with the statement that a safe transport system relies on an effective regulatory regime with the maximum buy-in from its customers. Many would also agree that when it comes to a user-pays approach, the money recovered from road users should directly go back into the provision of the roading system through the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF).

This means that funds paid by road users through RUC, fuel excise, and vehicle registration fees should be used predominantly to pay for road construction and maintenance and enforcement by the Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Team.

In our recent submission to the Ministry of Transport’s RUC review, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand strongly opposed government proposals that would see additional funding pressures added to this user-pays system. These costs are proposed to pay for unrelated externalities that the current government sees as its policy priorities, such as pollution alleviation and climate change initiatives. We contend that RUC works well because of its simplicity and relative transparency. Diluting this to pay for these other things is poor policymaking, especially when other mechanisms are in place to fund such activities.

In our submission, we urge the government not to let its management of externalities – such as climate change – trump our aspirations for a thriving economy, a safe and productive roading network, and the social and economic benefits those can bring. We also urge the government to manage any externality costs fairly and transparently.

Transporting New Zealand also sees an important benefit of the current RUC regime because it internalises the associated costs, i.e. the money collected is used to maintain the network damage. However, with the inclusion of other externalities into the mix, that level of connection between the road user and their impact on the system becomes far more complex and tenuous, resulting in less money invested in our roads in the future.

Using the RUC system to fund a broader range of initiatives will also make it much more difficult for road users to follow the money through the system and inevitably lead to greater distrust. Ultimately, that is the environment that promotes non-compliance, a situation that policymakers and all stakeholders must try to avoid.

Transporting New Zealand remains convinced that the only way to maintain the integrity of the NLTF and maintain ‘mode neutrality’ in policymaking is for decisions on transport funding to be made through rigorous cost-benefit analysis using well-accepted methodologies. Unfortunately, road users are increasingly seen as a cash cow for the government to milk regardless of the critical role road-based mobility plays in the economic and social fabric of New Zealand.