Here is a proposal that is somewhere between “nutbar” and “genius”. I’ll leave it to readers to judge.
Rather than a visitor levy imposed on hotels motels etc, why not impose an electronic toll charge only on visitors’ vehicles entering the Thames-Coromandel District, but fully exempt anyone who permanently lives or works in the District of having to pay the toll? Bear with me while I set out how this might work.
Electronic tolling is currently in place north of Auckland and at Tauranga and also is used to collect congestion charges in many major cities such as London and Singapore.
If your vehicle is registered to an address within the Thames-Coromandel District there would be no electronic charge. The toll machine would read your number plate electronically as you pass through the gate and then cross check the registration number of your vehicle with the registered address for that vehicle. You could come and go as you please. Only vehicles registered to an address outside of the district would be charged. Regular visitors would soon learn to register and have the toll deducted automatically or Pay and Go. Those that delay payment are charged an administration fee and would quickly realise it is best to register.
As a peninsula mostly surrounded by sea the Thames-Coromandel District has a distinct advantage over almost any other District. There are only three road access points – the Kopu Bridge, the road from Paeroa at Hikutia, and the road from Waihi at Whiritoa. It would be at these three locations that an electronic toll gate could be installed.
The toll charge would be set at a such a small amount ($2 at Tauranga) that 99% of visitors would not bother trying to avoid paying it. Nor would such a tiny charge deter visitors from coming. This site provides traffic counts and a quick calculation suggests that over 2 million vehicles a year enter the District through these three locations. How many are owned by visitors is unclear. But what is clear is that the revenue which could potentially be collected would run into many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Obviously, there are fishhooks with the proposal. e.g. a driver who enters a tollgate several times a day, or someone who lives in the District but whose vehicle address is registered somewhere else, or someone who drives into the District every day to work. No doubt there are many other examples where an exemption is appropriate. In London, they have a system where you can make a one-off application with suitable proof to obtain a permanent exemption/discount. In Sydney, visitors can buy discount passes.
The other obvious hurdle is that a local Bill would have to be passed by Parliament to enable the local toll gates to be installed on the State Highway. This will be a big ask. Other Districts might want to get in on the act – but how many other Districts have just three entry points? There is a precedent for having a local levy – anyone visiting Stewart Island is obliged to pay a $5 levy and the Islanders got a local Bill passed through Parliament.
The Government is opposed to a levy on overseas visitors, but Labour would impose one, but even so, only a tiny fraction of this revenue would be spent locally. Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff is having a lot of trouble getting his Accommodation Provider Visitor Levy approved in Auckland because of opposition from hotel and motel owners. These problems would be avoided with an electronic toll. Individual businesses are not singled out to collect the levy – this would be done electronically.
The Productivity Commission at least thinks local visitor levies are a good idea to help pay for local infrastructure.
“The Productivity Commission, which has released its paper on how to improve urban planning, says tourist-related levies should form part of a future planning system.
In regards to infrastructure funding the report said: “ the Commission sees ………….. tourist-related (visitor) levies ………..as the most promising options.
“Their main advantages are that they are easier to attribute to a local authority area, they address a specific issue or externality, they would be relatively easy to administer, and would have relatively low efficiency costs.”
Thames-Coromandel District is one of the most popular visitor destinations in the country. This puts enormous pressure on the Council to provide infrastructure such as sewage and water supply schemes, roadside toilets, and provision and maintenance of other tourist facilities to cope with the huge summer influx. Under this scheme, even freedom campers would have to pay the levy.
An electronic visitor levy would add many hundreds of thousands of dollars to Thames Coromandel District Council coffers, and drastically reduce the burden on local ratepayers.