Through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the former government and Council agreed that road pricing (which it called “smarter transport pricing” needs to be a key part of Auckland’s transport future. The new government, although occasionally sceptical about pricing, has continued investigation into it as part of the Congestion Question project.

Detailed analysis undertaken as part of ATAP showed that the impact of pricing would be momentous, with access to jobs massively increasing and congestion reducing to less than it is now.

The main effects on travel patterns appear to be a slight reduction in trip length made by private vehicles and a mode shift from private vehicle to public transport. There were approximately 39,000 (6%) fewer private vehicle trips and around 16% less vehicle travel at peak times in 2046 compared to current plans. These changes have a profound effect on the transport network’s performance.

Smarter Pricing – ATAP Congestion by Corridor
Smarter Pricing – ATAP Congestion
Smarter Pricing – ATAP Car Access

The maps and graphs above are from the third round of analysis undertaken during ATAP. They tell a particularly interesting story because essentially they compare and contrast two approaches for trying to meet Auckland’s future transport challenges:

  1. The Higher Investment package tried to solve the issue by building more supply, especially more roads
  2. The Influence Demand package reduced the number of projects or delayed when they were needed.

The analysis shows that not only was Influence Demand cheaper, it was also a lot more effective. ATAP also aligns with international examples as well which also show around a 10 – 30% traffic volume reductions after congestion pricing implementation. So Smarter Pricing has the ability to reduce congestion and thus reduce billions needed for roading interventions, as well as cause mode shift towards PT and active modes.

So what does this mean?

Perhaps the most important and immediate impact of pricing should be in relation to how we analyse the need for future investment, especially investment in new or wider roads. If pricing is going to “solve a lot of our problems” then we should be extra careful in our analysis to make sure the project we are planning to do still makes sense in a future with pricing. This means Smarter Pricing either needs to be included in Auckland business cases and transport modelling – so we are sure that huge amounts of money aren’t spent on projects that will end up not being required. Nothing that I have seen in any business case for a major project in recent times suggests that this is happening yet.

Another important impact of pricing is on how we plan public transport projects. Introducing road pricing increases public transport demand, as it encourages people to change their mode of travel so they avoid having to pay the additional charge. This was reflected in the analysis undertaken during ATAP, with the reduction in car trips essentially mirrored by an increase in public transport trips.

One of the challenges, of course, is to guess what form pricing will take and what just how much it will cost. How do you model the impact of a pricing system that is still being designed? While ATAP proposed a very complex GPS-based system, the Phase One report from the Congestion Question project suggests the best approach might be to start small and incrementally grow. Getting this right will be important, which is why the investigations into Smarter Pricing taking place as part of the Congestion Question project must loop back into how future business cases are done, to ensure that modelling can be as accurate as possible.

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  1. Agreed! I have been saying this since ATAP was published. The Mot should require all business cases to account for road pricing in Akl. They should issue some guidance to avoid massively inconsistent approaches though I guess.

  2. Great article, and a good conversation to re-open.

    I would suggest that the technical design of the system is less important than the kind of influence you want it to have (which may be what you meant – if so, sorry!).

    Overseas congestion pricing has had clear outcomes – less traffic within a cordon or through a given choke point: Auckland has some scope for both or either approach, but as modelled for ATAP (at least in the early modelling), agencies were testing the dampening effect needed across the whole network – something like a 20c per km charge on average, I think it was, or more even…

    So there are two paths, which may not even be distinct:

    – start by pricing some discrete things, and then bring in any tech needed to go wider

    – have the enabling tech for wider pricing, but bring the actual pricing in a bit at a time to see if you can induce the specific changes you want, eventually extend out to do the all-of-network dampening as you get experience of how demand displaces etc.

    The first approach has the virtue of trading off known capabilities: the talk about ANPR as the first trial solution for the Congestion Question is in line with this. Besides actually getting something going – which would be great – this would also establish a benchmark level of performance for next gen systems to be judged against.

    In terms of the core thread of the article, how planning should reflect this, maybe the relationship is in the other direction. Maybe it should be, when does planning need pricing to be partially, then fully, in play if we are to avoid certain investments?

    There seems to be little practical push for pricing, not least because it will happen “some day”. Is there an objective “when” that pricing might be needed by?

    1. Way back when the current tolling system was brought in, the claim was that it could handle 10 roads. We have three, leaving seven.

      I see the appeal of it for a first go, but for anything more than motorway off ramp charging immediately in and around the CBD, it sounds like a whole back office rebuild/new system would be needed anyway.

