Cart before the horse situation
The release of the wonky document that was the second part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Program (ATAP) had everyone thanks to the Transport Minister focusing on congestion charging on roads rather than the needs to have a fully functioning transport system.
Newstalk ZB did run a video on transport projects ahead that either need to be done or come about from the ATAP. You can watch the video HERE and realise it is one big MOAR ROADS fest rather than investing in public transport properly. Given roads will most likely come under congestion charging and with a lack of proper public transport investment (that would allow people to catch a rapid AND efficient mass transit system) equity issues present themselves with both the roads themselves and congestion charging.
Earlier in the week I looked at how roads and massive road building schemes are effectively Ponzi Schemes. You can read the post here: Growth Ponzi Scheme + We Are Too Inefficient as a Nation. In essence:
For New Zealand especially Auckland our biggest ponzi scheme that is both Council and Government induced is the roads and motorways ponzi scheme. We are building these wide grandiose roads and motorways when both fuel tax revenue is falling per capita of population (more efficient cars and rise of E-cars) and car usage is falling due to more people taking public or active transport. Basically we will have this massive roads liability in 30 years time due to the short sightedness of politicians and bureaucrats today over investing in roads and not enough in public and active transports. Given 30 years times the Baby Boomers will be retired and on Superannuation I wonder what funding will get diverted from where to pay for their liabilities they created today?
So why the ATAP is still heavily road stacked I am trying to work that one out.
Congestion Charging presenting equity issues
Congestion Charging is a regressive tax charged to road users on top of petrol tax or Road User Charges (Diesel) to either drive in a defined zone like the London Central congestion charge or at a per kilometre rate that can be variable depending on time and (hopefully) congestion levels. I have heard a charge of 44 cents per kilometre to drive on the Auckland Isthmus roads during peak time (pretty much 5am – 7pm seven days a week) with a lesser charge further out being charged.
For congestion charging to work whether it be an area charge or per kilometre charge the public transport system has to be up to scratch to allow people an optimal choice whether they want to drive or take the bus or train. Otherwise we are effectively stinging people with a tax that they have no choice or chance over. This lack of choice (lack of a 24/7 public transport system) is when the congestion charge becomes an equity issue to the population especially to those:
- Low incomes
- Shift workers
- Workers in the big heavy industry complexes
This stems from the fact our public transport system is still designed to service a traditional two-hour peak twice a day Monday to Friday going to and from the City Centre system. There are attempts at some cross town services with busses in the New Bus Network but with the lack of bus lanes and other priority methods even a bus every 15 minutes is going to be an extremely slow trip. As my commuter series showed (I’ll link them below) South Auckland spanners traditional thinking in commuter patterns given 50% of the South commutes within itself while Auckland Transport wants no more than 20% of commuters going north of Manukau and the Airport from the South.
As you would have probably figured South Auckland has Manukau City Centre as well as four of the six big heavy industrial complexes (the other two are Mt Wellington – Otahuhu (so partially South Auckland) and the Southdown – Onehunga complexes). You can equally figure out that commuting on the State Highway 20 to the Airport from Manukau is a pain in the backside due to a lack of the Airport Line (or Botany Line) giving people an alternative in getting to and from work.
So you have those on low incomes, working shifts and working those shifts in the big industrial complexes in the South being stung by a regressive congestion charge when there is no public transport to the complexes. And when if any public transport is finally rolled out to the complexes it would be at day time frequencies that do not make the trip worthwhile by bus.
This very situation using South Auckland and its industrial complexes serves as the prime example of congestion charging being inequitable to the South’s population. The Prime Minister then going on to say that petrol tax could be lowered to compensate the congestion charge misses the point entirely and I wonder if he was doing policy on the hoof. To lessen the regressive nature of a congestion charge to those who can least afford it the best alternative would be to give those working in the complexes access to a 24/7 efficient public transport system. It is public transport that mitigates you against a congestion charge not lowering petrol taxes.
The Government warming to congestion charging has been botched by the Minister of Transport, the Prime Minister and even Mayor Len Brown (who said it would plug a funding gap to invest in transport) which has resulted (and rightly so) the citizenry being concerned that the congestion charge is just another tax rather than what it is meant to be – a demand management tool as part of the full suite of transport options.
That full suite of transport options being having a full public transport network rolled out by 2030 rather than 2042. This means Government needs to pull finger and get funding things like the extension of the heavy rail system, the start of the light rail system (North Shore Line) and properly funding Auckland Transport to roll out 24/7 enforced bus lanes. Without that full suite the congestion charge presents those equity issues to those who can least afford it. Those who are on low incomes, work shifts and/or work in the industrial complexes where public transport is pretty much non-existent.
Time to step back and look at the whole transport mess again as I give our Auckland Design Champ the last word: