Auckland drivers appear likely to face new charges after the Government changed tack and conceded that road tolls are needed to ease traffic woes in the fast-growing city.
Direct charging for road use was possible within a decade, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said yesterday. New analysis had shown tolls of between 3c and 40c a kilometre would help reduce congestion, though the Government and Auckland Council want to do more detailed research before committing to the policy.
Greater use of ride-sharing and "connected vehicles", which use Wi-Fi to communicate with each other to reduce driver errors, is also being considered by the Government and council as part of their 30-year plan for upgrading and funding the city's transport network.
Over that period, Auckland is expected to grow by 700,000 people, a joint Government-council report released yesterday said. At current rates, around 800 cars are added to the road every week.
"In the short term, more roading and public transport may ... be necessary," Mr Bridges told the Herald. "But that alone isn't enough. We can't keep building new lanes on highways.
"We will need a combination of demand-side interventions if we are going to deal with congestion over the next couple of decades."
That included road tolls which varied depending on location and time of day - a policy which the council has long called for but until now the Government has resisted.
Asked why the change of heart, Mr Bridges said: "It is the evidence. What's been shown quite clearly here is that a combination of technology, including pricing, can dramatically lessen congestion on the network."
The proposal was designed to change behaviour, not raise revenue.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the road pricing plan was "good news". It would need to be considered soon, he said, because a transport levy now paid by businesses and residents was set to expire in 2018.
Mr Bridges said tolls were likely to be introduced over the next 10 years if further research showed they would be effective.
Modelling by transport officials suggested a potential charge of 40c per kilometre for travel on inner-city motorways at peak traffic hours.
There was no discussion in the report of how to charge motorists. But the minister said one option was to track travel distances with GPS satellites - a system which is being trialled in Singapore and Japan.
The Government and council also want to encourage a significant increase in ride-sharing. At present, there are 1.3 occupants per car in the city. A rise to 1.8 people per car would cut congestion by 20 per cent.
In the longer-term, more ambitious "intelligent transport systems" such as connected vehicles could be used.
The ministry has predicted that Wi-Fi-connected cars could reduce crashes by 80 per cent.
The Government-council report said major infrastructure projects might need to be brought forward to address transport demand, in particular the proposed Northwest Busway, local roads in South Auckland, and public transport projects.
There are now 43,000 more cars on Auckland's roads compared with last year - a 5 per cent increase.
AA spokesman Barney Irvine said feedback from members showed there was support out there for tolls - as long as people saw direct congestion benefits.
"But there's also a lot of scepticism."
There was an important distinction between using tolls to manage demand on the roads and raising revenue, Mr Irvine said.