Waiheke commuters pay $1 a day in wharf tax, but get little benefit from the tax, says Waiheke Local Board chairperson Paul Walden.
He is pleased that Auckland Transport is inching towards transparency, by finally revealing that each ferry passenger arriving or departing from Waiheke and Great Barrier wharves pays 51 cents in wharf tax.
The local board has requested this information for years, but until last month Auckland Transport has refused to disclose any details of wharf tax revenue or even passenger numbers arriving on Waiheke.
After Gulf News made a request under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, Auckland Transport revealed the level of the wharf tax last week.
Mr Walden says it is unfair that Waiheke residents are paying the tax for transport facilities, when other public transport users in Auckland don’t face similar changes.
“The maintenance and operating costs for train stations, bus stops and roads are paid for out of general rates, so why is it different here?” he asks.
Many other forms of public transport in Auckland are subsidised by as much as 50%, but Auckland Transport does not include Waiheke ferries in its public transport network or subsidise ferry fares.
Since the Auckland Council “super city” was formed in 2010, Waiheke’s wharf tax has helped pay for wharf upgrades at other islands, such as Rangitoto and Great Barrier, says Mr Walden.
“The new wharf on Great Barrier cost several million dollars. We don’t get the use of it, but we helped pay for it.”
The wharf tax was intended to pay for infrastructure at Matiatia, yet transport problems abound in the bay, says Mr Walden.
The local board struggles to get any funding from Auckland Transport to address the parking, traffic congestion and wharf maintenance issues at Matiatia, despite the wharf tax collected for this purpose.
“I have had longstanding concerns about the appropriateness of the maintenance that’s being carried out on the wharf. I have seen some examples of failures that have resulted from an absence of maintenance and the standard of maintenance on the wharf facility has declined under Auckland Council management,” says Mr Walden.
Changes are urgently needed to improve parking, traffic flows and spaces for transport operators at Matiatia, he says.
“There need to be changes. We need to be thinking 20 to 50 years ahead. This whole notion of reactive planning where they wait until they have got a crisis and then have a knee-jerk reaction to try to fix it just isn’t good enough.
“We can’t afford to wait another five years and we shouldn’t be in a position of having to grovel to the council when we have been paying a tax for this infrastructure for many years now.”
While the former Auckland City Council provided transparent information on wharf tax revenue, the present Auckland Council organisation, Auckland Transport, has claimed this information is commercially sensitive.
The local board threatened to complain to the ombudsman about Auckland Transport’s refusal to provide information on passenger numbers and wharf tax, before Auckland Transport released figures that “make no sense”.
Wharf tax collected by Auckland Transport is reported to have been $1,711,000 in 2008, but was apparently only $1,352,000 in 2015.
The numbers of ferry passengers is increasing steadily, so the drop in wharf tax revenue is “just crazy”, says Mr Walden.
“There needs to be an explanation of that inconsistency or consideration given to having the system audited.”
An Auckland Transport report to the local board last month revealed that 278,876 passengers caught ferries to and from the island last December and 272,427 caught Waiheke ferries in January.
In 2015, Auckland Transport spent $1,672,000 on operating wharves in the Hauraki Gulf, and capital works cost an extra $522,000.
Wharf tax collected by Auckland Transport therefore appears to be $842,000 short of covering the expenses of running and maintaining the wharves.
Gulf News sought further information on Waiheke’s wharf tax, but Auckland Transport has again refused to provide information and referred the enquiry to an official information process.
• Rose Davis