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Auckland looks long term to pay-per-km pricing for congested roads

Tuesday 21st June 2016

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Aucklanders can expect to be paying variable rates per kilometre to travel on the city's most congested roads under an emerging transport strategy being formulated by the government and the Auckland Council.

The interim report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan says simply building more roads won't solve Auckland's long-term congestion, but that investing in new technologies, including shared vehicles, big data systems to manage traffic systems and variable charging for private vehicles have the potential to make a major difference over the next 30 years.

While there would be more road-building and investment in public transport over the next 10 years, improvements to the Auckland transport system are likely to start eroding within 10 years time, requiring a change from approaches of the past. 

In testing alternatives, the ATAP's authors have modelled the impact on travel times of charging motorists between 3 cents and 40 cents a kilometre to travel in the most congested parts of the Auckland roading system. 

A staged approach would be required to such a system, which might take a decade to be put in place, said Transport Minister Simon Bridges in a statement on the interim report, with final conclusions of the joint central and local government approach due in August, to coincide with the release of the new Auckland Unitary Plan. 

"It concludes that while ongoing investment in new road and public transport projects will clearly be needed, greater use of technology and in the longer term road pricing - or directly charging for road use, will also be part of the toolkit," said Bridges. "Advances in intelligent transport system (ITS) and vehicle connectivity provide the opportunity for significant gains in network productivity. Our analysis has shown that, in combination, these initiatives have the potential to provide a step change in system performance."

Road pricing was likely to increase public transport use, help defer new road construction, could be phased in over time, changed to meet changing circumstances and "unlike infrastructure investment, it is also reversible."

The ATAP stemmed from a need to resolve a conflict between Auckland Council's transport infrastructure ambitions and central government's unwillingness to fund plans that it believed failed to deal adequately with Aucklanders' twin requirements for solutions to improved congestion and public transport.

Today's report still indicates some of the tension between Wellington's preference to see a more densely populated Auckland on a smaller total footprint and Auckland Council's current Unitary Plan proposals, which expect the city to sprawl further.

"Projected trends of widespread household growth and concentrated employment growth contributes to Auckland’s growing transport challenge, especially for the West and South which are most distant from where projected employment growth is greatest," the report says. "Increasing household growth in inner areas, or employment growth in outer areas, can help address this imbalance."

The report suggests that even building a second harbour crossing, which would be a tunnel and therefore very expensive, would have little impact on the city's congestion even while improving access to the city from the North Shore.

In the short term, "major gains" could come from "removing on-street parking, extending bus lane operating hours and improving pedestrian facilities in high volume areas".

"Often these changes can be difficult to implement, but they are very important and must be pursued," the report says.

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