      But if seven sites is not too limiting, it might be enough to get it all started as you say.

      (And with the Tauranga Eastern Link looking to get a little more complex with additional on-ramps and toll points, it will also be interesting to see how the system copes and demonstrates it true adaptability).

  3. Please don’t call it ‘Smart’. That is one of those words that is only used in a name when someone is trying to convince you of something that isn’t true in the same way as ‘Independent’ or ‘Democratic’. Smart car, smart growth, smart TV, smart phone, Independent Police Complaints Authority, Independent Commissioner, German Democratic Republic, Democratic Republic of Korea. Time to stop bullshitting people. Call it congestion pricing.

    1. Nah, call it road pricing or road use pricing. Calling it congestion pricing is like calling the market for bread “starvation pricing”.

      1. Mathew congestion charging is not the same as road pricing. Congestion charging would only be for peak “hour” 😉 driving – if you drive in the middle of the night there would no charge, Whereas Road pricing could be just on road user charges or fuel pricing. One is far more targeted than the other.

        1. Yep – this is where “smarter pricing” comes from. Ie roads are already priced via fuel tax and RUC, the pricing is just currently “dumb” whereas TDP pricing is “smart”. Having thought about this more, I would actually call it a “road use market”.

        2. Don’t under-estimate the power of something as simple as RUC.

          The visibility of the payment has a very apparent effect on people who thought the saving at the pump on diesel was all theirs to pocket and got their rude awakening at their first WOF check.

          Also, you can see profound changes in the composition of the heavy vehicle fleet from the change in rules in 2012, the encouragement to more pavement-friendly eight axle configurations, and the encouragement to more generally ‘right-size-for-the-task’ vehicles.

          Another interesting thing is the change to RUC rates based on manufacturer-rated gross vehicle mass, instead of operator-nominated weights, is seeing a lot more back-loading and an increase in average weights/mass utilisation/trip optimisation.

          Our familiairy with what we think RUC is may well obscure our awareness of how well it is demonstrating the power of pricing.

    2. “Decongestion charge” is my favourite term, if indeed its aimed at limiting congestion. If its for revenue, then ‘road tax’ seems fine.

  4. This is of course very naiive, but if the question is: “How do you model the impact of a pricing system that is still being designed?” maybe the answer is: “By choosing the impact first, and using that chosen impact to dictate the design of the pricing system, with other tools brought in as required.” Perhaps this is totally impractical. Is another question here: “Do we have any consensus on which impacts we want?”

    1. Are we talking about removing congestion from the city centre, the motorways, or every road?
      What level of congestion is acceptable?
      These questions need to be answered first.

    2. Not impractical at all. Policy and intent come first, then technology follows. Or you just end up with expensive toys while the same problem remains.

      If the approach is incremental, then the tough question is whose congestion to clear first, knowing it will probably make someone else’s worse.

      As a starter for ten, how about attempting to displace demand onto a corridor that has a protected PT option available, using pricing to clear it out of a corridor that does not? Does that sound like anywhere in Auckland?

      Alternatively, go the cordon charge route around the tight CBD (excluding through traffic on the motorways) and see if net daytime demand can be dampened.

  5. If you read the likes of MoT and NZTA forward looking documents they really believe that driverless cars [and/or Uber] will do the job on their own, without any need for messy demand interventions like congestion pricing.

    i.e. they believe the market will sort it self out given enough time.
    It may, but equally likely it won’t or more likely, simply won’t do it quick enough or in the way actually needed/envisaged.

    They also seem to believe that [as per numerous studies leading up to CRL (CCFAS) showed], that obvious & predictable events like future oil price shocks or oil supply problems, and zero real increases in parking charges in the CBD for 30 years are simply not realistic assumptions.

    But here they are assuming todays status quo, or cheap oil, and cheap parking, and unlimited/unfettered transport emissions growth are all here to stay.

    Of course, there is almost zero evidence for any of those NZTA or MoT beliefs. In fact the evidence is that its even more likely that the status quo won’t “status quo” for much longer.

    But these folks and MoT and NZTA just have a gut feel that these hunches all seem right and obvious. And that tech like driverless cars will come in smoothly, and will solve all the problems and not create worse problems to boot.

    Meanwhile they wilfully continue to ignore the impact of demand interventions like road pricing to do the job sooner and just as effectively. As has been done in other places in the Northern Hemispehere. They ignore that not by dismissing it outright, but by going for a pie in the sky GPS based city wide approach. That system doesn’t exist anywhere now, may never ever exist as envisaged anywhere for a couple of decades, and more to the point, even if it did ever come in, would not be in common use here, for a decade or more from now due to political and technological roadblocks.

