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Congestion Charging in Wellington

Auckland may be the most prominent voice when it comes to discussing congestion charging in New Zealand but it appears other cities are keen to join in. Last week it emerged that Wellington are also wanting to look at congestion charging however unlike Auckland where it is being talked about primarily as another revenue source, Wellington say they need it to deal with the after effects of building new motorways.

The call for a toll on Wellington’s CBD is growing louder, with studies revealing the central city could be flooded with almost 12,000 more cars once its proposed new motorways are up and running.

Wellington recently joined forces with Auckland to lobby the Government for the law changes necessary to introduce user-pays charges as a means of reducing car use.

Some of the ideas being floated include a congestion charge, such as the one used in central London, and fees that ramp up the cost of long-stay commuter parking.

While Auckland’s chronic traffic congestion is already apparent, Wellington’s is expected to get worse once the Kapiti expressway, Transmission Gully motorway, and Petone-Grenada highway are all built, making journeys in and out of the capital by road significantly easier.

Recent studies by Greater Wellington Regional Council show that, even with continuing investment in public transport, there are expected to be 11,500 more cars entering Wellington during the morning rush in 2031.

This has prompted the council to also model how that scenario would change, with various user-pays charges in place, despite some of them currently being beyond the law.

It found a congestion charge would have by far the greatest impact on car use in 2031. Vehicles trips in and out of Wellington’s CBD would drop by about four million annually, while public transport trips would increase by the same amount.

Tolling the yet-to-be-built Transmission Gully motorway and Petone-Grenada highway, which is currently legal, would have a more “moderate” impact on car use, as would a levy on all-day parking, which is not currently legal.

A couple of thoughts immediately spring to mind.

  • So far from the RoNS addressing congestion as the government/road builders/lobbyists so often love to claim, they’ll actually be making it worse by encouraging more people to drive, some of which comes from people encouraging people off using public transport and into their cars – making both systems less efficient. Why then are we wasting well over $2 billion on the new Wellington RoNS which already had poor economic outcomes.
  • From memory the NZTA have already ruled out tolling Transmission Gully as their modelling suggested that very few would use it if they did so. My guess is that would rule out any individual road specific tolls.
  • Like Auckland it appears that Wellington is blighted by politicians who seem to have the attitude of not caring what gets built as long as the government are spending money in their neck of the woods. There also seems to be the general attitude that public transport is only viable a mode of last resort.

The last point is displayed very well at the start of this interview on Radio NZ with Paul Swain, the chairman of the Regional Transport Committee who seemed aghast at the slight possibility of not building some new roads. It is also appears to be the attitude that is taken by Wellington City Councillor Andy Foster later in the piece who appeared quite annoyed that the Basin Reserve Flyover was cancelled – and as per this excellent op-ed from Dave Armstrong it appears both were quite keen on it.


Or listen here

I also found Foster’s comments on public transport interesting. He’s obviously correct that Wellington has the highest use of public transport in the country however I’m not sure I would go as far as him in saying that Wellington has a good system. There certainly seems to be a lot more that could be done to make the system better and therefore increase patronage. Many of those are things that Auckland has done or are on the agenda such as integrated ticketing and fares and a better bus network and greater bus priority. I kind of get the feeling that Wellington won’t really wake up and realise how far behind it’s falling until in a few years (at current rates) when Auckland passes them.

Coming back to congestion charging, I was also amused by this press release yesterday by the Property Council which claims that reducing cars in to Wellington would have catastrophic effects.

Wellington Branch president Mike Cole says slowing down traffic flow into the centre of a city of only 191,000 and a region of 471,000 people is ridiculous.

“They are talking about methods used in central London; a city of 8.6 million people. London could use the drop in traffic-flow, while we are desperate to get our city centre thriving by getting more people in.

“I think the Council is totally oblivious to the catastrophic effect this would have on retail and employment. Why would we drive people away, when we are working so hard to get them in?”

