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.

Proposed Scheme

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

Benefits

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.

Revenues

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.

Street Reallocation

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.

Equity Considerations

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.

Timing

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.

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58 comments

  1. One of the effects of London’s congestion pricing was the buses went faster. This makes them available to do more trips for the same number of buses , so wins creating more wins.

    1. I think the buses went faster for a short while only!
      In October 2019 it took me 25 mins to get from Green Park station to Piccadilly circus on a bus (#19 I think). That’s about a kilometre.
      Yes I should have walked but kept thinking it must get better.
      My point is that the effects of the congestion charge wore off over time as people just factored the charge into their budgets.
      I accept Auckland is not London but still…………

      1. Hence the need to lock in the benefits by reducing traffic capacity and reallocating to PT priority, walking, cycling.

      2. My initial thought was, you should walk that! It’s a short walk through one of the nicest parts of central London. 🙂
        I wonder how all the cycle infrastructure has affected that now.
        Last time I was in London was ’18 and the area around Blackfriars bridge was completely transformed with cycleways. It was awesome. Other parts, especially around Kings Cross were still pretty awful.

        1. King’s Cross is still a hellhole tbh but if you’re around there you could simply use the tube to get where you need to go.

      3. My reading suggests that the benefits in London were largely cancelled out by the proliferation of Uber and other ride share. That can be fixed by not allowing it as occurs in some European cities.
        Why would you spend $3b on the CRL and allow ride share to compete against it?

  2. Curious that there is no transitional boundary between mangere bridge and onehunga. They are closely linked through schools, work and shops. Will negatively affect mangere bridge and mangere residents.
    They are also not greatly served by public transport. Light rail is far off. 309 is half hourly, although 38 is frequent.

    1. This will probably be a common issue to come up. However, it’s important to note that because the charge is a corridor-based charge, not a cordon, Mangere to Onehunga drivers won’t be any more affected than, say, Three Kings or Hillsborough to Onehunga drivers. The difference will be that the latter drivers will get charged no matter where they drive and Mangere drivers will still be able to drive free anywhere south.

      It will be important to improve that PT link though.

    2. Those aren’t transitional boundaries, they are boundaries with exact locations to be confirmed at a later date.

  3. While we are there let’s “fix” hospital waiting lists by setting a charge at the level where Mr Rich can get a highly subsidised open heart surgery quicker because Mr Poor and Mr Average can no longer afford it.

    1. That’s a completely asinine comparison.
      As long as we’re giving away access to driving everywhere at all times for free, we might as well make flying free too so everyone can fly everywhere they want at all times.
      We already charge for food, and luxury foods cost less. We charge for access to the PT network but not for the driving network, which requires enough wealth to purchase an expensive piece of equipment. Land transport is probably the only thing where we charge less for the luxury option than the standard option. And don’t talk to me about the fuel tax. In Auckland you’re paying $0.87/l, according to MBIE. An almost reasonable car will use about 8l/100km, so it’ll cost you about $0.70 to drive 10km, far less than the bus.

      1. In my mind there is a big difference between charging full price for something (like food) and charging a price just to stop Joe Bloggs using it (especially when we are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure that Joe Blogs has helped pay for).
        Congestion is an outcome of subsidised roads; it is very similar to Venezuela where they had an issue with people using highly subsidised electricity to mine bitcoin. Don’t try and fix the effect (congestion or bitcoin mining), fix the root cause (remove subsidies and move to user pays full cost).

        1. Food isn’t charged on a user pays basis, it’s charged on a supply and demand basis.

          Congestion charging is similar, whereas user pays simply ensures users cover the cost it doesn’t necessarily match demand to supply.

        2. Its not very similar as there is still a big subsidy going on. I don’t pay tax to subsidise Caviar that I can’t then afford to buy myself. I have no issue with it being supply and demand or user pays, but not a mixed model of “subsidised for the rich”.

      2. As a point of correction, people can fly for ‘free’ in the same way as people drive for ‘free’.
        Of course if you don’t own your own aircraft or car, you have to pay.
        For most people, flying is more like catching a bus. It’s public transport.
        What you are suggesting would be that people that own their own cars or Lear jets should pay a fee, but those of us who take the bus or fly Air NZ, should be subsidised and encouraged.
        I for one look forward to using my AT Hop card at the boarding gate 🙂

    2. This is such a tired old argument. Pretty much everyone accepts that some things should be free of charge and unrestricted (access to public places), some should be free of charge and prioritised based on need (medicine, fire service, education) some should be priced monetarily (food, clothing, books) and that the state should ensure that people have enough money to access their key needs.

      You’ll probably notice that every item I listed is something that the government directly provide. Moving something from one category to the next doesn’t mean someone wants to move everything to that category.

