The latest plan to relieve Auckland's traffic congestion is so bad I'm not sure which outcome I resent the most: that it won't work, that it feels like a plan to clear poorer people off the roads, or that it wastes time we don't have.

Congestion charging is the bright idea the Government and Auckland Council this week announced they're investigating. In other words, they're thinking about making us pay peak-time tolls for the privilege of using roads our taxes paid to build and maintain.

Yes, Auckland needs a solution to the traffic gridlock that now starts building on motorways from 3.30pm on weekday afternoons, but congestion charges are not the solution.

The charges will disproportionately sting the travel-weary workers driving in from far-flung suburbs. They're the ones sitting on the motorways every day, and they're the ones who can least afford these charges.


Rich people won't be the ones paying for congestion. They can afford houses close enough to the city to travel to work via suburban and city streets. And, anyway, if they want to use the motorways, a congestion charge won't be a disincentive.

Precious few cities have congestion charges in force. And something about Singapore, London, Milan and Gothenburg makes them different from Auckland: decent public transport. Or our lack of it.

London's tube is so efficient, you can race and beat a car from one end of town to the other. Try doing that from Britomart to Pukekohe.

A trip that takes a car 45 minutes can take an hour 20 via train, including the up to 15 minutes you have to wait for a connecting train at Papakura.

Or try catching the train to the North Shore. Joke. There is no train to the North Shore.

Auckland's inner-city bus system is so inefficient my options for a regular 3km trip are 45 minutes on the bus or 35 minutes walking.

So the smart idea is to charge people for using the roads, in the hope it might force them off the motorways into alternative transport that isn't adequate.

This is an idea so unlikely to fix anything that we should dismiss it offhand and immediately turn our attention to finding a better solution because every day that we dally is a day transport is falling further behind.

Yet it's going to take years to investigate and make a decision on congestion charges. Years! This is the kind of policy a graduate analyst could explore and report on within a month.

It seems yet another example of the National Government trying to give the appearance of dealing to a problem while actually doing nothing of the sort.

National has already pretended to fix the superannuation cost blowout, but really, the age won't be lifted for another 20 years. It has pretended to answer calls for a train to the airport but really building won't start for 30 years. It has pretended to answer the concerns about migration pressures in Auckland by tweaking settings in a way that won't really cut immigration numbers at all.

National doesn't want to have to deal with Auckland's traffic this year because there's an election to win. Saying yes to congestion charges may prove unpopular with thousands of potential voters. Saying no to congestion charges will show - again - how committed the party is to the act of Doing Nothing.

Auckland is gagging for better public transport. If we had it, we'd use it. Take a look at the full buses coming into the CBD from the North Shore. That's one bus system working brilliantly.

National, forget the congestion charges until you have given us decent buses and trains. Get on with that, please.

And Auckland, next time you're stuck in traffic, blame National.