How to solve the Auckland traffic crisis

Firstly lets start off with comparing Auckland to the likes of New York, Sydney, Beijing, or São Paulo – realistically we don’t have the population density to have comparable congestion on a global scale. Nonetheless it is an issue which poses stress on both livelihoods and the economy – costing and estimated NZD$1.3 billion from reduced productivity (e.g. truckers make 30% fewer runs therefore work longer hours, or delivery firms employing more staff to make deadlines).

There are a few case studies of methods to reduce congestion around the globe, and with the technology in this area rapidly expanding the likes of both Canadian and European cities are taking on great initiative in experimenting with solving their traffic problems, landing themselves in the world stage for trial and error case studies.

One of the biggest issues is that built infrastructure remains static as the investments made are significant, and yet population often continues to grow at the same rate or if not increased rate due to the increase of road networks. Take, for example, the toll roads put in London in 2003. For three years there was a 15% decrease in road users before it then leveled off again as population growth remained constant. The biggest issue in Auckland is that users are still driving on military roads from the 1860s. So while I’m not saying that this is a permanent solution by any means, I am suggesting ways to make up instant capital – to ensure that those who are paying for the private and shared vehicle networks will actually be around to use them.

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Areal shot of Great North Road, Henderson, 1956

Fuel tax

The introduction of increased fuel tax is estimated to contribute NZD$120 million  per year towards the ten year NZD$27 billion light rail plan. Can you see the issue here? There is not enough funding. While fuel taxes are encouraged, it is not a tool to be used for fundraising large projects. It is a tool to be used for discouraging car usage – i.e. take the train to work because it’s cheaper, or walk to the supermarket because driving is not worth it. However this doesn’t exactly work if the trains and buses are a. still more expensive and b. unreliable. Yes admittedly putting more funding into the public transport will help but the infrastructure must first be in place before the any of these development plans can be successful, and it should be no surprise that fuel taxes produce petty change when compared to the amounts required to make that work.

Transit lanes

The problem with T3 lanes in New Zealand is that people value the everyday luxury of their private vehicle and their direct route from home to work to give it up, even if it does save an hour in traffic. There are, however, other ways this lane can be utilized however their effectiveness is definitely questioned. They certainly do not generate any direct cash however indirectly they increase productivity by theoretically reducing travel time, definitely for the ones using them but consequently for those not as well. One solution for this is adding a system whereby people can pay to use them. This has been implemented in America where T2 and T3 lanes were converted into High Occupancy Vehicle (HOT) lanes under a road toll system (read below).

lincoln-road-cross-section
Lincoln Road upgrade cross section

Road toll

Lets face it, all real cities have toll roads. They’re inevitable. As population continues to grow the super city will expand and the most feasible way of paying for that is with tolls. The old school way of thinking says that everyone pays a little bit for use of all roads, whereas now people agree that we should pay more for congested roads and only maintenance for those that aren’t. People are happy to pay to see change. So long as funding is going towards projects people will actually get to use, road tolling can be sold to the public. The primary reason tolls are needed is that cities are designed for small municipal projects, not large CAPEX issues. Designing fast, multilaned highways and lightrails between the Golden Triangle (below), and Auckland – Whangarei is a large CAPEX project and is infeasible without a tolling system. The legitimacy of all these ideas only comes to life with a means of raising capital and toll roads are the most efficient way doing this – for motorists by motorists. This way the people who are using the goods are the ones paying for them. Keeping that in mind, once road developments are paid for the toll roads should expire or be price adjusted for whatever the next project may be.

Tolling technology is also growing at an exceptionally high rate (images below). These days you don’t even go through a toll booth. You can get a satellite reader in your car which connects to an app where you can subscribe to multiple trips and connect you credit cards, or you can set up cameras to scan licence plates (such as that currently set up from Auckland to Whangarei) and either send a letter to your home or connect to the app (if you’re not often travelling via toll road).

There can also be added incentives, such as that recently implemented in Sydney where if you pay more than NZD$30 per week in tolls you receive discount on your registration, or Sunday tolls being lifted to encourage people to explore the city on their day of rest. As well as discounts put in place for unavoidable delays such as roadworks or natural disasters.

High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes

HOT lanes are currently being experimented with in across many major cities. The theory goes that electricity, gas, airline providers etc will all adjust prices according to demand – so why aren’t road tolls doing the same? I personally this that this is a really good system. It works that carpoolers and trucks drivers travel for free while other vehicle users will pay a varying toll based on congestion. This way in rush hour traffic drivers can decide if it’s worth it to drive, carpool, use other roads, or take public transit. According to one study done it is estimated that half of all drivers on the roads in rush hour traffic are not going to either work nor school! This system allows them to decide if transport in these hours is worth it. Tolls trailed in Los Angles were priced between NZD 0.70c to NZD $11 per trip, which works in the same regard to airfares – when prices rise people are aware there are lots of other drivers on the roads. I believe one thing to keep in mind with pricing is it must be more expensive than public transport but not so expensive no one drives. This system also eliminates the belief that road tolls are only for the well off. The variable price system allows people of all financial status to decide whether or not travelling at a certain time is worth the price.

I could go one step further than this as to recommend that adjusting price based on areas of low to high housing density may also be a good idea. In the longer term this encourages people to move to various areas where there is low occupancy and room for expansion. It also encourages culture to grow among the various tolling areas of Auckland. This can stimulate local business development, which should be encouraged at government level, to help move people away from the CBD. Lets face it, with a good chunk of the city being built on reclaimed land, and Tamaki Drive already going underwater (see below) it really shouldn’t need to be said that expanding away from the coast is a strategic move, but that’s an issue for another day.

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Flooding Tamaki Drive (2014)

 

Although many resent the idea of changing to a tolling system, largely viewing it as another tax or a system favoring the wealthy, it is really the only successfully tested model for generating revenue for new roads and expansion. With technologies and policies developing at significant rates there is no better time to trial this motion. There would be enough capital generated to fund all large expansion roads in the Wider Auckland proposal which is a necessary move to support the 30,000 people arriving per year.

 

References:

Population:

http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/auckland-population/

https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2016/10/31/population-growth-in-2016/

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/95383973/traffic-congestion-costs-aucklands-economy-13b-a-year-report

Road toll case studies:

https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/north-shore/sydney-drivers-pay-millions-in-tolls-to-build-new-toll-roads-like-westconnex-and-northconnex/news-story/6193678deb8b811c92977372f4d0a49f

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-20/nsw-government-announces-free-car-rego-for-toll-road-users/9168264

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/trans-canada-highway/road-tolls-will-they-actually-reduce-congestion/article32974843/

https://www.brookings.edu/research/traffic-why-its-getting-worse-what-government-can-do/

https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/93407118/auckland-council-government-exploring-pricing-for-city-congestion-charges

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/livable-city/la-ol-traffic-toll-lane-freeway-20170303-story.html

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/trans-canada-highway/road-tolls-will-they-actually-reduce-congestion/article32974843/

New Zealand roads:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/98292476/auckland-mayor-phil-goff-rubbishes-fuel-tax-red-herrings

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/95383973/traffic-congestion-costs-aucklands-economy-13b-a-year-report

https://at.govt.nz/projects-roadworks/lincoln-road-upgrade/

Photos:

https://natlib.govt.nz/records/30635025?search%5Bi%5D%5Bplace_authority_id%5D=97082&search%5Bpath%5D=items

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