Perhaps someone needs to tell them that it’s people that buy stuff, not cars. Flooding the CBD with cars will only make it a less attractive place for people to be and therefore they will be less inclined to work and shop there.

Who knows what the outcome will be on congestion charging in either Auckland or Wellington but it’s certainly interesting that both cities are now starting to talk about it much more openly. As has long been the case my personal position is that any form of congestion charging should be designed at least initially to be revenue neutral – substituting rates or fuel taxes. That would give the public a greater level of comfort that it isn’t just a revenue gathering exercise but rather a traffic demand tool. I also think it is something that should be implemented in advance of another wave of road building so we can see the real impact it has before committing billions to construction.

7 comments to Congestion Charging in Wellington

  • Nigel

    Let me see if I understand this correctly.
    Problem: new motorways will make driving more attractive than using PT leading to people to switch from PT to their cars thus flooding the city with cars.
    Solution: Introduce congestion charges and tolling to make driving and use of the motorways less attractive, resulting in fewer people using the motorway and more people using PT.

    So if building the motorway will encougae more people to drive when we actually don’t want them to drive, why are we building the motorway?

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    The schizophrenic nature of transport policy in Wellington is becoming clear for all to see (who have their eyes open).

    – Build Kapiti Expressway / Transmission Gully / Petone-Grenada and thereby increase the amount of traffic flooding into Wellington (some abstracted from PT).
    – Recognise that more traffic flooding into Wellington is a bad idea, so try by whatever half-baked means to try and reduce it (comgestion-charging, etc)
    – But DO NOT QUESTION whether it is better not to build Kapiti Expressway / Transmission Gully / Petone-Grenada in the first place.
    – And DO NOT CONSIDER the possibility of making better use of rail to achieve the main objectives for these roads.

    And what are the much touted objectives of these roads?:
    i) Earthquake resilience (the once-in-300 year benefit, assuming the new roads don’t also get knocked out)
    ii) Congestion removal (but in reality, congestion-exporting and worsening)
    iii) Journey-time savings (quite likely over-stated given what was demonstrated in the Basin flyover hearings)
    iv) Accident-reduction (however the simple expedient of a wire-rope barrier and an 80K speed limit has all but eliminated serious accidents from the coastal road)

    So the actual net benefits are much smaller. Is $2.4 billion-worth of new road-construction really the best way to address these needs? Has any serious analysis of alternatives been done? (Lots of analysis, but none of it serious – i.e. outcome for justifying more roads already decided))

    Interestingly, the Dominion Post’s editorial-line seems to have shifted noticeably in the last few weeks from strident support for ‘moar-motorways’, to “let’s keep cars out”.
    How soon before the dots are joined and the stupidity of proceeding with these roads becomes impossible to deny. Hopefully soon enough to pull the plug and have a serious look at the rail alternative.

    • bbqroast

      Transmission Gully is mental, honestly.

      How will it be more earthquake resilient? It’s literally going to be the most precarious motorway in the country.

      How will it carry trucks? Despite trucks being a tiny portion of traffic, they probably won’t care about the motorway given its high gradients compared to the coastal road.

      Why is it PPP? The government can lend money far cheaper…

  • Revenue neutral is an attractive and easier selling point for road pricing but in both AKL and WGTN we have underdeveloped alternative networks that need capital investment. Road pricing really needs to come with improved investment in PT systems in both cites. This is the principle difference between our cities and those poster cities of road pricing: London, Stockholm, and Singapore. We really do need to find funding sources for PT capex if we are to incentivise greater uptake. Wellington is only well served by PT in the NZ context where the bar is very low. It has the same terminus problem as Auckland.

    Stop the m’way overbuild and invest aggressively in the complementary systems; and the efficiency and utility of both will improve.

  • Ted F

    Congestion charging where people enter the streets that you deem to be congested. This seems to be the way to deal with to many vehicles by charging them to go where it is congested and I feel that should be able to be decided by the residents of the whole City?

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