What is the Congestion Question project?

The Congestion Question project (previously called the Auckland Smarter Transport Pricing project) is a joint Government and Auckland Council project to investigate whether or not to introduce congestion pricing in Auckland.

Officials from the Ministry of Transport, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, the NZ Transport Agency, the Treasury and the State Services Commission (SSC) are working together to develop and test different options.

The first stage of the project, which focused on setting up the framework for the project, including updating congestion data, looking at overseas pricing initiatives and developing a comprehensive plan for public engagement, was completed in November 2017.

The second phase of the project is now underway. In this phase of the work, a number of pricing options are being developed and assessed.

Why are you carrying out this project?

Auckland is growing quickly: the city’s population is projected to increase to at least 2.2 million over the next 30 years. Continued strong growth in visitor numbers is also expected. This growth places pressure on transport networks, reducing performance and increasing congestion. Left unaddressed or without alternatives for travel, congestion will reduce the opportunities that Auckland’s growth can provide.

Congestion costs Aucklanders in many ways. We know from international experience that pricing can reduce congestion, but we don’t yet know if it’s right for Auckland. This project aims to find this out.

What is congestion pricing?

Congestion pricing involves directly charging motorists for the use of roads, with charges potentially varying by location and/or time of day.

Currently, motorists pay for the use of roads through a range of methods: petrol taxes, road user charges, vehicle registration fees and rates.

These charges don’t take into account the time or location of travel – for example, driving on a congested motorway in rush hour versus driving along a quiet road late at night. But the true costs of these two journeys are very different – driving at peak times adds to the congestion on the road, which impacts on (or has a ‘cost’ to) other road users.

These costs impact both on the economy (for example, by adding to freight travel times) and at an individual level (meaning, for example, less time spent at home with family).

Congestion pricing could change this by varying what road users pay at different times and/or locations to better reflect where the cost of using the roads is higher (i.e. where there is congestion).

This could encourage some users to change the time, route, or method of travel, or choose not to travel at all – this is known as demand management. The result is better use of the road network.

What about those who don't have public transport alternatives, or can't change when they travel?

As part of the project, we will look carefully at the impact of pricing on households and businesses: the affordability of travel; access to jobs, education and services; and whether people would have alternatives to paying more (such as public transport or ride-sharing).

We will also look at any mitigation that might be needed if pricing was recommended, particularly for lower income residents.

When will it be introduced?

A decision on whether or not pricing will be introduced has not been made. The project aims to investigate whether pricing is right for Auckland. This work is ongoing, and the final report will make recommendations that Government and Auckland Council will consider in deciding whether to implement pricing at some point. In making this decision, the views of the public would also be considered.  

If a decision is made to implement a congestion pricing scheme, the timings would in part be determined by the option that’s right for Auckland.

 

How would pricing reduce congestion in Auckland?

Based on the initial testing and evaluation carried out as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project(external link) (ATAP), congestion pricing has significant potential to influence travel demand and reduce congestion in Auckland. This is in line with theoretical expectations, previous research carried out in Auckland and practical experience in other countries.

The Congestion Question project is being progressed alongside other opportunities to influence demand, such as better integrating land use and transport, and actively encouraging increases in vehicle occupancy. The Government and Auckland Council are also investing in improving transport infrastructure and services, such as new roads and public transport.

What will the money raised through congestion pricing be used for?

This project will investigate congestion pricing as a way to influence travel demand and reduce congestion – revenue generation is not the objective of congestion pricing.  However, we’re aware that we would need to be transparent around how we would use any revenue raised from any congestion pricing scheme to benefit Auckland.

How will the public be able to have their say?

We know that a lot of people will be interested in the project and will want to know how it will affect them. We are working through different options for how congestion pricing could work, and at the end of the project will make a recommendation for whether congestion pricing could work, and whether it is a good option to explore for Auckland.

If a decision is made to explore congestion pricing further, ensuring people have a say about how it will work is important. We need input from Aucklanders, and a key part of taking any recommendations of this work forward will be to develop a public engagement approach that offers a range of opportunities for people to be involved.

Who is doing the project?

A core project team from across the participating organisations is leading the work, supported by external experts with experience in road pricing, transport economics and modelling, and other areas.

The project team will report to a Steering Group consisting of nominees from the Ministry of Transport, Auckland Council, the Treasury, the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport.

This Steering Group will report to a Governance Group consisting of the Secretary for Transport, Chief Executive of Auckland Council, Deputy Secretary Treasury, Deputy Commissioner for Auckland, State Services Commission and the Chief Executives of the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport.

How will you determine whether congestion pricing will work for Auckland?

The project will look at whether different options have the potential to influence travel demand and reduce congestion in Auckland, including transport modelling. Option assessment will also consider the social, economic and environmental costs and benefits. This will be guided by an evaluation framework that’s been developed in the first phase.

We need input from Aucklanders and there will be opportunities for that once we have a better idea of what congestion pricing could look like for Auckland.