Joe Hendren

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Monday, July 04, 2005

At least there are plenty of ways to undermine the proposed Auckland Toll roads

Via Tumeke : The NZ Herald reports that Auckland drivers without passengers could face fast lane tolls. "Drivers may have to pay tolls to join the fast lanes on costly new Auckland motorways - or earn free use by carrying at least two passengers."

Transit New Zealand Chief executive Rick van Barneveld said "reserving fast lanes for high-occupancy vehicles or those whose drivers were willing to pay would help to limit congestion by "managing" demand for travel, a legal obligation for road-builders."

This raises some interesting possibilities.
If there was no charge for cars with two passengers I wonder if we would see professional 'passengers' who would mingle at either end of the bridge or motorway, offering to be a 'passenger' for less than the cost of the toll!

Better still - people who are opposed to toll roading (like me) could become 'free' passengers to ensure the whole toll collecting shenanigans was totally uneconomic. Hehehe.

The Land Transport Management Act, passed by Labour and the Greens, allows a toll road to be built only if it has strong local support and an alternative free route is available.

While it may start out with public and private roads side by side, roading companies no doubt would want to build roads where the alternative is inconvenient or via Temuka to gain 'greater market share' (aiming for a monopoly).

There is a significant danger a two tier roading system would lead to creeping privatisation, especially if a right wing government thought it could penny pinch by not maintaining/extending public roads on the grounds there is a private alternative available - provided by roading companies that just happen to be big financial supporters of said right wing government.

Under a part privatised roading system there would be fewer public roads, and it is likely the remaining public roads would not be maintained as well as they are now.

I was in London when Ken Livingstone bought in the congestion charge - and I suspect this will become a favourite example for Treasury boffins and the usual suspects who love to privatise things. But London has had a well developed public transport system for years, so when Ken says the poor use the buses he is right, but given we lack the same infrastructure here I strongly doubt the same argument could be sustained for NZ cities.

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At 10:23 pm, Blogger Rich said...

I see your point - there is a friction between environmental and social development in that using a pricing mechanism to deter people out of activities like car use penalises the poorer part of society disproportionately.

However, what choice is there? At the moment we have few tolls in NZ; the road system in Auckland is approaching gridlock several hours a day; public transport is uneconomic through underuse and things are only getting worse as the city expands without much thought or restraint.

Currently, the approach seems to be to allow congestion to self regulate - in theory once it becomes impossible to commute in from outer suburbs, people will move homes or jobs. However this leaves the likelihood that, as has already happened in Sydney, outer suburbs become slums with no jobs and an impossible commute to anywhere that does have work.

One alternative would be to spend up now on public transport in the expectation that once the system is built road pricing can be introduced to help pay off the debt. This would not be a bad plan, but would be economically difficult and would be a hard sell to the voters.

Building an ever growing road system out of public funds is the Nats approach (I think) - the trouble is that there will never be sufficient funds to do more than maintain current levels of congestion.

Non-financial restrictions on vehicle use (like banning car use on alternate days, or limiting the number of driving licenses issued) would have the advantage of fairness I suppose - but are both socially oppressive and economically inefficient.

My preferred solution is an integrated approach: development controls, better public transport, direction of freight away from city centres and yes, some form of tolling or congestion charging to convince people to use public transport and live in sustainable communities.


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