Parliaments Transport and Infrastructure Committee conducting an inquiry into congestion pricing in Auckland and are asking for feedback. If you want to submit, you’ll need to do so by midnight tonight. I’m currently finalising our submission but I’d thought I’d highlight the key points we’ll be submitting on. You can also see our post on The Congestion Question report the inquiry is based on here.
Greater Auckland supports the introduction of congestion charging for Auckland as proposed in The Congestion Question report. Below are our thoughts on some specific aspects of it or other considerations that are needed.
We support the proposed scheme outlined in the Congestion Question report. We believe that officials have come up with an appropriate, achievable and logical scheme and would support further development and implementation of it.
The use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras makes the most sense compared to options such as GPS based tracking and is a technology that already exists overseas and in New Zealand. We note that Auckland Transport have been increasingly using the technology in a variety of situations such as for video analytics and enforcement and so building upon that could be a fairly cost effective solution.
We also support the use of access charges to keep the scheme simple and easy to understand and by including them on all strategic corridors across the region will help to minimise the diversion to local streets and help reduce ‘rat-running’ through residential neighbourhoods.
We agree with the policy principles outlined in the suggested policy that we “have minimum exemptions and discounts to avoid undermining the efficacy of the scheme”
We see there are potentially significant benefits to the introduction of such a scheme. Most notably from providing more reliable journeys but also in either reducing travel demand or encouraging greater uptake of alternative modes. For those alternative modes:
- Improved uptake of public transport will help in improve the efficiency of it and help to justify further service improvements which will further benefit both existing and new users.
- Greater uptake of walking and cycling options will provide ancillary health benefits, helping to reduce the burden of our health system.
The change in travel demand will create some new pressures but it will also help us to avoid needing significant investment in some transport projects. For example, work completed as part of investigations into an additional Waitemata Harbour crossing shows that pricing could reduce or change private vehicle demand by enough that we can avoid needing to spend an estimated $10 billion plus for a road crossing option. Repeated across the region this could have significant and positive impacts on the budgets of both central and local government.
There are additional environmental benefits that will accrue from the reduction in vehicle travel and congestion that is expected to result from the introduction of charging, though there are also additional opportunities to enhance these which we’ll cover later in the submission.
We agree that any revenues generated over and above the cost of running the scheme should be reinvested to improve alternatives or to help fund the measures identified to address equity concerns.
We do not believe that the introduction of congestion pricing should be revenue neutral or to replace existing funding streams such as the Regional Fuel Tax but setting the pricing based on achieving the set goals.
Pricing should be reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis as part of an ongoing process rather than be mandated by the government or council. This is to ensure it can be adjusted in a timely manner. This should be either six-monthly or at a minimum annually alongside any review of public transport and parking fares.
Support mode shift and climate change
The Congestion Question work has focused the design of a pricing scheme on the achieving set levels of network performance improvements, in other words, to reduce travel demand by private vehicles enough that the transport network operates at a certain level of performance.
Auckland’s and New Zealand’s response to climate change is now being viewed with increasing importance. Over the last year we’ve seen the release of the Auckland Climate Plan, the Climate Change Commission’s draft recommendations and the Ministry of Transport recently released their green paper Hīkina te Kohupara – Kia mauri ora ai te iwi Transport Emissions: Pathways to Net Zero by 2050. These documents all highlight, to various degrees, that a significant proportion of our response to climate change will need to come from reducing the amount of driving we do as well as significant increases in the mode share of alternatives.
We note the analysis shows around 50% of all morning peak trips in Auckland are less than 6km in length which is a distance easily achievable by bike. Meanwhile a further 25% of trips are between 6 and 12km in length, a distance that covered quickly and efficiently with e-bikes.
Congestion Pricing has the potential to play a significant role in helping to achieve both of these aims. However, to ensure this is possible, it is critical that any future legislation to enable the introduction of pricing allows for it to also achieve these wider goals.
While the purpose of congestion pricing is to use pricing to improve network performance, it’s important that this takes into consideration our needs to support alternative modes of transport. For example, ensuring that the capacity of a road is considered after we have provided safe facilities for cyclists and priority for buses.
In addition, historically roading projects have been sold on the basis of freeing up local roads, for example, with the Waterview Tunnels, Waka Kotahi said:
Completing the Western Ring Route will create extra motorway capacity, ensuring thousands of vehicles can travel around the city. This will also free up local roads by transferring traffic onto the state highway network.
Following the completion of Waterview no changes were made to those local roads and today many are busier than they were before Waterview was built. With the introduction of congestion pricing we need to ensure that that we lock in any benefits from a reduction in vehicle demand with changes street space allocation.
The focus of the scheme on capturing all movements on strategic corridors will help in reducing the benefits of ‘rat-running’ however this could further be protected against with initiatives like low traffic neighbourhoods.
We support the focus given to ensuring equity is considered and is an integral part of any scheme. However the paper is light on detail with suggestions for how equity concerns can be mitigated.
We believe that it is incorrect to assume the status quo is fair and equitable.
Particular care needs to be given to ensuring that alternatives work and are taken up by those most vulnerable to the introduction of pricing schemes. We note that currently public transport and cycle use tends to be lower amongst lower income communities. This can be as a result of alternatives not suiting the trip patterns of the people in these communities i.e. public transport not operating at times for some shift workers. Mode choice is also sometimes seen as a status symbol driven by stereotypes that have been perpetuated that car ownership is a sign of success and public transport is only for those that can’t afford a car.
We believe that the introduction of congestion charging should occur as soon as possible to make the most of mode shift and emissions reductions benefits. This means not waiting for all alternatives to be perfect before introducing the scheme. There will always be some individuals or trips for which alternative modes will not be possible or practical however this should not considered a blocker as those trips will still benefit from the reduction in driving demand from those who do have other options.
We agree with the proposal to start the scheme in and around the city centre and to expand it out over time. However, we believe the timing for future stages should be accelerated from what is proposed so that the benefits from it can be achieved sooner.
We believe there is a risk that by tying the introduction of charging to the provision of alternatives it will increase the potential opposition to those alternatives as a means to avoid having to pay.
An ideal time to introduce the first stage of a congestion charging scheme could be around 2025. By then some of the key public transport projects will be completed, or nearing completion which will further enhance alternatives. These projects include the City Rail Link, the Eastern Busway, extension to the Northern Busway, improvements to services between the Airport and Manukau as well as interim improvements to buses along the Northwestern motorway. We should also have clarity about the future of light rail and depending on what the outcome of that is, we may be nearing the completion of some sections.
We would also encourage that as part of the introduction of congestion charging interim implementation of other planned rapid transit routes be brought forward. Based on the Future Rapid Transit Network map included in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project this would include and Henderson to Constellation, Manukau to Botany, New Lynn to Onehunga and Ellerslie to Panmure.
A Shadow Trial
We believe that a shadow trial could be a useful opportunity to gather data to help with further assessment of the impacts of the scheme before it launches. This could be conducted by making use of Auckland Transport’s existing camera network and which is capable of Automatic Number Plate Recognition. This could be focused on the initial area where charging would be introduced and help in providing a better baseline of demand. In addition it would give a better understanding of the number of vulnerable road users who would be impacted by the change as well as potentially identifying possible improvements to the provision of alternatives. There are likely transport planning benefits that would accrue from this even if congestion charging wasn’t to proceed.
This same process could be used for future expansions of the scheme.