Wellington Scoop

A simple, tolling, solution


by Conor Hill
In a previous life, the view from my office window encompassed the motorway and the Bolton Street cemetery.

Every morning the cemetery hummed with life. Commuters walking from Thorndon and Kelburn to work. Bootcamps sprinting through in lycra. Bureaucrats on benches sipping short blacks. Kereru, Tui and Kaka fluttering and chirping through the trees.

And every morning the motorway was crawling. Frustrated parents wondering why in God’s name they were driving their children to school. Portaloo companies transporting shit to construction sites. Exurbanites inching their way to a car parking building, having made the long haul in.

Why do all these people drive from the Hutt, or Kapiti, or Johnsonville, when they could catch the train?

A part of the answer is that the train costs money, while using the motorway is free. Another part of the answer is that the trains into Wellington stop at parliament.

Wellington not only needs to make its motorway move faster.

It also needs to provide better options for public transport users travelling towards Courtenay Place and beyond.

One of the options to achieve these goals could have been a regional fuel tax, but it has been ruled out.

What would work better is charging people to drive in to town during the morning rush hour. Set the price right and some people will switch from driving to public transport. This makes the motorway move faster and makes better public transport more viable.

It’s not a new solution. Singapore’s been doing it since the seventies, and much smaller places like Durham in the UK, and Valletta in Malta have successfully introduced similar schemes.

A stage 1 pilot could involve tolling the motorway and Hutt Road at peak hours. Commuters who didn’t want to pay the toll could take the train, and some may timeshift, travelling outside the morning rush hour.

It’s incredibly simple to do this.

Bang some cameras over the Motorway and the Hutt road, and use the tolling technology in place elsewhere in New Zealand. Spend the funds raised on better public transport – be that light rail or an extension to the rail network. The motorway moves faster, people living north of Wellington have better public transport. Even the portaloos full of shit get to where they are going faster. Surely that’s a good thing?

This article, first published by Conor Hill last year, is stage 1 of a concept which originated at Greater Auckland.

Read also:
Regional Council welcomes report recommending congestion charging


  1. Lezie McGrind, 7. November 2019, 18:45

    Conor you are so wrong on this one. Buying a car, paying for compliance costs, gas (with a high fuel tax) and parking to get to work is not “free”.
    Where congestion taxes have been imposed, it has done nothing to free up traffic snarls.

  2. Henry Filth, 7. November 2019, 19:44

    It’s not simply economics, important though they are.

    Public transport also has to take me where I want to go, when I want to go there.

  3. David Mackenzie, 8. November 2019, 9:41

    Lezie and Henry are both not thinking clearly.
    1. Using a motor-vehicle obviously has costs, but that is not what Conor is talking about. The average motorist is not charged directly for use of the road.
    2. Improving public transport is what Conor is talking about, so that it takes people where they want to go and when, at negligible cost.

  4. Traveller, 8. November 2019, 11:44

    Lezie. Wikipedia reports that the London congestion charging scheme resulted in a 10% reduction in traffic volumes, and an overall reduction of 11% in vehicle kilometres in London between 2000 and 2012. And during the first ten years of the scheme, gross revenue reached about £2.6 billion, with about £1.2 billion invested in public transport, road and bridge improvement and walking and cycling schemes.

  5. Lezie McGrind, 8. November 2019, 12:24

    That’s just not true Traveller as there has been no reduction in traffic congestion in London.

  6. Traveller, 8. November 2019, 15:01

    Lezie. What is the source of your claim? Here’s a report (from April) about how the congestion tax is working well in London: In 2006, Transport for London (TfL) reported that the charge reduced traffic by 15% and congestion – the extra time a trip would take because of traffic – by 30%. This effect has continued to today. Traffic volumes in the charging zone are now nearly a quarter lower than a decade ago. I was in London last year and the difference is enormous.

  7. Aaron Smith, 8. November 2019, 15:21
  8. TrevorH, 8. November 2019, 21:04

    Car owners pay enormous costs and taxes already, including for funding roads. Many would probably prefer to take public transport if it was reliable, safe and went to and from where they want to go. But in Wellington doesn’t. In fact public transport in Wellington is a disaster zone. Planners also fail to take into account that many people these days work 10 hour days, leaving work around 7pm or later. So trudging to the Railway Station or bus stop on a winter’s evening in the hope of a reliable service to take you part of the way home has little appeal.

  9. Henry Filth, 9. November 2019, 13:50

    The view down the harbour from the Hutt road is fantastic. Is that why people sit in cars, looking at the view, watching trains glide past? Why do they do it, eh? Maybe use the carrot of good, cheap, reliable, convenient public transport. Or is the stick of taxation the only tool conceivable to the Wellington imagination?

  10. Conor, 9. November 2019, 14:31

    Hi Henry – the piece talks about carrot and stick. The stick of congestion charging, and the carrot of better public transport funded by that. My example was light rail in this piece (written a year ago) but no reason it couldn’t be buses.

  11. Mark, 9. November 2019, 17:26

    The stick is broken as the congestion charge where it has been imposed has failed to decrease congestion.
    We shouldn’t have to be thinking about punitive stick action penalizing us for the failures in public transport.

  12. Glen Smith, 10. November 2019, 20:55

    Aaron and Mark. The Daily Mirror article gives a blinkered view based on limited analysis – not surprising since it is based on the opinion of the AA’s head of public affairs. It notes that in fact 70,000 fewer cars enter the city each day but that congestion is similar due to ‘measures for pedestrians, buses and cyclists’. This is exactly what we should expect and exactly as it has to be.
    A city has a finite capacity to accommodate inefficient mass car transportation. Once this ‘saturation’ point is reached (which is what congestion is a reflection of) then the only way to increase total trips, as the population grows, is by increasing (and allocating more space to) more efficient modes. This is what has happened in London. Official figures show that total trips increased by 18.5 % from 1997 to 2017 (table 2.1 page 25) or 24.3% if counting all stages (table 2.2 – some trips have several stages). Over this time car trips fell by 15% in absolute numbers or around 33% as percentage share (table 2.3- 48% share down to 36% – a drop of a third) taking into account the increased total trips. Bus/ surface rail/ underground and cycling all showed massive increases.
    Congestion charging helps to ‘ration’ the limited resource of private motor vehicle trips by adding a financial disincentive to encourage discretionary drivers to take alternative, more efficient, modes. I think it can be seen as a success. If total trips had increased by 18.5% and private motorcar mode share had remained at 48%, I doubt cars would be moving at all (as we descend the flow/ density curve towards ‘jam’ density).
    These figures don’t include pedestrian trips. When we include these, we see that pedestrian counts make up 64% of people movements while occupying only 9% of street space (figure 3.11- page 20) while private cars occupy 53% of street space but only provide 21% of people movements.

  13. Aaron Smith, 11. November 2019, 8:50

    The only blinkered perception is seen in those pushing the stick as a solution, ignoring the failed public transport situation.