Commuters have been warned Auckland's gridlock nightmare is set to dramatically escalate, and the thorny issues of congestion charges is back on the agenda as Auckland Council grapples with solutions.
Aucklanders already spend the equivalent of four working weeks, or 160 hours, in traffic, but a new council report prepared for Tuesday's planning committee meeting reveals motorists should brace for even longer trips to work.
The report said severe congestion is expected to increase by 30 per cent at peak hours, and 50 per cent between the morning and evening peaks.
And while the Waterview Tunnel has successfully reduced congestion, the report warns that could be short-lived.
"This means that Aucklanders' access to jobs, education and other opportunities will become more difficult," the report says.
Thousands of Aucklanders have already packed up and left town in the face of the traffic chaos and expensive house prices.
But one of the options mooted to reduce congestion – congestion tolls – could be up to a decade away.
The report is the first in a three-step project which could lead to motorists being charged at different times of the day and in different locations across the city.
The report is the first phase of investigating ways of easing congestion by charging motorists to encourage them to change the time, route or way in which they travel.
The first phase updates the growing congestion problem facing the city, looks at models overseas and recommends moving to the next phase of developing options by August this year. The third phase is expected to recommend a final option. No date has been given for the final report.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff have approved the project to proceed to the second phase.
A spokeswoman said Goff had not read the report and could not comment at this stage.
While the first phase found congestion pricing would have a greater potential impact on transport than any transport project, the report said Auckland was heading into "uncharted territory" when it comes to introducing congestion pricing.
If Auckland does proceed with congestion-busting tolls, the report recommends a "bespoke" approach reflecting the city's geographic, social and transport characteristics and introducing any system in steps.
The report said a number of international cities have successfully introduced congestion pricing but "no 'New World' cities with dispersed trips patterns and relatively low density of housing has yet introduced congestion pricing".
The latest plan for tolls in Auckland comes after the former National Government and Auckland Council decided last June to look at the "taboo" subject of charging motorists at different times of the day and different locations across the city.
Three years earlier the council worked up a tolling scheme that would have seen motorists pay $2 each time they used the motorway, which the Government rejected.
Alarming figures released last year by Auckland Transport show a quarter of the city's busiest roads, including Lake Rd, Lincoln Rd and routes to the airport are already clogged during the morning and evening peaks and one in three main roads will be congested by 2020.
The morning crawl from Westgate to Nelson St also doubled from 15 minutes to 30 minutes between 2012 and 2016 and the evening peak journey from Hobson St to Te Irirangi Drive has gone from 18 minutes to 24 minutes.
The report to be tabled to the council committee again highlighted congestion levels had appeared to have stabilised since the opening of the Waterview tunnel last July, but the authors revealed they expect that continued growth in demand for travel will see congestion levels increase again.
Journeys from the airport to the CBD via the tunnel in the afternoon peak now take 25 minutes, compared to between 35 and 44 minutes via Manukau Rd and Gillies Ave, according to the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Barney Irvine, the Automobile Association's principal infrastructure adviser, said congestion charging had potential to help get Auckland moving, but warned it was a "complex and controversial business".
Some of those concerns had come through via survey work of the AA's Auckland members.
"There's a lot of impact on the people who can least afford to pay," he said. "There are also a lot of folk out there who don't like the idea of paying to drive on roads they have already paid for.
"Congestion charging is a complex and controversial business – that's why plenty of cities around the world talk about it, but very few have actually implemented it, and none in car-oriented, low-density cities like Auckland."
He added if politicians could make a strong case for the introduction of congestion charges, then the programme shouldn't take 10 years to implement.
National Road Carriers boss David Aitken said the industry would be in favour of road pricing on the proviso it made a difference and freed up journey times.
Something had to be done, said Aitken, who was concerned at the prospect of many roading projects in Auckland being canned by the new Government.
Building public understanding and acceptance will be critical to successfully introduce congestion pricing, the report said.
The project was originally called the 'Auckland Smarter Transport Pricing Project', but has been renamed 'The Congestion Question'.