Does congestion pricing need all motorists to have a "reasonable alternative", by mode of transport?
The alternatives to congestion pricing include:
- Modal choices (public transport and cycling/walking for shorter trips)
- Time of day choice (driving outside charging periods)
- Route choice (avoiding driving on priced roads if possible)
- Trip frequency choice (driving less frequency if a trip is regular)
The single biggest reason cars have become ubiquitous in cities is because they enable trips to be undertaken between origins and destinations that are not, and are likely to never be efficient to take by other modes. For trips to city centres, public transport can be an option for many, at peak times and indeed for trips between locations on public transport corridors, they obviously can be undertaken instead of driving, but for many cities, especially lower density cities like Auckland, characterised by houses on blocks of land in outer suburbs. It is not ever going to be efficient to have bus services that are always walkable to all of those suburban outlying areas.
So those that claim public transport alternatives need to exist for everyone are mistaken or actually just opposed to congestion pricing. I hope the Mayor of Auckland is simply mistaken.
In short it was recommended that Auckland implement congestion pricing, starting with a small inner city cordon (effectively as a pilot, but consistent with Auckland Council's objectives to reduce car use in the inner city and provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and buses) followed by corridor based charging, in some ways resembling how Singapore's excellent ERP system was rolled out.
The pandemic stopped further progress, but in the meantime the Government of the day was re-elected, with a majority for the ruling Labour Party, and it followed up with a Parliamentary Inquiry into congestion pricing in Auckland. which recommended that congestion pricing proceed.
It's worth noting that congestion pricing is not controversial at the level of national politics, although there is debate about how to use the money, and the priority of objectives. The Green Party supports it, so do the Opposition centre-right National and free-market liberal ACT parties. However, it would be fair to say that progress in advancing congestion pricing in Auckland has been glacial over the past year.
To enable congestion pricing, the Government needs to introduce legislation to permit it to be introduced and this has not yet occurred. However, in the meantime there were local elections in New Zealand. Auckland's Mayor had retired, and he has been replaced by the centre-right candidate Wayne Brown, who has reportedly now said that congestion charging is a "distraction" and
"Congestion charging could only make sense once every Aucklander has the option of catching a bus or a train that they know will show up on time, every time – and we are two years away from that, at the very least"
There are two big mistakes with this:
- If it were decided to introduce congestion pricing, it would take at least two-three years before it could be ready in any case. Indeed, the argument has been made that the right time to introduce it is when Auckland's underground city rail loop is completed in 2025 or so.
- There is no reason for EVERY person to have a public transport option to substitute every possible car trip, indeed it is neither possible nor rational nor necessary. This is because many trips will simply change time or frequency of travel, especially more discretionary trips.
- around 10% points were commuters that shifted mode (so only around 40% of car occupants went to other modes)
- around 6% points were discretionary trips (likely social, recreational, retail) that changed either the destination of travel at charging times or travelled less frequently. So they still drove, just fewer times per week (consolidating trips) or to another destination not subject to pricing.
- around 5% of trips were commercial trips (deliveries, tradespeople, taxis) that disappeared, again likely due to consolidation of trips (deliveries being managed more efficiently, tradespeople booking work for a single trip across the cordon rather than multiple ones during a day)
- <2% changed route (using the bypass motorway to avoid the charged cordon).
- <1% changed time of travel, noting the Stockholm scheme operates all day, but has lower prices between the peaks.