Variable Motorway Use Charge best way to fund and manage Auckland's transport system

22 Jan 2016 11:12 AM | Anonymous

29 October 2014 

"A variable motorway user charge of around $2.00, higher at peak and lower off peak, is the best way to fund and manage Aucklands transport system," says Stephen Selwood Chief Executive of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development.

This follows release of the Independent Advisory Body (IAB) report to Auckland Council on future transport funding options for Auckland. The report identifies two possible pathways rates and fuel tax increases and tolls on new roads or charging motorway users a toll of around $2.00 on average per trip.

Managed correctly, variable charging will enable motorways to run much more smoothly, like they do in the school holidays.

People will choose to travel at different times, go another way, ride share, walk, cycle or take public transport. That means those who pay the toll will benefit through a faster trip on the motorway meaning better productivity for business and less time wasted in log jammed motorways for commuters.

"The money raised will support new investment in motorways, local roads, walkways and cycle ways and public transport services that would not otherwise be possible. The more people who choose alternatives to motorway travel because of the tolls, the better it will be for motorway users who choose to pay a toll.

From a New Zealand perspective, the most important thing to note is that the economic benefits of Motorway User Charges are more than three times greater than the Rates and Fuel Tax pathway. Thats because direct charging changes behaviour more significantly than increases in general taxes, Selwood says.

Doing nothing or deferring a decision would be unwise

The work of the Independent Advisory Body clearly shows that failure to raise the extra $300 million per annum needed to invest in the future transport system will lead to serious congestion across Auckland, much worse than today. While investment and charges will not solve congestion in a growing city, they will enable us to manage growth far more effectively, Selwood says.

The longer we take to decide, the bigger the problem in the future will be.

The IAB did not specifically recommend either of two funding pathways - rates and petrol taxes or a motorway user charge but it clearly sees merit in the motorway user charge because it will both raise the money needed and help reduce congestion on the motorway system.

There will be a need to add capacity to some arterial roads to handle additional traffic but the transport modelling shows that traffic diversion onto arterial roads is manageable.

The system will use number plate recognition technology identical to that already in use on the Northern Gateway toll road.

Cordon schemes like London and Stockholm were discounted because, unlike motorway charges, there would be no option to go another way, the camera gantries would have high visual impact in local communities and cordons would seriously distort travel behaviour inside and outside of the ring.

Polls indicate support for tolls

Backing motorway charges over rates and petrol tax increases is consistent with a Horizon market research poll commissioned by NZCID in 2012 which clearly showed that Aucklanders will support low level variable tolls on Auckland's motorways, if this reduces congestion and helps fund major transport projects.

The survey of 1016 Aucklanders analysed the impact of congestion on people's lives and probed into how much they might be prepared to pay to address the problem.

Tolls were the only funding method surveyed attracting majority support, both in principle and for different prices charged for peak, inter-peak and off peak travel. Across the whole group, 63% supported for tolls in principle and 36% were opposed.

Tolling in principle was supported by 47% of those who use the motorway system twice a day or more. This in-principle support arises following an explanation that:

a range of options for tolling the motorways was being considered 
higher tolls in busy periods would incentivise commuters to drive at different times, use different routes, car pool, take public transport or walk or cycle
this would reduce traffic on the motorways, meaning faster journeys for users of the tolled network, and tolls would also raise revenue for investment in new transport solutions including roads and public transport services.

The survey found that congestion is already having a big toll on people and business. Large numbers of respondents believed traffic congestion is getting worse (57.3%) and even more (70.9%) believed it will get worse in the future.

Greatest adverse impacts respondents listed were increasing fuel costs (70.9%), longer commuting times (67.6%), reducing time for other activities (61%), causing stress (60.8%) and stopping respondents and members of their households from travelling at certain times (50.4%).

The survey showed that people support the need to invest in Auckland's transport system and that they understand that pricing the motorways at different amounts by time of day will positively influence when and how people travel.

"In that sense direct user pay tolls looks to have a much more positive reaction than simply increasing rates and petrol taxes and putting tolls on new roads.

We would encourage Aucklanders to provide that feedback to Auckland Council when it consults on which of the two funding pathways it is considering," Selwood says.

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