Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown describes congestion charging as 'distraction', Transport Minister Michael Wood agrees there are 'other issues'

The new Auckland Mayor has described the idea of congestion charging as a "distraction" as the city faces a "public transport crisis".

The Transport Minister is currently receiving advice on whether to "empower" cities like Auckland to introduce the pricing tool, but agrees there are "other issues" on the agenda. 

Politicians have held a special debate in Parliament on Thursday on a 2021 report by the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee recommending the Government progress legislation allowing cities to use congestion charging.

The Government's Emissions Reduction Plan in May said ministers would "decide whether to progress legislative changes" enabling congestion charging in the second half of the year.

"If the Government decides to progress, it will work with Auckland Council to design a scheme, engage with other councils at their request (eg, Wellington) and investigate ways to mitigate possible adverse financial impacts of congestion charging on low-income households."

Congestion charging means billing motorists using roads at different times and locations to encourage them to change their time, method or route of travel. It's seen as a way to reduce transport emissions and traffic. 

Wayne Brown, elected Auckland Mayor last month, came out on Thursday afternoon saying it might be a tool for the future, but would currently be a "distraction". 

"Congestion charging could only make sense once every Aucklander has the option of catching a bus or a train that they know will show up on time, every time – and we are two years away from that, at the very least," the Mayor said.

"Auckland’s immediate transport focus is solving our public-transport crisis by getting our existing public-transport services back into a credible state, including through the shake-up at Auckland Transport (AT)."

Transport Minister Michael Wood on Thursday said congestion charging is a "significant policy area" and he is receiving advice from officials with the hope to "provide further clarity in the coming months". 

"The Government hasn't made any decisions about what we might do in this area, but we're seeing a parliamentary process play out and actually really good cross-party collaboration to have a discussion about a significant issue in the transport system," he said.

"I think that's a positive thing, but I agree that there are other issues in front of us at the moment."

He said Government could create a framework that would "empower cities" to introduce congestion charging if they wanted it. 

"Every area would have to look at it for themselves. We clearly did previously have a Mayor and a council who saw merit in it," he said.

"We've also had Wellington City Council and Wellington Region write to us expressing their interest. But as I say, we'll have to take that on a region-by-region basis if we decide to move forward with this."

Brown wants "Wellington-based politicians" to focus on getting more bus drivers into New Zealand and delivering "faster funding" for public transport projects. 

"Congestion charging might be a useful tool in the future if integrated with an operational public-transport system, but right now is just a distraction from addressing the immediate crisis we face."

Any future congestion charging regime should not be a "revenue grab, but part of a more strategic approach to managing Auckland’s transport system through technology and integrated networks".

A report by the Helen Clark Foundation and WSP in New Zealand this year found a congestion charge for motorists entering Auckland's central business district wouldn't have a significant negative impact on low-income communities and may actually leave some better off.