      1. This doesn’t fit in any of those categories; it is both highly subsidised and priced, where the sole purpose of the price is not to recoup some outgoings, but to reduce demand from poor people so that rich people get better access to the public good. Yes some other things probably do fit in that category (museums), but that doesn’t make it a good category. I would have no issue with user pays (in fact I think it would be great), but this is quite different don’t you agree?

        1. Thanks for clearing that up, that does seem incredibly unfair. Am I understanding correctly that you effectively want to remove the rates subsidy for roads and replace that income with congestion/use charges?

        2. I sense a touch of sarcasm. A congestion charge to pay for roads is different to a congestion charge to stop Joe Bloggs using it and different to a congestion charge so the mayor can go on a bender holiday. They all may have the same outcome but only one seems fair to me.

        3. No sarcasm, I just genuinely had not thought about the implications you mentioned.

          Can you clarify whether you are opposed to peak period charging to ‘keep Joe Bloggs off the road’ even if subsidies are removed?

        4. In that case I am not so sure. My personal opinion is that the congestion itself is like a market price: once it gets to a level where it is unacceptable, people will find alternatives. If Joe is happy to sit in traffic for hours because he has no better alternative, it seems a bit mean to price him out because others don’t like the traffic.
          To me the real fix is to run transport as an SOE that has to pay for new roads / upkeep / environment damage and also make a profit on investment. Taxes would go down a lot, transport costs would got up a lot, alternative modes would not need to be subsidised as driving would be so expensive, and we wouldn’t need a congestion charge. But I doubt it would be a popular idea.

        5. I think I agree with you JimboJones (if I understand your argument correctly). A congestion charge is very different that user pays. If we were to move where we charged for all roads instead of petrol tax then we would get fairer outcomes. Then we would no longer subsidize roads and we could get better economic outcomes. A congestion charge may have an outcome that many here like but the means mean that our poorer communities won’t use the road anymore. That’s all it means.

        6. Is a congestion charge not part of user pays though? We widen roads to address congestion, shouldn’t the users who contribute to that congestion pay for that cost?

        7. The reality is that we need to reduce vehicle emissions by so much that people will need to drive less; the models show that no other means, either in isolation or together will achieve the required reductions.
          Is it equitable that poor people should drive less? I have always favoured using the proceeds from a congestion tax (or whatever mechanism is chosen) to fund the introduction of cheap monthly and yearly public transport passes. Allowing people to abandon their cars in favour of cheap public transport ensures a better financial outcome for those who choose to do so.

        8. Jimbo, interesting if you use your argument for time. Currently we have a system where congestion prices access to roads through time rather than money. Currently rich people are subsidized by time poor people, and the system is set up to force people to pay through the nose whether they can spare the time or not.

          I’ll just point out too that money poor people tend to be time poor as well.

        9. We already have a user pays system that funds our roads. It’s called the RUC. If this was applied to all vehicles, then it is very much a user pays system.
          The Government could then remove fuel duty on petrol and we are done.
          Road charging should be about managing congestion in cities and encouraging mode shift.
          Vehicles running on zero tail pipe emissions can be exempt and that can be controlled through number plate recognition. Simply put ‘H’ on the plate for HFC, ‘B’ for biofuels and ‘E’ for battery electric.

  4. There is discussion of environmental and climate impacts of congestion in the submission, however I think there needs to be some reference to the pollution created by the individual vehicles, will EV be charged the same as a diesel vehicle, of the same weight/type.

    I understand their are equity issues raised by the having newer and potentially more expensive vehicles paying less but we’ll need to start thinking about these issues at some point.

    1. We should also be emissions testing all vehicles at WOF/COF inspection and adjusting their charges for those certificates to the emissions produced.

  5. Regarding the rat runs that were benefitted initially by Waterview and now no longer: let’s think about blocking some of them off. Is this what you mean by low traffic neighbourhoods? It’s far too easy to nip through the side streets to avoid the arterials – through roads between Mt Eden & Dominion and Dominion & Sandringham Roads for eg would be a whole lot nicer if people couldn’t do that, with only minor inconvenience for drivers, and benefits for other modes.

      1. The local gossip is the Onehunga trial has been halted,after two nights in a row of boxes being moved

        1. Brilliant, I’ll be off to block Queen Street two nights in a row and the council will have to halt vehicle access. The other option is to , you know, charge the criminal who is removing it all….

    1. That is essentially what is meant my low traffic neighbourhoods. The difference that I can see is that LTNs try do do a while area at once and therefore are able to balance impacts. Rather than one street closing one by one and having issues that could have been solved if it’d been planned better.

  6. So this is the equivalent of the traffic lights on motorway on ramps,set to ensure traffic flow,higher congestion charge equals longer red light.The traffic lights are equitable though,you can’t buy your way out of it.Can see those that can afford it,will just pay and drive,those that can’t will have to adjust,i. e,change jobs,car pool,public transport,not entirely fair,not sure it ever will be,though

    1. The current system is unfair, people who don’t have much money, but need to get places, also usually don’t have much time. People currently don’t see their children 5 days a week because they spend so much time commuting.

