Change needed for congestion charge

Auckland's public transport needs significant improvements before a congestion charge in the city could succeed, a transport expert advising Auckland Council on road tolling says.

Auckland University senior lecturer Douglas Wilson is leading a research project for Auckland Transport. It is investigating how revenue from congestion charges could help meet the city's estimated $10 billion to $15b transport funding shortfall.

The project's report will be delivered this month, but Wilson outlined some of its findings at the ITS Asia Pacific Forum transport conference in Auckland last week.

Public transport investments such as the Auckland rail link would need to be completed before a congestion charge could be implemented, Wilson said.

"At the moment there are a lot of vehicle trips that are captive to the car, so people haven't got a choice," he said.

"While there have been a lot of improvements in public transport and a lot of money has been spent, they are not going to significantly change the transport options for a lot of households in the region."

Wilson's research team has investigated congestion charges overseas. They already operate in cities such as London and Stockholm.

London's congestion-charge zone was about the same size as a 22-kilometre wide "inner cordon" in Auckland that had previously been identified by the Ministry of Transport as a potential congestion-charge zone, Wilson said.

However, the nature of the area within the congestion zone in Auckland was different to London as central Auckland included a lot more low-density residential housing, Wilson said.

This meant Auckland Council would be unlikely to match London's 90 per cent congestion-charge discount for people living inside the congestion zone.

"We probably wouldn't be able to discount as much, otherwise it would cause some significant socioeconomic issues in terms of looking as if it's favouring the rich versus the poor who live outside those zones," Wilson said.

Most overseas congestion-charge schemes rely on automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) technology to identify drivers who have not paid tolls.

In some countries such as Taiwan the ANPR data on specific vehicles is made available to police forces for the purpose of investigating crimes.

Wilson said that in New Zealand the data collected by organisations such as the Joint Transport Operations Centre was not directly accessible by police. It would be up to Auckland Council whether congestion-scheme cameras were used to identify unregistered or unwarranted vehicles, for example, he said.

"Given that councils can now do that sort of thing with parking managers, probably that will come into being," Wilson said.

The design of any congestion charge scheme in Auckland would be carried out by the Consensus Building Group (CBG), a 17-member committee appointed by Auckland Council, Wilson said.

The CBG is due to present its recommendations in December, prior to a final decision by the council in June next year.

Fairfax Media