March Madness begins - is congestion charging the solution?

Today's the first day of university, and the beginning of the dreaded 'March Madness' on Auckland's roads.

Auckland Transport's beefed up public transport, adding 6500 seats across its rail and bus networks. At 7am Monday morning it warned on Twitter that traffic was building up "in all the usual places". 

"Friday a week ago, it took me two hours and 10 minutes to get home," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"I've got an onboard computer in the car, and it showed I'd averaged the whole length of the motorway at 12km/h."

A report out in January found Auckland has the slowest traffic in Australasia - equal with Melbourne, which has three times the population.

Leaving home at 5:30am to appear on the show, Mr Goff enjoyed the empty motorways - but said by 6am, they were already showing signs of clogging up.

His solution? Congestion charging, to deter commuters from getting in their cars in the first place.

"You've got to influence behaviour - that's where congestion charges do work," he told The AM Show on Monday.

"In London, Stockholm, Singapore, if you put a charge on peak hour, people amend their behaviour. But the thing that goes with that, is you've got to have an alternative, and a lot of people don't have alternatives."

The city's rail network has improved of late, with electric trains making the commute faster and more comfortable than it was a few years ago. But much of the city doesn't lie within walking distance of a rail station.

"That means we've got to invest in more public transport, things like light rail," says Mr Goff.

If he had his way, there'd be a regional fuel tax to hit drivers and leave others alone, but the Government's ruled that out.

"The fuel tax was a quick, easy cheap-to-administer way of doing it," says Mr Goff. "The Government ruled that out, the ball's now in their court."

How Phil Goff wants the motorways to look (Newshub.)
How Phil Goff wants the motorways to look (Newshub.)

A congestion charge could take years to implement - five years at a minimum, according to the Mayor.

"In the meantime, the Government's got to help us with that investment."

The alternative, says Mr Goff, is hitting people with rates increase - according to the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, there's a $400 million shortfall in funding every year over the next decade. To cover that without a fuel tax or congestion charge, Mr Goff says rates would have to go up 16 percent.

"I don't want to do that, and I won't do that. I'm saying to Government you've got to have a user-pays component in this, not just hit people on their rates. That doesn't take into account whether people are using the roads in peak hour or not, whether they're elderly and hardly get out, or commuters like me and use them all the time."

The Government might have shot down a fuel tax, but Prime Minister Bill English says it's open to congestion charging.

"What we agree with is using pricing for demand management. I think it's pretty important here we're not looking for some big new source of revenue," he told The AM Show, saying technology used for tracking trucks could be adapted for congestion charging.

"We're happy to work along with Auckland Council about seeing just how far you can get with that."


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