National's transport plan: Road tolls proposed, congestion charging on the cards

The National Party has unveiled a $31 billion plan to "smash" congestion, and to pay for it, road tolls have been proposed and congestion charging is on the cards. 

The idea of charging people for travelling at a certain peak times or on particular routes was proposed in the National Party's transport policy discussion document in December under former leader Simon Bridges

Unveiling the National Party's official transport policy in Auckland on Friday, newly-appointed leader Judith Collins did not rule out introducing congestion charging in the future to pay for the expensive projects proposed. 

"Looking further ahead, if we and Auckland Council ever look at congestion charges in the future, my Government will insist they are only ever revenue neutral, with other fuel taxes reduced to compensate," Collins said in her speech. 

National is also promising not to increase fuel taxes in its first term and will repeal the Auckland regional fuel tax in its first 100 days in office. 

National's transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said congestion charging is "a potential option for the future certainly worth talking about" and highlighted how it's supported by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Wellington Mayor Andy Foster. 

"Anything we do in that space will involve negotiation with the mayors and the councils and it will have to be revenue neutral for Aucklanders and for regions affected," Bishop said. 

The Government was urged in January to consider congestion charging by think-tank, The New Zealand Initiative, which cited success stories in other global cities such as Singapore, London, Dubai and New York. 

The think-tank said the first congestion charge introduced in Singapore in 1975 reduced traffic there by 4 percent, while London's scheme in 2003 saw a 16 percent drop. 

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has pushed back on the idea until there are suitable alternative modes of transport for people to use. 

"It wouldn't be fair or effective to use tolls to get people out of their cars until you've got decent choices: better public transport, rapid transit, more walking and cycling infrastructure in our cities," Twyford told Newshub in January.  

Newly-appointed National Party leader Judith Collins, with National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith (far left) and transport spokesperson Chris Bishop.
Newly-appointed National Party leader Judith Collins, with National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith (far left) and transport spokesperson Chris Bishop.

Are tolls just hidden taxes?

Tolls are something the National Party is eyeing up. 

In her speech, Collins said the "limited use" of tolls is necessary for "transformational projects" and only when alternative routes are available, such as the Waiwera route instead of the Northern Gateway's Johnston Hill Tunnels.

"In practice, that means they will apply to only three major tunnelling projects I am announcing today, which will not be complete until the 2030s."

Collins rejected the suggestion that tolls are just a hidden form of taxes. 

"There's an alternative in every case. People don't have to use that road - they can use the existing road," she told reporters. 

"When I travel down to Ōpōtiki to visit my friends there, I tell you what, I go on the toll road, I happily pay for that toll because it saves me time, it saves me congestion, it saves me money - it's an excellent use of my time and money."

Bishop said he couldn't say at this stage how much the tolls would cost users. 

"I can't give you those numbers and I don't think that's reasonable. That will be worked out through the scoping process as all tolling projects are. But we would expect that commercial freight will pay more," he said. 

"I've had anecdotally feedback from the freight industry that they'd be prepared to pay a toll to do a tunnel through the Kaimai [Range], for example, because it will massively save time getting to the Port of Tauranga.

"So of course, if it's economically advantageous for them to pay a toll because it cuts half an hour off the journey time from Hamilton to Tauranga for example, that will be a fantastic thing and they will likely pay it.

"But the exact amount will be worked out in due course."