      Equity means asking *how* something is unfair, not just whether it is unfair.

    2. The traffic lights favour people that are already on the motorway, trying to displace trips short and medium distance off of them onto local streets and allowing people further out to get in faster. Encouraging sprawl. So depending on the demographics of the outer suburbs that’s not necessarily equitable.

  7. “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.”

    From the sounds of it you’re upset that they didn’t reduce the capacity of the local roads so that they were once again congested?

    Also, who are the “many” roads that are busier now than they were before, excluding the obvious examples of the ones that feed the motorway interchanges? Is this meant to be like Upper Harbour Dr that has remained grid locked apparently for the past 10 years since SH18 was built.

    1. Reducing the capacity of the local roads would have allowed for road reallocation to other modes… this means there would have been modeshift, and there would’ve been fewer conflicts between people not in cars and people in cars… leading to many positive benefits.

      Not doing so meant Waterview Connection simply added capacity with no modeshift potential. In some places the congestion returned within a few months. In other places it takes a few years. But the ultimate effect is more traffic, more emissions, and more car dependence throughout the city. And no benefits for walking or cycling.

      1. You make it pretty obvious that you don’t care in the slightest about congestion, and are just using it as a tool to push your anti-car agenda.

        I’m sure all the people who worked on delivering the extending walking and cycling facilities as part of that project will appreciate your claim it was of “no benefits for walking or cycling”.

    2. Upper Harbour drive is terrible, especially around Brigham Creek because of that awfully designed interchange with the motorway.

      1. Upper Harbour Dr is on the North Shore and about 5km from Brigham Creek.

        What’s wrong with the design of that interchange out of interest?

  8. “The use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras makes the most sense”

    Does it really? Why then do you have extremely high volume roads such as in Chile and Sao Paulo that use ETC (electronic toll collection) with transponders. These systems seem way more efficient in terms of collection costs and they also pass a significant portion of the infrastructure cost to the user i.e. the cost of the transponder.

    1. Those systems use transponders because when they were set up transponders were the best technology available. At the time Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) didn’t exist or was in its infancy.

      14 years ago ANPR was available but considered less reliable and more expensive than using transponders: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/research/reports/320/docs/320.pdf

      Both camera hardware and computer software technology has moved on a lot since then. ANPR is now very reliable and cheap to implement. It doesn’t require any specialised hardware anymore, anyone can do it using a computer webcam and open source software.

      Every vehicle already has number plates, which are linked to its owner in a database that NZTA already owns. So the cheapest and easiest way to implement congestion pricing is to implement a system based on ANPR.

      1. Jack
        So why is the admin cost of systems like the Northern Gateway toll road so expensive?

        1. The admin cost is in the billing system, not the ANPR, which is expensive and only spread over 3 toll roads. We can use the same billing system for congestion pricing, spreading the cost over 200+ roads.

      2. Other countries that use ANPR presumably have a bit of a bureaucratic headache chasing up payments from overseas-registered cars.

        We don’t have to deal with this problem. I’ve lived in NZ for many years and have only seen foreign-registered vehicles twice. One was a Danish motorcycle; the other was a Swiss Land Rover.

        ANPR is proven technology – let’s stick with what works and is already used.

  9. How can a billing system ever be more efficient than a transponder system where payments are made upfront?

    1. The efficiency of the billing system would increase if it were used by people every day, although it seems like it would need some changes. For example every time I go on a toll road at the moment, I inevitably forget to pay immediately, and pay when they send me a letter. If I was using it all the time, and could enter my card details then they’d never have to send me a letter.

      The identification system would be entirely different than the billing system I presume (I haven’t used overseas toll systems though) These transponders would have an id linked to some account on a server that has the amount of money you have stored on it, and it gets charged against that account when you go through. We would just be replacing the Id in the transponder with the licence plate on your car, which is linked though the NZTA to you / an account.

      Currently you can also pre pay in NZ, I just always forget to.

    2. The existing system accepts payments upfront. Transponders and ANPR are both ways to recognise a vehicle and are completely independent of any billing system.

      1. “I inevitably forget to pay immediately, and pay when they send me a letter.”
        ok, so its the fact that the NZ system is not money up front that makes it less efficient?

        1. The current system can be modified to encourage upfront payment, not require everyone to get transponders, and use number plate recognition. Better for everyone.
          The American toll roads wouldn’t be any more “money up front” than this. It’s not like they have auto deploying spikes or machine guns when your transponder or whatever doesn’t have any money on it and you drive on a toll road. They’ll send you a letter telling you to give them some money.

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