new auckland

Auckland’s $58m congestion charging plan

Congestion charging plans for Auckland are moving closer to reality with a $58-million project included in a 10-year transport plan.

The project to create the infrastructure to support congestion charging is listed in Auckland Transport’s draft Regional Land Transport Plan.

If Auckland’s results after introducing congestion charges match other countries, every commute could be like a school holiday commute, with 15-30 percent less traffic.

The draft Regional Land Transport Plan does not include detail of how the $58m will be spent, describing it only as “infrastructure to support the implementation of congestion pricing”. Currently it is included as an unfunded project within the draft plan.

Auckland Transport told Newsroom the figure is a provisional amount, based on what might be needed to put congestion charging infrastructure in place.

The draft plan does not include the potential impact of introducing congestion pricing.

If approved, the introduction of the charges could mean Aucklanders face a triple whammy of costs in coming years, including regional and nationwide fuel taxes, as well as congestion charges.

The draft plan refers to an investigation into the feasibility of such charging currently underway: a joint Council and Government three phase project called the Congestion Question.

A member of the project’s steering group and Auckland Council’s manager transport and infrastructure strategy, David Hawkey, said in February the public would hear more about the project once the team was closer to putting together a list of options. 

He was eager not to confuse conversations about congestion charging with ones about fuel taxes.

“There is a significant amount of consultation going on, I suppose a type of revenue collection tool for transport, which has a different policy purpose. It will be important not to get those processes ... mixed up.”

The Council was told the purpose of congestion charging was to reduce congestion. Revenue earned from the activity was seen as a side-effect.

Singapore, the first country in the world to implement similar charges, gathers approximately $160m per year from them.

Introduced in 1990, Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system encourages drivers to avoid peak hours. Overhead gantries communicate with a card reader installed in each vehicle and extract a toll when the car passes underneath.

The toll changes depending on traffic conditions. The system aims to keep the traffic speed between 45-65km per hour on expressways and 20-30km per hour on arterial roads. If speeds are lower, the toll increases, if they are higher, the toll decreases. Tolls range from $1 to $6.40.

“There will be consequences on some people from this scheme. For it work, to change behaviours, it sort of has to bite a bit.”

Singapore’s ERP started with three gantries, these slowly increased as traffic moved to other roads to avoid paying tolls. Now over 80 gantries toll the city-state which has a land area slightly bigger than Lake Taupō.

While Singapore’s system is network-based, there are other options to congestion used in other countries. Stockholm and London use a cordon-based or area-based system. Dubai uses a corridor-based system where key roads in congested areas are tolled.

Auckland though, presents different issues to overseas cities where congestion charging projects have been introduced. Our widespread congestion is not conveniently confined to a city centre and our public transport infrastructure is not as robust as countries such as Singapore.

Adding another cost to commuting could impact those the least able to pay, especially for those who have been squeezed to outer suburbs by rising rents. Discounts could be introduced, but the Congestion Question report - and Hawkey - warn against limiting the effectiveness of congestion charging.

“There will be consequences on some people from this scheme. For it work, to change behaviours, it sort of has to bite a bit,” said Hawkey.

Also being investigated by the Congestion Question project is the technology best used to run a congestion charging system.

Automatic number plate recognition, currently used on some New Zealand toll roads, could be deployed using cameras mounted on lamp posts. This system provides the ability to match car number plates to the owners and possibly a charging system.

Singapore is planning a shift from gantries by 2020. Their plan is to install free on-board units in every car which link to aglobal navigation satellite system. This will allow distance travelled on congested roads to be factored into costs and would require no further physical infrastructure be built to expand congestion charges to new roads. The units will also allow messages be displayed to drivers, warning them of congestion charges and suggesting alternate routes.

Public acceptance is seen as the make or break factor in an adoption of a congestion charging scheme.

At the presentation of the phase one Congestion Question report Councillor Cathy Casey said public acceptance will require far more public involvement with the project.

“How we are going to involve Aucklanders in the complete change to the fabric to our society?

“At the moment it is being done by a group of people behind closed doors and coming to this committee at various stages but as a councillor who needs to act in the best interests of Aucklanders I don’t feel I’ve had a great say in that decision-making.”

Public engagement with the Congestion Question project will not be sought until options are selected to discuss. Phase two of the project, which may include a long-list of options, is expected to be released in September.

Public submissions on the draft Regional Land Transport Plan, which includes the provisional $58m for a congestion pricing infrastructure, are open until May 14.

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