The Automobile Association, big city mayors and even truckies say there has never been this level of consensus about congestion pricing and it should be debated sooner rather than later, Dileepa Fonseka reports

A move by Transport Minister Phil Twyford to bat away the idea of a congestion charge in the “immediate future” is being dismissed as politics as usual. 

Twyford told Newsroom in an interview that a congestion charge was “inevitable,” but wouldn’t be implemented in the immediate future, despite a move from the National Party to soften their position on the issue. Twyford also said it could form part of a future GPS-based scheme to charge people for their use of the road. 

The Automobile Association’s Infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said Twyford had effectively “pulled the handbrake” on the congestion charging debate, while the co-founder of car sharing scheme Mevo said he was “not surprised” at the move. Road Transport Forum Chief Executive Nick Leggett noted “congestion charging is always too hard for any government”. 

But Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff said the comments “indicated a readiness to consider and ultimately adopt such a system,” and said he was pleased both National and Labour supported such a charge. 

Congestion charging attaches a monetary cost to road-users who decide to use roads at peak times with the aim of smoothing out demand and giving people an incentive to use public transport or travel off-peak.


The congestion charge has been a hot potato central government politicians have tried to avoid, with governments of different stripes failing to implement it while in office.

“The problem is getting worse over time, I don’t think anybody thinks traffic is getting any better.” 

But local government politicians haven’t displayed nearly the same level of hesitation in extolling its virtues. It was the basis of a rare moment of unity between Auckland Mayoral candidates Phil Goff and John Tamihere and formed a critical part of Wellington Mayor Andy Foster’s election platform too. 

And Irvine said there were signs a broad section of the population are warming to the idea.

“We have seen a degree of consensus around it between officials, industry, academia and commentators in a way which not have existed in any previous discussion around it and in a way which is very different to the way we’ve seen in places like Australia,” Irvine said.

Irvine said AA surveys had shown an “openness” among the association’s membership towards congestion charges, especially in Auckland. 

“Getting people to feel comfortable about paying new charges on existing roads is always going to be a hard sell, but if you can demonstrate to them that the benefits stack up in terms of decongestion, our evidence suggests you’ve certainly got something to work with if you’re a policymaker,” he said.

Both Phil Goff and John Tamihere advocated for a congestion charge during the recent local body elections in Auckland. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The most common concerns members had about congestion charging revolved around whether it would disproportionately affect the poor and how it would be implemented. 

“People get the concept and what they recognise is we have to think about bold approaches…people are up for the conversation,” Irvine said.

Goff told Newsroom in a statement he supported congestion charging in principle but there would need to be an “affordable, efficient and reliable” public transport alternative in place first along with broad support from the public.

“Congestion charging is most successful when the reasons behind it are understood, accepted and supported by the wider public,” he said.

“That means the system needs to be designed carefully, consulted widely and bipartisan support gained to ensure that it will work successfully and equitably.”

‘Use it to replace the regional fuel tax’

Goff also said a congestion charge, if implemented, should replace Auckland’s regional fuel tax. 

Finn Lawrence, co-founder of car-sharing scheme Mevo, said if it was up to him he’d implement a congestion charge today. 

Congestion charges had worked everywhere they had been implemented, reducing car ownership and increasing public transport usage, he said.

“The problem is getting worse over time, I don’t think anybody thinks traffic is getting any better.” 

“Always too hard”

Leggett said he had sympathy with the idea of waiting until the GPS technology for road user charging came online to look at implementing a congestion charge.

But he suggested a congestion charging trial in certain parts of Wellington and Auckland would be easy to implement and could be used to fund transport upgrades in the interim. 

“Congestion charging is always too hard for any government and this one isn’t the first to decide that.”

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