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.
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:
- The Higher Investment package tried to solve the issue by building more supply, especially more roads
- 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.