16 Nov 2023

Businesses back congestion charges to ease Auckland traffic woes

10:18 am on 16 November 2023
Cars stuck in gridlock traffic during heavy rain in Auckland on 9 May, 2023.

Cars stuck in gridlock traffic during heavy rain in Auckland earlier this year. Photo: RNZ / Lucy Xia

Congestion charges need to be introduced as soon as possible to change driver behaviour, a business sector group says.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown has floated a plan to introduce congestion charges to some of the city's busiest roads.

Brown is suggesting 'a time of use' charge of between $3.50 and $5 a trip for travel during peak times on State Highway One between Penrose and Greenlane, and SH16 between Lincoln Road and Te Atatū Road.

Auckland Council's transport and infrastructure committee will meet today to discuss the proposal.

Congestion costs the city an estimated $1.3 billion a year.

There is concern the charges will hit the worse-off the hardest, however, the Employers and Manufacturers Association says the extra funds would bring economic and social benefits to the city.

EMA head of advocacy and strategy Allan McDonald said there was not enough capacity on the roads at peak times now, so more needed to be gained from the existing network - meaning behaviour needed to be changed.

One of the most effective ways to discourage motorists from travelling at peak times was to introduce the charges to reduce the amount of traffic on the roads.

"It's a bit like driving around Auckland during the school holidays," he told Morning Report.

While some workers did not have the flexibility to start or finish their jobs at off-peak times, McDonald said those who did could be encouraged to change their habits so that the motorways were freed up for those who needed to travel.

"You come back to getting the most out of the system you can and finding different ways to help those who may be disadvantaged by the cost but there are significant benefits too."

McDonald agreed the city needed better public transport, however, it also needed to make the existing roading system better.

He suggested the Goldcard (for those over 65) and community services card could be used to help those who would struggle to make the congestion payments.

Council should consider range of offers

Organisational psychologist John Eatwell said a similar charge has been successful in London - but the charge is much higher - about $20 per day.

He doubted the fees suggested for Auckland motorists would have the desired effect.

Different measures to ease congestion have been tried in other cities such as in Chicago where parking charges were doubled and the city radically increased the frequency of public transport while cutting the cost.

"The key thing with behaviour change is you've got to work out: what makes it easy for people to do what you want them to do."

Eatwell said "a nudge unit" has been established in the UK. It established through talking to people that the reason they weren't taking up offers of free insulation was that they didn't want to clear out their ceilings.

As soon as there was a paid cleaning service available to do the work free of charge, people accepted the insulation offer.

Eatwell said the council might need to look at who was travelling at peak hours and the reasons, and then consider what could be done differently.

One example was retailers who might look at changing their opening hours to be 10am till 6pm, he suggested.

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