There have been some interesting responses to the announcement last week that the government and council would be looking into road pricing, including many with very similar themes to what we’ve suggested.

Simon Wilson published an excellent piece at The Spinoff on Friday highlighting that we can’t afford to wait years for solutions and that there was a lot that could be done in the short-term to make a difference. The options are below and the piece has more detail about each of them.

  1. More trains and buses
  2. Focus on the outer city
  3. Reduce the number of inner-city parking spaces
  4. Boost the parking tariffs
  5. Engage businesses and commuters in the plan
  6. Roll out a big new bike-share scheme
  7. Create more bike lanes
  8. Organise ride-sharing
  9. Reclaim the streets
  10. Limit private vehicles entering the central city
  11. Green light the third rail line
  12. Cancel the new motorway project
  13. Stop all the other motorway projects
  14. Improve the quality of public transport
  15. Sell the idea

He ends the piece with this

But let’s not get confused about this. Doing a two-year report to come up with a proposal is not the same thing as taking action now to resolve a crisis.

Joyce’s plan with the congestion charges study has a pretty obvious subtext: he’s putting off the day when he and his government have to change their approach to Auckland’s transport woes. They must know that what they’re doing is not working and is not going to work, but they really don’t want to talk about it now.

The Herald Editorial on Friday looked at the announcement, ultimately noting that road pricing can only come after other improvements first, such as better public transport.

For road pricing to succeed, large numbers of people must decide it is too expensive for them to drive in rush hour, which could be seen as a tax on doing business or an imposition on many households’ daily routine.

For instance, one of the most obvious contributors to Auckland’s congestion is the crosstown school run, judging from the absence of traffic before 9am and after 3pm during school holidays.

But any attempt to push families into a different home-school-work travel pattern will raise other questions, particularly over Auckland’s inadequate and overpriced public transport system.

Uber-style ride-sharing is an intriguing alternative but still in the very early stages.

If planners want to brandish the road pricing stick at Aucklanders, they will need to come up with plenty of carrots first.

On Saturday, Herald columnist Lizzie Marvelly expressed frustration that any decision is still a long way away and we need more done now.

Please. Do something. Anything. Congestion charging. Trams. A rail system that actually serves the whole city. A second harbour crossing. We’re well past the point of being fussy about it. They all need to be done eventually, so just pick one and get the ball rolling. Don’t keep giving us more bloody roads. Don’t leave it another five years. Don’t just agree to “terms of reference to establish a project to investigate smarter transport pricing in Auckland”. Do something now. Put us out of our misery.

When Auckland Mayor Phil Goff announced on television that there would finally be an announcement this week about Auckland traffic, I felt relieved. When Finance Minister Steven Joyce fronted up to the media, I felt hopeful. When he opened his mouth and said, “Any decision on the use of a demand management tool like road pricing is still some years off,” I wanted to scream.

On Sunday, Heather du Plessis-Allan also looked at the issue and ultimately, like others, noted that before we introduce congestion charging we really need some better alternatives.

National doesn’t want to have to deal with Auckland’s traffic this year because there’s an election to win. Saying yes to congestion charges may prove unpopular with thousands of potential voters. Saying no to congestion charges will show – again – how committed the party is to the act of Doing Nothing.

Auckland is gagging for better public transport. If we had it, we’d use it. Take a look at the full buses coming into the CBD from the North Shore. That’s one bus system working brilliantly.

National, forget the congestion charges until you have given us decent buses and trains. Get on with that, please.

And Auckland, next time you’re stuck in traffic, blame National.

The message across these pieces is all pretty clear, we can’t afford to wait possibly 5-10 years for road pricing to be introduced and even if it is introduced, we need better alternatives, especially better public transport. Let’s get on with that.

I just want to end with what I thought was one of the oddest responses to the announcement. Many groups welcomed the announcement that the government would actually look at road pricing and the Road Transport Forum (truck lobby) was one of those but also made this comment at the end of their press release. It’s quite odd given the exact point of road pricing would enable truck drivers to make more trips in a day than they can now and therefore be more efficient. It makes you wonder if they understand the point of it at all.

“The reality is of course that freight rates will be forced to increase with the additional cost of road pricing for Auckland transport operators. However, as a country with some of the lowest freight rates in the world, most consumers will appreciate the necessity of any rate rise,”

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  1. on the one hand that comment from the truck lobby is odd, if you assume they understand the whole point of it all. However, either they don’t and they’ll feel they need to pass on that cost to consumers, which assumes that neither the truck lobby or their customers understand the point of it. Or more cynically, definitely understand it but realise that many of their customers won’t understand it so it see it as an opportunity to cash in by benefitting both ways – i.e. greater efficiency with the tab picked up by customers. win/win

    1. I had a boss in London that said the congestion charge saved him money as his driver got more deliveries done, well worth the £7 or whatever it was.

