Increased fuel costs taxing drivers’ patience

Motorists appear to have grudgingly accepted the imposition of the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax, with most petrol stations reporting little change in volumes of fuel sold or spending patterns two weeks after the new charge was levied.

However, there has been plenty of grumbling on the forecourts and in social media from disgruntled drivers and ratepayers, especially in rural parts of the region where the state of the roads is a constant source of complaint and frustration.

The AA’s principal advisor for infrastructure and Auckland transport, Barney Irvine, warns that unless some tangible improvements can be seen to happen soon, the fuel tax will lose what little support it has.

“Our sense is there’s a grudging acceptance of a fuel tax, but also a solid core of opposition and negativity. People don’t like it, but recognise that it’s not unreasonable, given Auckland’s challenges,” he says. “But people expect to see benefits as a result and if they don’t see those benefits, that core is going to grow and we’re going to see a pretty rapid darkening of the public mood, and it will get pretty dark, pretty fast.”

He was also critical of the requirement for off-road fuel users such as farmers, growers and contractors to claim rebates, instead of simply being exempt from the tax.

“We already have a Road User Charges system that we set up so people using diesel off-road don’t have to claim rebates, that was the whole reason for setting it up,” he says.

“This makes a bit of a nonsense of that system, but also raises the issue of how much cost is it going to add to those users to go through that rigmarole. How much cost will it add for NZTA to process those rebates? What impact will that have on tax revenue generation? Piles on money will be lost in administration. What effect will it have on the scheme?”

Mr Irvine is also concerned that petrol companies may indulge in price-spreading, stretching the price increase far wider geographically so they can maintain competitive prices within Auckland. “At the moment, it’s very hard to determine whether it’s happening and very hard to do anything about it. There’s a lot of uncertainty. We will be keeping a very close eye on things.”

What’s the difference?

Drivers need to look north if they want to beat the Regional Fuel Tax. While prices have settled and remained steady from Hibiscus Coast up to Warkworth, there’s evidence of a degree of discounting and competition from Wellsford north to the first non-Auckland petrol station in Kaiwaka. Cars have been queuing to fill up at the Caltex Shamrock Service Station on SH1 since the tax came in on July 1, but its prices have been regularly matched and even beaten slightly by Wellsford Gull, 19kms south.

Price comparison for 91 octane on July 10

(NB: AA Petrolwatch’s national average price for 91 on June 21 was 221.9)

BP Connect Warkworth     226.4
Mobil Warkworth     224.9
Z Warkworth     226.4
Gull Snells Beach     225.9
Gull Matakana     224.9
GAS Leigh     227.9
Caltex Wellsford     220.4
Mobil Wellsford     220.4
Gull Wellsford (unmanned)     209.7
GAS Te Hana     222.9
Caltex Kaiwaka (Northland)     209.9
GAS Mangawhai (Northland)     216.9
Source: Gaspy / driver reports

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