Congestion charges proposed for both Auckland and Tauranga are being held up as the answer to our gridlock crises.
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown wants to chomp through red tape, objections, and even consultation in his hurry to slap a peak hour payment of up to $5 on two jammed-up stretches of city motorway in particular.
“It’s a simple solution, well-tried around the world, nothing particularly new about it,” he told RNZ’s Morning Report last week.
His answers to specific objections about the charges perhaps disadvantaging the less well-off, people with children to drop off, and tradies, generally started with the word “bollocks”.
Auckland Council’s transport and infrastructure committee has endorsed a plan to create a team to progress a “time of use” system of charging, which will probably use number plate recognition to discourage drivers hitting the road at peak times.
The mayor wants action on it now.
“If you’re not in a rush, nothing happens here other than the speed of global warming,” he says.
Well, it seems Auckland hasn’t been in a rush, because such schemes were first talked about 12 years ago.
If they work so well, why are they taking so long to put in place?
Tim Welch, a senior lecturer in urban planning at the University of Auckland, says it’s like anything – “Why does it take us so long to reduce the number of car parks on major corridors that could use buses, or protected bike lanes?
“It’s just any time something about transportation or addressing cars … the kind of fight or flight response is ‘Oh, you’re going to take my car away from me’. It gets really politically sensitive.
“So even though it’s been supported by both major parties and it’s been supported by the public to some degree, it’s just something that politicians don’t necessarily want to stick their neck out on.”
But congestions charges work, and the most-cited example is London.
“London’s congestion charge started 20 years ago now in 2003,” says Welch. “Within the first year they saw something like a 15 percent reduction in traffic coming into the cities and a 30 percent decrease in the congestion overall in the city, and a 30 percent bump in the number of people using buses – and that’s just with a five pound charge.”
He says London is now becoming one of the cycling capitals of the world because they have less traffic to compete with.
But while less gridlock in Auckland would be great, Welch says you don’t want no congestion at all.
“It’s a sign of a good city,” he says.
“If you go to a city and see no congestion at all, there’s something going on, right? Either you’re in the middle of a pandemic like we saw recently or nobody wants to be there for some reason.
“But the levels we’ve reached in Auckland are starting to creep in to the point where it does make it really difficult to do things.”
The Detail also speaks to long-time Stuff Auckland issues reporter Todd Niall.
He says there was a lot of work put into the issue of congestion charging when the Super City was first amalgamated under Mayor Len Brown.
“They had big studies and consultation to look at different ways of funding Auckland’s transport needs, and it came up with a congestion charge as part of the mix.
“We sort of forget that that is already the path that we decided to go on. We’ve got at the moment a regional fuel tax for Auckland: that was always envisioned as a 10-year tax that would precede the introduction of a congestion charge.
“But the work that’s gone on, mostly at the government end, on a congestion charge or a time of use charge, just seems to have gone on forever without much coming out of the end of it yet.”
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