A congestion fee for Auckland's most gridlocked areas could be on the cards in the coming years, with a new plan by the council and its agency Auckland Transport (AT) pursuing a 2026 timeframe.
The council and AT have proposed establishing a joint programme to work towards its implementation, with congestion fees on the agenda when the council's Transport and Infrastructure Committee meets on Thursday.
A charge of $3.50 has been suggested for motorists who enter the city centre at peak times. However, that number has gone as high as $5, as proposed by Mayor Wayne Brown - which could cost daily city commuters nearly $1000 a year.
It's understood the London-style pricing scheme would also involve a charge for the use of key routes, such as State Highway 1 between Penrose and Greenlane, with the cost ranging from free to minimal during off-peak times to a higher fee in peak periods.
The goal of the proposal is to reduce the volume of traffic in key Auckland areas and encourage motorists to "change their behaviour", Auckland Councillor Maurice Williamson told AM on Wednesday morning.
"I think no one's got a specific number in mind, it's a bit like the coalition talks - there's quite a lot of debate to go. We don't even have legislation that would allow us to do this at this point," Williamson said.
"The National Party has said it would introduce the ability for cities to have such a charge - we don't know how much, or the timings. The whole purpose of it is to get people to change their behaviour, staying out of those really crowded [areas] at peak time, if they can - it'll also be a big saving."
Key routes that could be affected by the proposed scheme include the aforementioned stretch of SH1 between Penrose and Greenlane and SH16 between Lincoln Road to Te Atatu, between peak periods such as 7am to 9am and 4:30pm to 6pm.
"If you can get people to change their behaviour - 'I don't need to go at this time', 'I can go in an hour later', 'How can I avoid the charge?' - you'll actually start freeing up the roads," Williamson added. "Auckland's going to have to find a way to deal with congestion issues.
"If there's a big saving in time, and your time is worth money, you may actually get to work in a quarter-of-an-hour, rather than an hour-and-a-quarter - that's got to be worth something to you. I see a lot of trucks, vans - the movement of commercial goods, where I think an hour later wouldn't hurt - and that would dramatically free up those corridors. It's worked elsewhere."
Businesses and industry associations in the Upper North Island have already welcomed Auckland Council's planning for a congestion pricing scheme in Auckland. In a statement on Wednesday, Northern Infrastructure Forum (NIF) chair Simon Bridges says the plans dovetail nicely with the likely central Government work programme.
"The enabling legislation for congestion pricing has been drafted and, with consensus support for congestion pricing across the main parties, the expectation is that it will be picked up by the incoming government early in this term," said Bridges. "There's a real sense that, at last, the stars are aligning for congestion pricing."
Bridges argued that no single initiative could do more to put a dent in Auckland's rampant congestion than the proposed pricing scheme, adding: "If we're going to keep up with population growth and rising travel demand, as well as unlocking productivity in this city, we can't keep reaching for the same tools. We need to be open to new solutions, and we need to be bold.
"What the business community and the public are going to want to see ahead of anything else - including revenue generation and emissions reduction - is improved travel times."
The NIF said it's looking forward to working with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and other agencies to "build and maintain momentum" towards the scheme's implementation.
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