Monday, 30 November 2020

Auckland congestion charging reports released - Phase Two recommends two preferred options

Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Ministry of Transport today released a series of reports that represent Phase Two of The Congestion Question study, that has been investigated the merits and options for congestion pricing in Auckland. The point of the study is to investigate congestion pricing to improve network performance a stark contrast to more recent examples discussing road pricing (see Australia on electric vehicles, the UK on road pricing) which are about raising revenue. In fact, the Auckland Mayor has already stated that he sees this as replacing the regional fuel tax (NZ$0.10/litre plus 15% GST), which is likely to have positive economic, environmental and social impacts, as it would mean only those travelling at peak times on congested roads would pay. 

t is a joint project between central and local government, and the technology option proposed is use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, although other options were considered.  The proposal for pricing is peak only, with the sample tariff below considered for the city centre cordon option:

The purpose of the study was to undertake a detailed investigation of the options and established some preferred options for more detailed design and possible implementation.  Given transport in Auckland is dominated by use of the private car (and trip patterns that are highly dispersed, with only 13% of employment in the central business district).  Transport in Auckland has had literally billions of NZ$ spent on it in the past twenty years, this includes:

  • Completion of the Western Ring Route of the motorway network, allowing through traffic between south-west and north Auckland to avoid the Central Motorway Junction and Auckland Harbour Bridge, and multiple upgrades to other parts of the motorway network, including grade separation, new lanes and ramps, and targeted capacity increases;
  • Transformation of the commuter rail network, including opening of a downtown railway station, electrification of the network with new rolling stock, additional tracks, upgraded stations and a significant uplift in service frequencies. A city centre underground railway loop is now under construction to increase capacity of the network;
  • Busways on corridors without railways (North Shore and now eastern and north western under development);
  • Significantly enhanced bus and ferry services, some bicycle lanes and park and ride facilities.

The table below summarises the analysis of impacts of the shortlisted options:

The key conclusion from the reports is that the two preferred options are:

Auckland City Centre Cordon congestion pricing option

  1. City Centre Cordon scheme: This scheme simply places a cordon around downtown Auckland, bounded in part by the central motorway junction (which would still be free to drive along to bypass the cordon) and the harbour.  It would only operate at weekday peak times in inbound and outbound directions. It would be easy to implement, has a high standard of public transport accessibility, high levels of public transport and active travel already.  It would generate annual benefits of around NZ$27m per annum, mostly from travel time savings, but also improved trip reliability and reduced vehicle operating costs (mostly fuel consumption).  It was calculated at having a benefit/cost ratio of 1.7.  It would reduce vehicle trips by 4,500 in the AM peak, so it is on a small scale, but is seen as a good starting point.
  2. Strategic Corridor scheme: This scheme would charge congested major corridors, similar to the Singapore scheme, including motorways and major arterial routes. The assumption being that this would only be at peak times, in the busiest direction of travel, on parts of the network with the greatest congestion. It would generate annual benefits of NZ$191m, mostly from travel time savings, but also reduced vehicle operating costs (mostly fuel consumption). It was calculated as having a benefit/cost ratio of 1.8. It would reduce trips in the AM peak by 1.3%, but reduce travel times by nearly 7% and delays for freight by around 22%. Unlike the city centre cordon scheme, it is scalable and could be initially focused on corridors as they approach the city centre, but expand beyond that as required. 
A third option is to combine the two, which is likely to make the most sense. It is particularly refreshing to see a study that is driven by improving the conditions for those paying a congestion price and treating the net revenues as being incidental, and looking for it to replace an existing blunt tax (although at a certain scale it would raise more revenue than the regional fuel tax).

There is a LOT of content to get through for those interested, it follows this project structure:

So here are the links to all of the reports (all PDFs):

It's worth noting that GNSS as a technology option was considered and rejected, and a demonstration project has not been proposed so far. The next steps will be decisions by Ministers and Council on consultation and further detailed work, and the possibility of enabling legislation. If successful, it could be the first "new world" city after New York to introduce congestion pricing, and doing so in the context of the dominance of the private car. 

Disclaimer: Milestone Solutions, under its previous business name, D'Artagnan Consulting, was technical advisor to the project, and I personally led that analysis and advice to Auckland Transport.

Indicative depiction of corridor scheme option

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