10 May 2022

Government expected to give green light for congestion charges in Auckland

6:42 pm on 10 May 2022

Drivers could soon be paying as much as $7 a day to arrive and leave central Auckland city during peak hours.

Auckland traffic

Peak-time traffic in Auckland. Photo: David White / Stuff via LDR

Drivers could soon be paying as much as $7 a day to arrive and leave central Auckland city during peak hours.

The government is set to make the announcement on Monday, when the final shape of its Emissions Reduction Plan will be revealed.

Once dubbed the City of Snails for its traffic congestion, Auckland is still looking for a solution.

Congestion charging is seen as a way to combat vehicle emissions, by taking an estimated 12 percent of traffic off the city's clogged roads.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Minister of Transport Michael Wood said Auckland's fuel tax would likely be scrapped if a congestion charge was introduced.

"If we do move forward with a scheme for Auckland we'll consider those things, but I think it's probably fairly widely accepted that it would be a significant impost to have both of those schemes in place at the same time so we'd certainly take that into consideration."

Wood said any congestion charge will also need to be equitable for those on lower incomes.

National Party leader Chris Luxon said any congestion charge could not be a tax grab and he would want to see the fuel tax removed.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson is remaining coy on whether public transport costs in the city will be slashed ahead of the plan announcement.

Robertson agreed that decent quality public transport was crucial to ensure equity.

But he remains tight-lipped on any plans, saying "you will see it on Monday".

A 2020 report called The Congestion Question recommended charging $3.50 for peak periods, with the charges only applied once within a two-hour window regardless of distance travelled.

It suggested starting with a city centre charge and expanding to other areas over time.

Traffic backed up on Newton Road as Auckland returned to alert level 3.

Traffic backed up on Newton Road as Auckland returned to alert level 3. Photo: RNZ

The urban advocacy group Greater Auckland broadly supported congestion pricing because it was designed to change when or how people travel into congested areas.

Spokesperson Matt Lowrie said the first stage would likely focus on the city centre which has good public transport options.

"We're probably not looking at this until 2025 at the very earliest and by the time that comes in we'll have the City Rail Link, we'll have big infrastructure that will help improve the options for people getting around Auckland."

He agreed that the biggest challenge would be to keep it fair for people who could not afford the charge but had to drive.

"All that work needs to be done around actually how do you make sure it's equitable, what do you do with the money raised, all those things are yet to be worked out."

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett told Morning Report that the money raised through congestion charges should go entirely to providing better public transport.

"We would support that," Lowrie said.

"We need make sure that people have those viable options for how they get around and that lets them leave their cars at home."

Lowrie told Afternoons most people within the transport space were in support of the congestion prices.

Groups on all sides are supportive of the idea because of the positive impact it could have on businesses and people's lives, he said.

By getting 10 to 15 percent cars off the road, it would free them up for fast delivery freights and for tradies to get to places faster, Lowrie said.

Fewer cars on the roads would also means less emissions and safer roads, Lowrie added.

"Spaces can be allocated to walking, cycling, buses and bus lanes, so it makes it easier to provide bus services and they can more reliable."

When the changes went through people would either change their mode of transport or time of transport in order to avoid charges, Lowrie said.

Public transport will be need to be improved to pick up on these behavioural changes, he added.

"Public transport is going to play a bigger role. It's going to be a bigger part of many people's lives because they are not going to want to travel at peak time to avoid those charges," he said.

Residents unhappy

Auckland resident Jenny Preston said she hailed Ubers and would not want to pay a congestion surcharge.

"Absolutely not, not with the petrol prices as well. I don't believe that Auckland City is as busy as it used to be anyway because people are working all over Auckland. I don't think we're ready for that, not right now."

Fellow resident Murray Tonkin said the city ws not big enough to benefit from a congestion charge and it might discourage people from visiting the central business district.

"I'm not sure that Auckland is big enough for something like that. I've been to Singapore and London where they've got congestion charges and [these are] cities that are very compact and have a lot of people. I'm not sure it's appropriate for here."

The number of people taking public transport is still well below pre-Covid-19 levels but tipped over one million passengers last week for the first time since last August when Auckland went into its most recent lockdown.

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