Anyone who has faced a morning commute on our largest city’s roads knows that Auckland has a truly painful traffic problem.
Mayor Wayne Brown has ostensibly had enough and has announced a plan for congestion charging to be introduced.
Congestion charging may have only recently been flung into public consciousness, but this debate has actually been around for quite some time.
Speaking to The Front Page podcast, NZ Herald Supercity reporter Bernard Orsman says it didn’t emerge overnight and has actually been mulled in Auckland for the better part of a decade.
“The idea stretches back to Len Brown when he was Mayor of Auckland Council,” says Orsman.
“The last big piece of work was in 2022, which was undertaken by the Council of Auckland Transport, the Ministry of Transport, Waka Kotahi, Treasury and the Government.”
Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown also has a commercial imperative forcing his hand in that the incoming National-led Government has promised to remove the regional fuel tax in Auckland.
“That will mean a loss of $150 million a year for Auckland Council another $150 million in subsidies from Central Government,” says Orsman.
“Without this money, the Council would have to drastically cut its transport budget. And the Mayor appears to be in a hurry to replace the lost income with some form of congestion charging.”
Brown has proposed a $5 congestion charge one-way, which would place a significant amount of strain on lower-income earnings in West and South Auckland.
The added problem is that these areas often struggle the most across Auckland with access to reliable public transport as an alternative.
“One of the big problems is that Auckland Transport hasn’t addressed the reliability issue. People still have poor experiences with public transport – and one bad experience [has the effect] of driving them back to their cars. There’s still a lot of work to be done in this space.”
Congestion charging is already being used in a number of different cities around the world, but there is one massive difference between these places and Auckland.
“The cities that do have congestion charging – London, Singapore, Milan, Stockholm – all have world-class public transport, and Auckland, unfortunately, has substandard public transport, particularly in the outer suburbs where people have no option but to drive their cars.”
With immigration running red hot at the moment, the transport problems across Auckland will only become worse over time.
“For decades, Governments and Councils have under-invested in infrastructure, including transport. And while investment has increased, it’s still not enough. There’s also the problem of governments of different shades pushing different agendas.
“We’ve just seen the Labour Government focus on road safety, public transport and cycleways. Now, we’ve got a National-led Government and they’re going to have much more of a road-focused agenda. We have this switching of priority every six or nine years.”
So will congestion charging actually become a reality any time soon? And if it does, will it actually help to reduce congestion?
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast to hear Orsman address these questions and more.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.