Road-user charge needed to fix New Zealand's congested roads - New Zealand Initiative

A think tank is pushing for the introduction of a congestion charge in order to ease traffic on our roads.

"We've got a problem in this country because congestion is getting worse," Dr Oliver Hartwich, executive director of the New Zealand Initiative told The AM Show on Tuesday morning.

"Over the last 20 years we've added more than a million cars to our roads, we've also seen over the past 30 years more and more trips are made by car and fewer trips are made by just walking or taking public transport."

On Tuesday the New Zealand Initiative released its report The Price is Right: The road to a better transport system. It predicts that road congestion "is all but certain to intensify" unless suitable policy action is taken.

In order to combat the problem in the main urban centres of New Zealand, the think tank proposes charging drivers higher road-user rates at peak times in overcrowded routes.

Such a move would encourage commuters to find trip alternatives, says the report's author Dr Carvalho.

"Variable peak and off-peak rates are already part of our daily lives, from electricity bills and cinema tickets to hotel rates and public transport fare. Why should it be any different with car use," Dr Carvalho wrote in the report.

A congestion charge would also see benefits such as a more efficient use of roads, make trips shorter, safer and more reliable, and provide a source of valuable information for future transport investment, the report said.

In order to avoid the charge becoming "just another tax", commuters should expect the Government to commit a revenue-neutral system, where every net dollar raised through congestion charges would be offset by a dollar less through a property rate collection of lower fuel prices, the report said.

"It's totally possible to introduce road pricing and then abolish all the other taxes that go on a litre of petrol, because we don't want to pay twice," says Dr Hartwich.

"We think that the acceptability of road pricing is only there if you make it revenue neutral."

Dr Hartwich says the reasoning behind the proposal is simple.

"When you have a scarce resource you have two ways of dealing with it: either you queue for it or you pay for it. Unfortunately for our roads we're using a very Soviet way of rationing and that is queuing."