Auckland peak hour traffic congestion has grown by a third in just three years, reinforcing the need for a form of congestion pricing to reduce the number of vehicles on the city’s roads.

A report to the Auckland Council recommending it takes the next step to advance charging for use of the roads says motorists need to allow around 50 percent longer for each journey to be assured of arriving at destinations on time.

Even with a road-building programme congestion would worsen in Auckland unless pricing is introduced, otherwise traffic volumes could delay motorists by a further 30 percent longer than during peak hours now and up to 50 percent longer during the day.

Total daily vehicle trips in Auckland are projected to rise from 5.4 million to 7.8 million in the next 30 years, with the distance travelled by the private vehicles set to rise by half in that time.

A study of international examples of congestion pricing says automatic number plate recognition technology is likely to be Auckland’s best immediate answer but a step-by-step rather than universal city scheme is recommended.

The report says the opening of the Waterview Tunnel in June last year seems to have stabilised congestion levels but “continued demand for travel will see congestion trends resume”.

Traffic delays have an effect on people reaching work and education facilities and a negative impact on Auckland’s productivity – “which, given Auckland produces 37 percent of national GDP, has implications for the whole of New Zealand’s economy”.

The Auckland Council planning committee will consider the report, which recommends extensive public consultation in the next phase, tomorrow. It is part of an expected three-phase process set up by the Council and the Government to work out what system to implement.

It follows the Auckland Transport Alignment Project which in 2016 looked forward 30 years and found that charging motorists could help restrict demand for cars and cut congestion.

“To maximise the benefits of our investments we need to get more out of the existing network by increasing throughput of people and goods,” the new report says.

Four types of congestion pricing have been examined – a London-style ‘area-based’ system charging vehicles for crossing a boundary or being within that boundary at specific times, a cordon-based system like in Stockholm (not charging for movement within the cordoned area), a corridor-based set-up like in Singapore for specific highways or secondary routes, or a network-based system charging for all congested roads.

The report says beyond the automatic number plate recognition technology, new options include a global navigation system by satellite (GNSS) which requires a device placed in every car and greater use of smartphones to alert drivers to congestion pricing points and allow them to pay.

It says: “Congestion pricing shows real promise as a means to help address Auckland’s transport challenges. We have learnt valuable lessons from international experiences of congestion pricing about the importance of public engagement and the need to take a staged approach.”

The report does not discuss likely prices for any of the charging options.

“We have more work to do before we can say how congestion pricing might impact on Aucklanders and whether it is a good idea. The next two phases of the project will evaluate different pricing options before we reach a recommendation on whether or not it should be introduced and what it might look like.”

Members of the public will get a say in this next phase which goes until August, and could include demonstrations and even pilot charging schemes.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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