Time of use pricing schemes are a step closer in Auckland: What you need to know

It’s no secret Auckland has a congestion problem and without action, it will get worse.

For decades, central and local governments have been investigating time of use charging, a form of congestion pricing, as part of the solution in the supercity and elsewhere.

It involves charging people for taking their vehicle onto the busiest streets at the busiest times. Rather than pay the fee, some people avoid it by travelling another way or at a different time. Meaning there’s less traffic on those busy roads.

The money collected from those who keep using the roads, meanwhile, can go into things like new or better roads, or cycleways.

Sounds like a win, win then?

Maybe not if you’re someone who has few, if any, alternatives to copping the charge.

The problem

While the use of public transport as well as walking and cycling is becoming more popular, private vehicle travel still accounts for nearly 75 percent of commuting travel across the Auckland region. And as the region’s population increases, the distance travelled by private vehicles is expected to grow.

This is a concerning prospect for a city that’s already known for its congestion.

If nothing’s done, severe congestion could increase by up to nearly 40 percent for cars and by 50 percent for the freight network by 2048, data suggests.

As well as being frustrating for individuals and businesses, congestion is bad for environmental and human health.

Increased travel times limit access to economic, educational, and social opportunities. Plus, there are fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, and loss of time and schedule delay costs.

The costs of Auckland’s congestion have been widely quoted as about $1 billion per year.

Progress to date

Research has found that while most people tend to pay the charge and continue driving, it only takes a small reduction in vehicle volumes to have a significant impact on congestion. A 2020 report suggested a pricing system could reduce Auckland’s congestion by 8-12 percent. This is equivalent to travel experienced during the school holidays.

In 2021, a select committee inquiry recommended progressing to focus on the impacts of various pricing options and their technical requirements.

It highlighted two schemes for further investigation:

* A city centre option, where congestion pricing would be implemented in Auckland Central, with State Highway 1 and State Highway 16 acting as the borders where a fee would be incurred.

* A strategic corridors option, where pricing would be implemented on 220 kilometres of state highways and main arterial roads in the wider region.

The government and Auckland Council generally agreed with the select committee’s recommendations.

Labour sought cross-party support for congestion charging legislation while it was in government, but couldn’t get National to support it without also committing to ditching the Auckland regional fuel tax.

The National-Act coalition agreement promised to “work with [the council] to implement time of use road charging to reduce congestion and improve travel time reliability”.

In November, 2023, Auckland Council voted to start work on a scheme which could come into effect as soon as 2025. But officials now admit 2026 is a more likely timeframe.

Meanwhile, the government’s transport plan mentioned congestion charging will play a “key role” in the delivery of transport infrastructure.

In June, 2024, various options were presented to Auckland Council’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee. The next stage of work will focus on detailed analysis of these options. Auckland Transport clarified to RNZ that “no decisions have been made as to where time of use charging could be implemented”.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has suggested charges between $3.50 and $5 a trip for travel during peak times on selected routes. He didn’t answer questions about timeframes.

Criticisms

Currently, motorists pay for road use through petrol taxes, road user charges, registration fees, and council rates. But these charges are consistent regardless of the time or location of travel.

Some have argued people on low incomes would be unfairly affected by the time of use fees.

Shift workers have fewer alternative travel options than those who work typical business hours, for example.

Women may be more affected than other groups because they are more likely to be in caregiving roles which require more trips.

And it’s been reported South Auckland residents would be hit hard due to a lack of reliable and affordable public transport.

“A lot of families find it more economical to travel by car than through public transport,” Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board chair Apulu Reece Autagavaia said.

But a high number of exemptions would reduce a scheme’s effectiveness, the select committee said, in response to feedback along these lines. Instead, existing support to people with low incomes and disabilities could be boosted with revenue raised.

Making it happen

It’s been reported congestion charging schemes will make use of new tolling infrastructure. (Current systems are highly inefficient and in need of upgrades.)

Auckland Transport said it’s looking at sharing technology with Waka Kotahi to reduce set up costs.

It aims to use cameras to snap number plates to charge for using strategic roads from early 2026, executive general manager of integrated networks Mark Lambert told RNZ.

But before any scheme can be implemented, central government must pass a new law. The Transport Ministry told RNZ it’s working “at speed” to introduce legislation to enable time of use charging.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown said the government “is committed to passing legislation that will enable local authorities such as Auckland Council to introduce time of use charging”.

“I intend to introduce legislation […] later this year.”

International examples

The theory of congestion pricing was developed in 1920.

Different types of schemes are currently operating in several cities around the world, such as Stockholm, London, Dubai, Milan and Singapore’s central area.

Stockholm employs cordon charging, where vehicles are charged for crossing a ring or line of charge points across a series of roads at specific times of day.

In London, vehicles are charged for crossing or driving within a ring at specific times. This is called area charging.

In Dubai, specific, busy highways and secondary routes incur a charge, as part of a corridor charging scheme.

New Zealand’s Transport Ministry regards Singapore, with its combination of corridor and network charging – where vehicles are charged based on a combination of the time of day, location, and distance travelled – as a leading international example.

Singapore has progressively introduced charges on its busiest roads. The charges vary depending on demand, and rates are fixed for three months at a time. Gantries are used to gather information about trips for billing purposes, with plans to move to in-vehicle devices.

In New York last month, a long-awaited congestion pricing plan, the first of its kind in the nation, was postponed, just weeks before it was to go into effect.

Governor Kathy Hochul said she feared that instituting a toll would “create another obstacle to our economic recovery”, referring to the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s economy.

The decision angered environmentalists, transit advocates and economists, with some saying it was made for political reasons in a critical election year.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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