  2. Doing Nothing will lead to younger activists staging protests such as “Bikes Take Over the Motorway” actions. That won’t be good for election year either. National had better be careful if they choose to ignore the desperation Aucklanders are feeling and the huge social costs of sitting in polluting, city-destroying commuter traffic.

  3. To give the smallest amount of credit to Joyce et al I can,

    It will take a year or so to put many of the “carrots” in place, so taking some time to get the “stick” right makes a little sense. Right now.

    But thats no excuse for doing nothing in the meantime.

    Which is the explicit subtext of their announcement to form a committee to investigate the options of forming a committee to look into the problem.

    Congestion Charging or Demand Management is not a silver bullet on its own, its but one of many tools (sticks and carrots) that have to wielded skillfully, successively, and in the right way over a sustained period of election cycles (both local and central government electoral cycles) to achieve any real progress.

    The goal, which, let’s not lose sight of this, is to get the Auckland “SOV” driving Donkey a lot further along the road than we are now. Like a real Donkey, just beating the crap out of it with a Congestion Charging stick, no matter how large simply won’t work, nor will just feeding it lots of carrots. It will just gorge on those and not make progress. You need to use both, selecting which ones to use at the right time to keep the momentum up.

    We can’t remove all cars from the road, nor do we need to, a 10% reduction of traffic over present levels will massively reduce the congestion felt by everyone. Thats a good starter, which gives breathing space for even better progress, which is more of the same, just done better and faster.

    The trick is to realise that that 10% reduction figure is not a simple number, its getting bigger and bigger the more cars we add to Auckland roads, like we are doing right now, each and every day and have been for years.

    Failure to manage to do both stick and carrot together will result in more of what we’re seeing now – things that used to stuff the motorways and roads up once a year, now happen every month, then every 2 weeks, then once a week, then as now every other day, then all the time.

    Like climate change the effect is a slowly building cumulative over with lots of little impacts, over a long period of time.

    And if we just wait until the problem is really obvious to all, its usually too late to fix.

    Getting the new bus network in and working so that buses and trains support each other is critical to all this.
    And we’ve still got to complete that process. Which in itself has turned into a real mission, largely in part because the PTOM legal framework this new bus system is being delivered under has shortcomings and special corporate welfare carve-outs [as requested/demanded by National’s mates like NZ BUS/Infratil/Fullers/SkyBus etc], shortcomings which plain and simple clearly have Joyce’s fingerprints all over them.

    The rot for the present situation started well before the current immigration spurt. And will dog the next few governments for some time to come. As will the Waterview tunnel once it opens, and the housing crisis thats not an actual crisis according to National.

    So suck it up Auckland, if you think the traffic/housing/road works and train and bus crowding is bad now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  4. “Next time you’re stuck in traffic, blame National”. I wouldn’t expect anything less except partisan finger-pointing from HDPA. It would have been great if she had outlined what Labour planned to do differently, other than their Mt Roskill by-election LRT boondoggle.

  5. Thing is with National, it’s not what they say they’re going to do, which is normally cloaked in catch phrases and vague generalities but what they don’t say.

    It must be so galling for them to realise so many of their unofficial unstated policies have created this God awful mess.

    I believe they will try and stare down Goff and force asset sales to fund the traffic problem solutions, a win win for National and it’s millionaires, a loss for nearly everyone else.

  6. Reading the nz herald newspaper reader opinions section, I noticed a trend.

    Year ago the opinion are very pro cars. Recently the opinions are more pro public transport.

    1. Partly because those old buggers, Herald letter-writers all of them, are now mainly on Zimmers rather than RangeRovers.

  7. A lot of the commentary fails to appreciate how transformational road pricing could be. It sticks out in ATAP as being the one thing that can do anything more than have a very ,arginal impact. The announcements by the politicians haven’t been particularly good at educating people to this, hopefully that will improve.

  8. Road pricing is not necessarily the answer to our traffic ills. It seems to me to be a, at best, patchy method, and (in London’s implementation, at least) subject to rorting. I’m not sure quite how they would set it up in Auckland, but in London there is an inner circle of which, if you cross it, you are subject to a daily fee. When they first introduced the Congestion Charge there it had an instant effect – less traffic within the circle, and more traffic outside. Over time people just factor the extra charge into their costs and time – so effectively, if you are wealthy, you just pay it and ignore the $20 (or whatever) fee. This is similar to Simon Wilson’s point 10 noted above.

    But there is another aspect – people already living within the circle – already largely highly privileged buggers. Because they are already within the inner sanctum of Congestion, and they don’t cross the barriers, they pay nothing. My friend Yvonne tootles round to the shops in her 7-series BMW in Notting Hill and never pays a cent on the CC as she stays in inner London. A similar parallel here would be the good people of Parnell and Ponsonby – most of whom have flash cars – rather than the residents of Downtown AKL CBD, who largely seem to exist on skateboards or sneakers. The London setup seems to me to be a particular classist and unfair system, although of course, Yvonne thinks it is just fine.

