'Congestion charging' suggested to keep Tauranga moving

9:33 pm on 21 February 2024
Projections show congestion in Tauranga is set to double in the next 10 years. Photo: SunLive. [via LDR Single use only]

Projections show congestion in Tauranga is set to double in the next 10 years. Photo: SunLive via LDR

The current funding model for transport infrastructure is "not going to cut it" and congestion charges may be needed in Tauranga.

Commissioner Stephen Selwood made those comments at the Tauranga City Council Strategy, Finance and Risk Committee meeting on Monday, 19 February.

The funding needed for transport infrastructure over the next 20 years was $10 billion but modelling showed there would only be $3.5b coming in, leaving a $6.5b gap, Selwood said.

"We know that Waka Kotahi, their tank is empty in terms of their funding.

"The current funding mechanisms of relying on rates increases, general taxation increases or fuel and excise tax increases are not going to cut it.

"Either we invest in our transport infrastructure and find alternative ways of raising the revenue to do that. Or we don't invest at the rate required, which means that congestion will get much worse than it is today."

Selwood said SmartTrip variable road pricing, also known as congestion charges, was one way to pay for it.

Current projections showed congestion would double in the next 10 years, he said.

Commissioner Stephen Selwood. Photo: John Borren/SunLive. [via LDR Single use only]

Commissioner Stephen Selwood said current funding models for roads were not going to cut it. Photo: SunLive / John Borren via LDR

Also if transport infrastructure was not invested in, it would constrain land for housing.

"We'll end up paying in both congestion and therefore lack of productivity, and we'll end up paying ever-increasing house prices. That's basically the choice in front of us.

"It's really important that we have a grown and adult conversation with the community so they understand the realities."

If this did not happen there would be an "uninformed view" that the council just needed to spend the money it had better and do the work, despite the funding not being there, Selwood said.

The council consulted on whether to investigate congestion charges further as part of the 2024-34 long-term plan (LTP).

Variable road pricing would replace the current tolls on the Takitimu Northern Link (TNL) and the Tauranga Eastern Link (TEL). Pricing would change based on the time of day and where people were accessing the road network from.

One concept showed the priced network would include the state highway ring around the Te Papa Peninsula (SH2, SH29, SH29A), SH2 and TNL from Te Puna, and the TEL.

A concept plan for Tauranga congestion charges, with the priced roads in red. Photo: Tauranga City Council.

A concept plan for Tauranga congestion charges, with the priced roads in red. Photo: Supplied / Tauranga City Council via LDR

When the decision was made to consult on road pricing at a council meeting in 2023, Waka Kotahi warned that "economic catastrophe and terrible wellbeing for communities" would occur if the charges weren't implemented.

At Monday's meeting, commission chair Anne Tolley said the council had done a good job of convincing governments about Tauranga's need for major transport investment but had not done as good a job with the community, based on LTP submissions.

Putting the big road projects aside, local roads relied on 50 percent funding from central government and the rest from rates, Tolley said.

This meant any projects the community wanted, the onus was on ratepayers to fund it and central government needed to be convinced to pay the rest, whilst Tauranga competed with other councils for funding, she said.

"Metro councils are all competing with one another and yet we all have the same growing populations and these massive needs."

Commission chair Anne Tolley. Photo: Alisha Evans/ SunLive. [via LDR Single use only]

Commission chair Anne Tolley said every city was competing for government infrastructure funding. Photo: SunLive / Alisha Evans via LDR

Funding could either come from rates and taxes or the council would find a better way to fund transport infrastructure, Tolley said.

"Congestion charging and better contributions from tolling, and managing the asset in a much better way have to be considered."

The previous and current government had come to the conclusion that petrol taxes were no longer going to be sufficient to fund infrastructure, she said.

"Whenever there's a change of government, GPS [Government Policy Statement on land transport] changes, and Tauranga has suffered from that over the last decade."

While there might not be the same level of funding there was for walking, cycling and public transport, these still needed to be invested in, Tolley said.

"Mode shift changes are going to have to be made because we are now a big city, we are not a provincial town."

A law change would be needed to implement congestion charges, but cross-party support is growing.

Long-term plan deliberations begin in March and the commission will decide whether or not to investigate congestion charging further.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.