Businesses are responding positively to a proposed Auckland CBD congestion charge for commuters – but they warn that consumers will pay the price if freight vehicles aren’t exempted from a $14-a-day fee
What a difference 14 more years of congested roads can make.
There was outrage in Auckland in 2006, when mayor Dick Hubbard backed transport authorities’ proposals for road pricing; back then, the ideas ranged from motorway or Harbour Bridge tolls to a fee cordon around the city’s CBD.
But yesterday, when the Ministry of Transport and Auckland Transport published their new technical investigation report into Auckland congestion pricing, business groups raced to show off their environmental and social credentials. “Qualified support” was the phrase du jour, from Mayor Phil Goff, the AA and others.
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Introducing congestion charging to Auckland and other congested cities was “a matter of when not if”, said the EMA employers group.
“On first blush we support the principle,” said the National Road Carriers Association, noting that congestion was costing $1 billion a year and any congestion charge would need to deliver productivity gains.
The report suggests there could be a peak period travel charge of $3.50 for those who enter the CBD, with a lower charge of $1.50 at other times. Charges for private vehicles would be capped at $7 a day, charges for freight vehicles at $14 a day.
An inner-city cordon could be the first stage of wider road charging in Auckland that could reduce traffic volumes by 8 to 12 per cent – a fall similar to school holiday levels. If government agreed, the fee would be introduced gradually from 2024 or 2025, once the City Rail Link was completed.
Yet amid the chorus of consensus emerged a note of caution: the cost of congestion was unsustainable, but the cost of reducing it should not be borne by freight and transport operators.
Mark Troughear, chief executive of the Freightways courier group, said the Auckland CBD was “extremely challenging for delivery firms to navigate,” so he welcomed ideas to reduce congestion. “It is taking longer to complete deliveries than it ever has.”
Congestion charging had been proven overseas as an effective way to reduce traffic and encourage public transport for daily commuters, once effective public transport options were available.
But contrary to the report’s proposal under which freight vehicles would bear the heaviest costs, Troughear said there was a good argument to exempt commercial vehicles from congestion charges, “so as not to penalise CBD businesses, many of whom are already under a lot of financial stress.”
Council and AT could assist productivity by provisioning adequate loading zones, and allowing approved delivery vehicles to use T3 lanes when bringing product to CBD businesses and city dwellers, he added.
“We are very mindful of cost increases insofar as they may lead to higher food prices for Kiwis – which we work very hard every day to mitigate.”
Countdown, which runs an enormous network of trucks and vans delivering stock to its outlets, and online grocery orders to customers, warned that if retailers had to pay more to freight their goods, then this might be passed on to shoppers.
“For our business in Auckland, we tend to move our freight trucks outside of peak traffic hours as it’s more efficient and means we spend less time idling on Auckland’s roads,” a spokesperson said.
“Our online service means we can move groceries around communities at scale, actually taking cars off the road.”
But she noted that overseas, congestion charges congestion charges impacted on retailers with a drop in foot traffic, and additional costs related to freight and transport. “We are very mindful of cost increases insofar as they may lead to higher food prices for Kiwis – which we work very hard every day to mitigate.”
“We would welcome any conversations with the Council to discuss ways of working together to protect the vibrancy of the CBD and give people more reasons to come into the city.”
– Wilson Parking
Wilson Parking NZ, the biggest private parking operator in Auckland, was last night considering the report. The company suggested that rather than deterring people from coming into town, authorities should be encouraging them to return.
“As one of the largest off-street parking operators in Auckland, Wilson Parking believes there are a number of factors that need to be implemented to reduce congestion in the CBD,” a spokesperson said.
“As a result of Covid-19, more people are choosing to work from home rather than come into their workplaces, directly impacting many CBD businesses. We would welcome any conversations with the Council to discuss ways of working together to protect the vibrancy of the CBD and give people more reasons to come into the city.”