    So as a result we always have the chicken and egg situation of need to improve PT now, but don’t have the political will or [more usually] the money to do so, as it invariably means you need to buy expensive things like buses, Light Rail Vehicles or more EMUs and also to give road space over to PT or active modes [e.g. Bus lanes and separated cycle lanes – and no, cycle lanes in bus lanes don’t count as separated].
    All held up by fear of the inevitable backlash from SOV drivers complaining that “their rights” are being impinged unfairly.

    It also suffers just as much from the “don’t know where to start” problem – the issue is now so big that its almost impossible to start to solve, as it won’t have much positive impact initially and will generate a shitload of negativity and piss a lot of people [voters and ratepayers] off.

    If there was one thing that I wish AT would do is live up to its “arms length from council” position and take on this demand management as an implicit mandate, and take the lead on this. And take the heat for the Council on this as well. [To use a military analogy for this: AT should stand up, draw the enemies fire, so the rest of the allies, can get on and do whats needed to win this battle].

    So AT sort out the bus lanes and other Rapid Transport options in one or two key areas as an example, using these as the carrot, then for the stick bring in a simple, area based demand management charging in those areas to complement the PT options in that area. To drive change.

    The thing is once you show it does work, then you need to feed the money raised/freed up by not building more lanes on motorways etc] and the processes, back onto itself, both in the areas currently bearing the pain of the demand management charging, and then also widening the areas where its happening in an ever increasing circle of coverage and effectiveness. And do it soon.

    While its taken 60+ years to get to this mess, we don’t actually have another 60 years to try and sort it out.
    We need to do this in half or a quarter of that time – at worst.

  6. Totally agree with the article

    1) Start with toll gantries – complex gps can wait

    2) Start with a low toll and ramp it up – there is no guarantee the model response will reflect reality

    3) Tolls should be dynamically reviewed every 3/6 months like Singapore

    4) Congestion tolls
    a) delay the need for expensive infrastructure
    b) reduce the PT subsidy
    c) increase PT & active modes modeshare
    d) increase safety (PT is safer)
    e) reduce air pollution
    f) reduce carbon emissions

    So government show some leadership and get on with it. And show some more leadership by freeing up the land zoning rules so that the land market is elastic and can respond to transport prices & immigration rates

      1. There are a few obvious places, for example the Harbour Bridge, Upper Harbour Bridge, the SH16 causeway, Mangere Bridge, Otahuhu motorway and Mt Wellington Highway and Great South Road, both Panmure Bridges. That would give an middle cordon.

        You could add to that SH1 south of Drury, and North at Puhoi, and SH16 northwest of westgate for an outer cordon.

        For an inner cordon you could add a gantry line on SH16 under Bond St, and on SH1 under Mountain Road. Add that to the Harbour Bridge and by process of elimination you can work out who drives through (maybe no charge or a smaller charge) and who doesn’t, i.e. who exits or enters at the city centre ramps (maybe a larger charge)

        1. Add gantries at the “end points” of the motorway and then to every motorway off ramp inside Auckland’s Territory, and then use that data feed to work out from the outer and middle and off ramp cordon gantries how much people get charged based on the locations of the various gantries they crossed.

          If idiots want to drive the whole way through Auckland on local roads to avoid a congestion charge, let them try and do so – they’ll do it once, and give it up as a bad joke.
          As it will take them twice as long. A few well placed cordons along Gt South Road at Otahuhu and the Pakuranga bridges will deal to that behaviour soon enough.

          If any one drives the whole way through Auckland on the motorways at peak never getting off the motorway, they should also pay something as well – for adding to the congestion even if its on a “free” road. To avoid the charge simply don’t do it at peak or suck it up.

          Gotta treat the whole thing like they did for GST – Keep the exemptions and special cases as few as possible to make it really simple to implement, understand/use and enforce.

          Don’t exempt buses, taxis, EVs or motorbikes – they all use up road space and add to the mess congestion no matter how many people are on/in them. The only difference is the more people on board the buses means the cost is cheaper per passenger than any other vehicle. So I doubt it will appear on the bus tickets [especially as AT controls that pricing now].

          Charge all vehicles based on the impact they have, so a truck and trailer unit which takes up more road space than say a tradies ute pays a proportionately higher rate.

          Whatever the charge is for a long distance truck [or empty bus/taxi]. If the congestion charge even half works, the money they pay in charges will be way less than the time they’ll save from being able to drive down the motorway quicker because many others who used to, are not.

