Toll road a nightmare,
Toll road a nightmare, says car rental firm
by Peter de Graaf
The electronic toll system for the new northern motorway extension is an "administrative nightmare", according to a Kaikohe-based car rental company.
The 7.5km Northern Gateway toll road from Puhoi to Orewa shaves about 15 minutes off the old route between Northland and Auckland. It opened on January 25 and includes soaring viaducts, a tunnel, and a high-tech system for recording licence plates and charging $2 per car or $4 per truck. Drivers can pay over the phone, via the internet, or at machines at either end.
However, the owner of Nationwide Car Rentals - which has offices around the country but is headquartered in Kaikohe - said the tolling system was "ill-conceived and ill-thought-out".
Peter Petersen said 90 per cent of his clients were overseas visitors whose credit cards did not work in the payment machines. Nor could they call the 0800 number from their international cellphones, leaving them to find a computer in their hotel or an internet cafe.
"All that costs them time and money when they're supposed to be on holiday, spending money in Northland," Mr Petersen said.
The company asked its customers when they arrived in Auckland whether they were planning to use the toll road and charged them there and then.
However, there was no way of checking who had used the road until a $2 deduction showed up the company's toll road account.
"The whole thing's an administrative nightmare," he said.
Mr Petersen said he was considering advising his customers to use the old road through Orewa and Waiwera.
One company already doing just that is Auckland-based Scotties Rent-a-Car. Director Keith Scott said in one week alone half-a-dozen customers had trouble paying. Most were Americans or Europeans, and the payment machines would not take their overseas credit cards.
The company was now charging customers a $500 infringement fee if they used the toll road without paying.
Mr Scott defended the charge, saying it was not a fine but an "infringement processing fee" to cover legal costs if the company ended up in court over unpaid tolls.
Mr Scott said he was not telling customers not to use the motorway, but he was urging them to use the old route.
Mr Scott said "heaps" of his customers went to Northland, in particular to Tutukaka and the Poor Knights, the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga.
However, the New Zealand Transport Agency - which is in charge of the country's highways - said the world-wide trend for tolling motorways was to use fully electronic, free-flow toll collection systems, not cash booths.
Cash-based toll collection was becoming increasingly expensive to operate, Auckland/Northland director Wayne McDonald said.
Rental car companies in Australia and Europe had put measures in place so their customers could use electronic toll roads, and he expected companies in New Zealand to do the same.