Yesterday the Ministry of Transport released their latest thinking on congestion pricing as part of a piece of work they call “The Congestion Question“. This comes about three years since we last heard from the project and six years since the Len Brown initiated Alternative Transport Funding study recommended it. What makes this latest report different is there is now far more detail around just what a road pricing scheme in Auckland would look like.
If fully implemented and combined with improvements to public transport, officials think this could see congestion reduce by around 8-12%. This is similar to the level of congestion that we experience during school holidays. They say experiences in other cities suggest about half of this shifts to public transport, a small amount will change when they travel and the remainder will be discretionary trips that just disappear.
Speaking of trips, they say that Auckland has high proportion of short trips with 51% of peak trips being less than 6km in length and 75% are less than 12km. To put that in perspective, 6km is relatively easily bikeable with google suggesting that it would take about 20 minutes. Furthermore, many would be able to do it faster than that, especially if on an e-bike.
While the focus of this study is on managing congestion, this scheme would also raise money and they suspect it could be in the order of $200 million annually. This is quite a bit of funding and could potentially replace or supplement the Regional Fuel Tax.
As part of the wider work to tackle congestion, 26 options were initially created and they have shortlisted five of these related to congestion pricing. These were:
- A City Centre Cordon
- An Isthmus area charge
- Strategic Corridors
- A combination of a) and c)
- A Region wide GPS based option
Both a) and c) were then taken forward for further assessment and would use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to track passing cars to charge. This is technology already in use in our existing toll roads and would be much faster, cheaper and easier to implement and enforce than requiring everyone to have trackers in their cars.
The city centre cordon is fairly straightforward, anyone crossing the motorway noose around the central city in either direction would pay a fee for doing so. The small nature of the area makes it comparatively cheap to deliver but it also means the overall impacts are likely to be lower given the already high PT modeshare.
The Strategic Corridors scheme is preferred and would eventually see cameras on all major corridors in Auckland. Given most journeys would cross one of these roads at some point it would have region-wide impact and help avoid the issue of rat-running as there would be little opportunity to avoid it.
They propose a tiered pricing structure, from free up to $3.50 depending on the time of day you travel – with higher costs for heavy vehicles. You would only pay this fee once per two-hour window after you’re first detected meaning it wouldn’t matter how many cameras you crossed you’ll be charged the same. They also propose a daily cap of $7 and potentially discounts or some other structure to support vulnerable groups. One thing they want to avoid is having a bunch of exemptions for certain vehicles, like in London where huge numbers of vehicles have exemptions meaning the system isn’t as effective and just becomes more expensive for everyone else.
An idea of what the pricing structure could look like over a day is shown below however the exact times and costs will be subject to refinement should this go ahead – I imagine we’d want to have that interpeak period end a bit earlier to help manage the after school pick up rush that occurs just after 3pm. Like with parking charges, I suspect that if this was implemented, the times and costs would need to be regularly reviewed.
One of the benefits of a scheme like this is it would also lend itself to being progressively rolled out over time allowing for benefits to start accruing earlier. They envisage this would start with the central city and then roll out to the Isthmus and North Shore before rolling out to the West and South. They also note that could also be linked to the delivery of improved public transport over the next decade with the first phase introduced in line with the opening to the City Rail Link – by which time we’ll also have the Eastern Busway and at least the interim bus improvements to the Northwest.
A part of this work has been to be looking at the wider social impacts, such as for vulnerable households, and officials have been looking into those including interviewing a number of people who fall into this category. Many of them may benefit from the improved travel time reliability but they suggest potential options like discounts or credits to the accounts of eligible people.
The scheme is expected to cost about $185 million to roll out and have an annual operating cost of $84 million and around $55 million every seven years for renewals. This is offset by the revenue generated which as mentioned could be around $200 million annually and has a Benefit Cost Ratio over a 23-year period of 1.8.
Overall I think they’ve come up with a logical and practical scheme and that’s a good start in and of itself. One challenge, and I raised this at the briefing, would be if authorities were required to consult on each time they wanted to expand the scheme. I would also be concerned if it meant that much needed public transport improvements lost support from people who want to avoid charging in their area. On another note though, perhaps it could be a good opportunity to tie in a roll out of red light cameras to every light controlled intersection to improve safety.
Finally, with the release of the report, one thing that has been notable by its absence has been much noise from politicians. It seems no one wants to lead the discussion even though they have mostly expressed support in the past.