Case study: Stockholm

Every Aucklander rightly complains about the traffic. When it takes more than an hour to do the weekly shopping at a supermarket 3km down the road, something is seriously wrong with the infrastructure.

All that it costs households, though, is time; the congestion is costing businesses tens of millions of dollars each year.

Stephen Selwood urges the country's largest regional economy to look to Stockholm, Sweden, which introduced a trial pricing regime on its key routes four years ago.

How it works is this: A cordon was cast around Stockholm's motorway network, with cameras mounted on every gantry to record the details of drivers entering the city. Each paid a fee. Drivers set up an account, either paid online or by automatic payment.

"This is a trend globally - the Netherlands is looking at it, as is Denmark; Britain looked at it and then shelved it politically [apart from London]," enthuses Selwood.

The scheme yielded a 20 per cent reduction in inner city traffic and car queuing time abated by up to 50 per cent. Carbon emissions dropped by 14 per cent and use of public transport increased by 5 per cent .

"We've got a choice in Auckland. There's huge investment required - public transport investment, a [second] harbour bridge to build, more roading connections in the east and we don't have the money."

But an estimated 915,000 cars in Auckland are driven on to a motorway each day.

If each was charged a dollar, then, subtracting collection and maintenance costs of 20c on the dollar, it would raise more than $800,000 each day for spending on the city's transport infrastructure, Selwood argues.

Such a scheme, particularly given the upcoming super city election, could be politically untenable, he concedes. But Stockholm's electorate also initially rejected road pricing. "In order to test it, they set up a one-year trial. Peak hour cost about $3. Driving offpeak is about $2. After 6pm or before 6.30am, it's free."

Traffic congestion reduced dramatically.

"People transferred to trains, walked and cycled or decided not to drive at peak," says Selwood.

"After the trial they held a public referendum and it was 50 per cent for and 40 per cent against; 10 per cent didn't know. Now, they have 67 per cent for and 28 per cent against," he reports.

Significant revenue is now being reinvested in public transport and roading improvements.

"We need to have the debate," he urges. "We can either carry on the way we are and put up with congestion, inhibit the economic growth of the city, suffer from productivity losses and suffer the social inconvenience that the waste of time creates.

"Or maybe [we can] decide that we might spend a buck or two to get on the motorway and raise the money necessary to build the infrastructure that Auckland needs to grow."