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Congestion charging could work if offset by productivity gains

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Introducing congestion charging to Auckland and other congested cities around New Zealand is a matter of when not if but the conversation with the road using public needs to start now, says the EMA.

The Ministry of Transport today released The Congestion Question report into the impact of congestion charging as an option for changing road user habits in Auckland and reducing peak congestion. But more work is needed to convince the public and the freight industry of the benefits and productivity gains before charges can be introduced, says EMA Head of Advocacy and Strategy, Alan McDonald.

The report suggests charges of up to $3.50 per vehicle to enter the CBD at peak times with a cap of $7 per day on private vehicles and $14 on freight and service vehicles to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by eight to 12 per cent. Another option looks at graduated charges, based on the time of day, on the wider Auckland arterial and motorway network. Both have their faults and merits.

"Those reductions would make travelling on Auckland roads the same as driving during the school holidays all year round," says Mr McDonald. "But overseas experience shows introducing trial periods is worthwhile to demonstrate the benefits to the private and freight sectors of road user charging.

"For example, in Stockholm trial runs and other measures dramatically reduced traffic volumes in the city and when charging was introduced full time people were more accepting of the new regime.

"Changes in driving patterns reduced peak private vehicle use by around four per cent and public transport use jumped nine per cent. For freight and business traffic users they need to be convinced that productivity gains from less time on the road will accrue and offset the additional costs of congestion charges.

"We also need to be careful in Auckland that we are not too cautious or timid about introducing these charges. For example, while growing rapidly, public transport use is still growing slower than private vehicle use and realistically in Auckland we are unlikely to ever have a comprehensive public transport alternative to roads for getting around our awkward, geographically spread out city. Providing a toll-free road network to mirror existing arterials and motorways is virtually impossible.

"We also need to ensure any charging regime does not disadvantage those on lower incomes who still have to travel at peak times and may not have access to viable public transport alternatives."

However, congestion charging to encourage more people to travel at off-peak times does work to better utilise existing capacity on roading corridors and does encourage wider public transport use bringing, productivity, travel time reduction and emission reduction benefits to cities and communities.

"We also can’t look at congestion charging in isolation as the answer for Auckland and other regions. Auckland is just one city in the EMA region that needs improved public transport networks and enhanced traffic management measures, which are another under-utilised tool in managing congestion.

The EMA would continue to gather the views of its member businesses on what congestion charging would mean for them and share those views with Government, its agencies and Auckland Council.

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