          Encourage use of transponders (linked to your registration plate), so that frequent users are given a simple way to pay. Link it to a HOP card/account for even easier ways to manage the payment collection rather than reinvent the wheel with a whole new system.

          Car has no transponder? Works like it is for the Northern Gateway – you pay more per “trip” if you post pay. Economics will soon drive most peoples behaviour. And casual users won’t mind either way.

          Maybe as a carrot, if the motorway speed is less than X km/hr, the charge is lower [or even free]. As a kind of “service level promise” – pay more collectively for a quicker trip home or to work.

          And make sure the fees are linked to the vehicle, just like RUCs are – so you can’t escape them easily, i.e. can’t register, warrant or get more RUCs if outstanding charges owed. Only issue then is those who never register/warrant their vehicles.

          A few well publicised cases of impounding of those vehicles at the roadside when stopped by the cops will likely fix a lot of that problem for good.

          You will always get cheats in any system. Like the Tax system, no system will be 100% perfect. You just keep the bar high enough so most people follow the desired process.

          And let the courts make good examples of the rest when they come to light.

        2. Buses – would buses dynamically charge passengers, so that a passenger on a nearly empty bus has to pay far more than a passenger on a full one? That’d be tricky. I think you can just exempt buses because there’s a bigger picture. We’re trying to get people onto PT and out of cars. Full stop.

          “If idiots want to drive the whole way through Auckland on local roads to avoid a congestion charge, let them try and do so – they’ll do it once, and give it up as a bad joke. As it will take them twice as long.”

          I think you’re missing the point – people are constantly making decisions about the fastest route, and rat-running is an artform. You don’t need to predict whether people will drive the whole way through Auckland on local roads… there will be a huge variety of different local routes that people will choose to avoid a charge. It’s like the game of shopping to get a bargain when the real win is to not go shopping at all. People optimise all the time, and love to brag about how they won out over the system, even though they would have been better off if they were optimising something of more value.

          We need to get the cars off the local roads so they are safe for cyclists and fast for buses. Congestion pricing has to aid this goal, not be a push in the wrong direction.

        3. Outer cordon – yes.

          Middle cordon – almost works, just not out west. It doesn’t seem balanced with Northcote out but Glen Eden in. I think you’d have to complete the cordon somehow between New Lynn and Blockhouse Bay too.

          Inner cordon – Isn’t that exactly what we need to avoid? I think it would have a disastrous effect on local roads. You’d have to adopt some radical roads closures and bus-only roads as well, which I think would be great, but ah, I don’t think AT is there yet…

  7. Heidi,
    I don’t know Auckland well enough but the small gap between Manukau and Waitemata harbours just to the south of the Isthmus would have the smallest effects on local roads.

    Crossing Blockhouse Bay / New Lynn looks more complex and would require some thought.

    1. Portage Rd is the natural border bewteen Blockhouse Bay and New Lynn, and the former border between Auckland and Waitakere Cities. If a cordon system were to be implimented, I think this is the best choice.
      Gantries would be required at Ash St, Gt Nth Rd, Wolverton Rd, Bolton St, Kinross St and Connaught St.
      However there is nothing particularly complicated about GPS charging, its not too disimilar to how Uber works.

  8. I think the technology would like a cigarette port powered GPS device that also has a build in sim card to continuously send information to server via mobile network without any user intervention. The device are linked to car vin number and automatic paid by visa card.

    City parking wardens and police drink drive roadblocks will check the device and issue instant fine if the device is not present.

    Also, when the car do WOF, a working device is a part of the checklist, any intentional damage to the device is reported to police.

    1. GPS tracking raises lots of privacy concerns so would be a hard sell option. Better to use Bluetooth tracking tech as captures car info passing a network of roadside scanners but doesn’t need expensive camera gantries. This means could cover all local roads as well as motorways. Bluetooth is in all new cars so older cars would need a plug in device. To police it there could be cameras at some locations to cross check the scanner info.

      1. The privacy solution is not in the technology, choice, but the governance. If you attach a payment system to Bluetooth you have to loose the anonymity somewhere in the system, which means that somewhere in the system it will be possible to reconstruct a journey.

        Regardless of technology used, what that means is there needs to be a design choice to protect privacy. GPS can achieve that, for example, by processing the person-specific elements ‘on the box’ before sending anonymised packet of compliance data out into the world – if you want the capability and its cost spread out over the units rather than centralised n some clearing house.

        So, system governance is more important than the specific tech choice, along with some means for public over-watch of the governors.

