15 Nov 2023

Auckland councillor, residents, industry groups against congestion charge

9:51 pm on 15 November 2023
Traffic including trucks on Auckland motorway

If implemented as it is, the proposed change would see a time of use charge between $3.50 and $5 a trip for travel during peak times on State Highway One between Penrose and Greenlane, and State Highway 16 between Lincoln Road and Te Atatu Road (file image). Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Aucklanders, councillors and industry groups alike are concerned there are not enough alternatives for people to get to work, without paying a proposed congestion charge.

Mayor Wayne Brown is lobbying a time of use charge between $3.50 and $5 a trip for travel during peak times on State Highway One between Penrose and Greenlane, and State Highway 16 between Lincoln Road and Te Atatu Road.

The council's transport and infrastructure committee will meet to discuss it on Thursday.

Congestion costs the city an estimated $1.3 billion a year. But there is concern the charges will hit the worse-off the hardest.

Auckland city councillor Alf Filipaina told Checkpoint that there was work to be done on consultation.

He pointed to the number of Ports of Auckland employees who had to come from local socio-economic areas to work downtown.

"(Brown is) saying they need to change their ways of travelling and the times - but they don't dictate what time they have to be at work."

He said the same applied to those who had factory jobs "to put food on the table".

It was essential to talk to the communities, employers and people who would be most affected by the charge.

"Give them the ability to start early or start late to get out of the congestion - but you do need to consult because it affects a heck of a lot of people and their livelihoods."

Filipaina acknowledged that losing the regional fuel tax - as promised by the National Party - would have an impact on the city's finances.

Alf Filipaina is being recognised for his services to the New Zealand Police and the community.

Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina says affected communities needed more consultation over the planned charge. Photo: Auckland Council

"All the money was going... into transport. Now, if we lose all that money ... it's going to be put onto the ratepayers. This (congestion charge) may be a way but there's a lot of water that needs to go under the Harbour Bridge ... before any implementation of it.

"The man (Brown) knows he's only one out of 21 people that will make that decision so at least we're not implementing anything tomorrow."

Checkpoint also spoke to several Aucklanders for their views on the charge.

Emily said it was "outrageous" because not everyone could choose when they started and finished work.

"Firstly, we need more access to public transport and probably more affordability for that as well."

Simon said he thought congestion charges only worked in cities with viable alternative transport options.

"It seems pretty steep. I don't know what it is overseas but ... if you're doing that everyday, with no other way to do it, then ($5) would be quite expensive."

But Brown said it was a way to encourage people to behave differently.

Exemptions and discounts to the charge were being investigated but "this equity stuff is bollocks", he said.

"I'm frustrated with excuses around tradies and school children. Tradies I know would be welcoming this - they'd be getting into town 20 minutes faster for a small fraction of their hourly rate.

"I believe school children should have choices: Walking, cycling, buses, not only using the motorway. Though it is obvious some scenarios of exemptions need to be considered."

He said emergency vehicles, buses, motorcycles, and scooters would be exempted from the charges, and those on low incomes could receive a discount.

"Residents, gold card holders, and mobility vehicles could also be considered," Brown said.

"It's also worth noting what I'm proposing here is a switch: Getting rid of the regional fuel tax and putting in place a time-of-use charge so many people will be paying less overall."

He said the charges would come alongside big investments in public transport and roading network.

"The CRL will play a big role here by doubling our train capacity, as will the moves we are making with buses: The Northern Busway is going great, the Eastern Busway is underway, and a permanent Northwestern Busway is the next priority.

"We will also be looking at improving the Mangere-to-Airport route. We are implementing more dynamic lanes and will be using more transponders on buses to signal light-traffic signals when a bus approaches. There is a lot of work already underway here."

Brown said the next phase of the work would be more detailed.

"I am of the view that this should be on our motorways in the central areas of Auckland, which are the most congested, and this is also where public transport works best, which gives some people an option rather than paying the charge.

"But this will be confirmed in negotiations with the government over the legislation required."

The Ministry of Transport said Auckland's population was projected to increase to at least 2.2 million by 2045, placing pressure on transport networks, reducing performance and increasing congestion.

Automobile Association Auckland issues spokesperson Martin Glynn said congestion charging had its benefits, but saw flaws in the plan.

"Five dollars for a worker who's coming in, in the morning peak and going out in the afternoon peak - that's $50 a week. That's a lot of money for a lot of people, particularly low-income people, and a lot of them aren't working in the city centre. People who work in industrial zones, in particular, don't have really good public transport options available to them."

Public transport campaigner Niall Robertson said the new service was exciting and hoped the route would extend further into Auckland in the not too distant future.

Niall Robertson says the charge makes sense if alternative modes of transport are available. Photo: RNZ / Gill Bonnett

Public Transport Users Association chairperson Niall Robertson said there needed to be appropriate alternatives for people who did not want to pay the charge, or could not.

"If it's just going to take the congestion from the motorway and put it onto the other arterial routes of the city, it's not really achieving much at all.

"However, the principle is good provided the alternatives are there. The alternatives really need to be in the form of very, very efficient and easy to use public transport, and that's not really altogether the case at the moment.

"They probably need some extra railway lines into Auckland a third and fourth. There are plans for that, but I think those plans are after the time of the congestion charge and the bus systems work reasonably well, but they would probably really need to be look look very closely at those timetables.

"How are they going to upgrade the arterial roads so that they've got enough bus lanes to actually cope?"

Robertson said the council needed to start showing Aucklanders what its plans for public transport were, because at the moment "it's foggy".

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