    From what I understand, the CC system in Singapore is very different – but the city is small so it can be done easier – there is monitoring of every single car that travels on the roads, and so everyone gets charged. Is that correct? But as an egalitarian system, it is far better, far more even – everyone pays, including the rich. Of course, once again, the rich can suck it up without a second glance, but the advantage of Singapore’s system is that it can be adjusted on the fly – just like electricity spot-pricing or Uber fares – hiking the rate up when the traffic reaches a peak.

    So I’d like to propose an additional line to Simon Wilson’s list, a sweet number 16:
    “Road-pricing is for everyone, not just the poor.”

    1. I’d argue a higher proportion of wealthy people work in the CBD than poorer people as it is primarily a white collar employment location. Therefore a cordon will unlikely be a burden on the poor. It is also the place with the best public transport so has the best options.

      I don’t have a concern with people who live in the cordon not paying the charge irrespective of the vehicle they drive. They probably drive the lowest kms of anyone and also pay the highest rates, it’s not like they don’t contribute to congestion reduction and funding of roads.

      Personally I’d support city wide charging, however I think a CBD cordon would be good starting point as there is already relatively good PT in place. Not sure how you would limit the number of cars in the CBD without pricing, are you thinking a quota? I’d prefer the certainty of knowing that if I paid I would get in, rather than turning up wondering if there would be space.

        1. I suspect that will be one of the options proposed and would likely have some effect. However, it would be good for any charge to also get those who drive across the CBD from east to west and vice versa. I think parking is somewhat self regulating as land prices go up it gets more scarce anyway. AT could help by charging commercial rates for their carparks.

  9. I still think a petrol tax is a better/simpler system than ‘congestion charging’. It’s ‘user pays’ because everyone pays based on how much mileage they do. I think it’s unreasonable to tell people they need to be on the motorway at 6am in order to avoid a levy that kicks in at (say) 7am. Besides, proponents of congestion charging already propose a variable time zone for what constitutes ‘peak demand’. If everyone gets on the motorway at 6am to avoid the 7am rush hour(s) then 6am will become the new rush hour and the congestion charge kicks in anyway.
    And if it means charging a 20¢ per litre levy then so be it – we use the same pricing model to cut cigarette consumption (making PT the equivalent of state sponsored ‘Quit’ programmes). A petrol tax is much cheaper to implement as well – therefore the PT fund will be in profit a lot sooner than paying for all the expensive tech needed to install gantries and launch electronic monitoring and charging of people driving via certain stretches of roads.
    And yes, I know the govt have already baulked at a petrol levy for Auckland but what of it? They may not be in office in October, and they certainly won’t have implemented *any* policy on congestion charging by then either.

    1. That only achieves one purpose of the charge – gaining additional funding for projects. Congestion charging achieves in my opinion the more important purpose – reducing demand for roads thus reducing the need to spend more money on roading infrastructure.

      I’d happily pay a good sum to know I could leave Auckland heading south on a Friday afternoon without taking two hours to get out of the city. A petrol tax wouldn’t achieve this.

      1. “I’d happily pay a good sum to know I could…”
        So you’re effectively saying “I can afford it, tough luck for those on lower incomes trying to get to work”?
        Or am I putting words in your mouth?
        And yes, I do think a petrol tax is a good method for funding PT improvements. Once we have that in place (a good citywide PT system) then maybe we can move to a ‘congestion charge’ to ping drivers who still won’t use PT.

  10. Pricing for Auckland? Sounds like a regional fuel tax in disguise. Why does the government oppose regional fuel taxes again?

  11. Smarter transport pricing gives us the opportunity to re-think how we fund the transport system. By the time we get to the point of having a GPS based charging system, fuel tax will be becoming inequitable due the proportion of EVs. Which makes it a nationwide issue not just an Auckland one.

    What if we made the transport system fully user pays? Is it fair that ratepayers pay 44% of the local road costs.(MOT) Should say the Coromandel Council be allowed to charge Aucklanders $50 to drive to Cape Colville?

    Probably needs to be mixture a mixture of base flat rate and congestion charges. Too much loading on congestion charge and workers who are required to travel at peak times will have the legitimate gripe that they are paying for the entire network. If we are to have variable road pricing then then 50% fare recovery for PT needs to go. For instance low or no fares for an under utilised PT mode in a congested corridor.

    1. “Too much loading on congestion charge and workers who are required to travel at peak times will have the legitimate gripe that they are paying for the entire network.”
      But hopefully they will get to where they going quicker (or quicker if no charging done) and time = $$. Less travel = more earning time, but those on fixed incomes still = better quality of life = healthier = less sick time = less money lost to poor health = better pay raise because you are working better for the boss etc etc

      1. Yes but in a fully user pays system ( no ratepayer contribution) would it be fair for the congestion charge to fund the entire network? PT users could also face their own congestion charge on a crowed service.with peak fares.

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