        The current Privacy Bill is the thing to watch: I am not sure its toothless approach to the role and powers of the Privacy Commissioner is adequate for the kind of data-environment network road pricing would create.

        1. Interesting stuff. I don’t know if there’s been a post about privacy. There are probably quite a technological innovations that have a privacy issue… if you’d write it, I’d be keen to read it!

  9. I wonder if the expected 20c p/litre hike in fuel – through the regional and central fuel tax increases – will act as road-pricing, or vehicle-pricing (?), all on its own.

    In any case, while a supporter in general, I am not sure I can see AC or the Govt lining up for this one while the fuel tax backlash for each is still warm…

    1. 20 cents a litre tax then add the fact that oil price is rising and our dollar is in decline it is going to be significantly more than a 20 cents increase.
      On the Gaspy fuel app around Auckland for 91 the range is between $1.93 to $2.15 with a say a mean of $2.05. That is around 5c greater than a month or two ago. 98 octane is getting up to over $2.30.
      Why is this important. History has shown that fuel prices increasing too fast can cause downturns in the economy.
      So Yes there could be a significant reduction in vehicle usage if fuel prices spikes and the economy tanks.

  10. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t know how pricing can be used successfully in bcr’s while the NZTA is still not accepting that adding road capacity adds trip numbers. GIGO.

    1. Well in fact recognising increased trip numbers would be a direct requirement of assuming road pricing in a business case. Basically, once you have road pricing you don’t have congestion. So adding capacity doesn’t reduce travel times. So the only benefit of added capacity is – more vehicle movements. So factoring in the “induced demand” would need to be accounted for if you want any significant benefits for a purely capacity enhancing project.

      1. “recognising increased trip numbers would be a direct requirement of assuming road pricing in a business case”. I would have thought so, yes. You would think they are working towards better models that recognise that roading capacity induces new trips. Well, I can’t see it anywhere in the Models Refresh Project 2017. Same-old modellers involved again. (Including the one who argued that buslanes aren’t required on the NW because a QTN wouldn’t require them.)

        Apparently the drivers for the refresh were:

        Rapid recent growth (faster than forecast)
        Models not fully reflecting current conditions
        Inconsistencies between model PT forecasts
        Stakeholder issues [confidence, functionality, delays]

        Head in sand stuff again. Adding the layer of pricing to a model that assumes a level of traffic growth regardless of what roads you build will have interesting effects. Further confusion of anyone other than the modellers, for starters. But it won’t provide a model that has any level of accuracy at all.

    2. The philosophical question of what you are actually taking account of in the BCR, with pricing, vexes me – although this is not a strong area of mine at the best of times!

      The easy case for new capacity is when you create new access – opening a subdivision or development area.

      In this case, the function justifies the route, but the BCR helps select the right level of service. The question then is whether assessing the new access in context of existing access and any accompanying PT provision changes the LOS requirements, making a different level the best investment. This is where I might expect pricing to come in – i.e. can pricing ensure the new access s not just used because it is there (lazy option), but that the other options/modes are used as appropriate too.

      It might be that pricing should not be factored in – much like boarder income for a first home – because it operates over the top of the basic value and does not constitute part of it.

      In fact, the price is both a cost and a benefit, which cancel out. So the proper benefit is that delivered by the new access/capacity working as intended in the context of the network it has been added to. The qualitative judgement for reflection in the BCR assumptions/calculation is whether the pricing mechanism can deliver the demand needed for the access to operate as intended.


      1. Some time ago I saw a survey which indicated that 80% of motorway trips involving the central city motorways were for trips that did not begin or end in the CBD. Some comments here suggest a discount for people not travelling to or from the CBD. If that survey was correct it would mean that we would be giving discounts to drivers causing 80% of the congestion. Also one other comment suggested that if traffic speeds were higher the driver should pay more. Surely that is counter intuitive. I would have thought a driver caught up in congestion i.e. slower speeds should pay more. As others have said GPS technology is not star wars these days. If such a network is easier and cheaper to introduce and run then sophistication is actually an advantage.

  11. Some time ago I saw a survey which indicated that 80% of motorway trips involving the central city motorways were for trips that did not begin or end in the CBD. Some comments here suggest a discount for people not travelling to or from the CBD. If that survey was correct it would mean that we would be giving discounts to drivers causing 80% of the congestion. Also one other comment suggested that if traffic speeds were higher the driver should pay more. Surely that is counter intuitive. I would have thought a driver caught up in congestion i.e. slower speeds should pay more. As others have said GPS technology is not star wars these days. If such a network is easier and cheaper to introduce and run then sophistication is actually an advantage.

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