Wellington Scoop

Congestion charges: for and against

Report from RNZ
Wellington commuters could have to pay for driving into the CBD to work, with the city council considering the introduction of congestion charges, if it gets the green light from the Government.

Parliament’s transport and infrastructure committee is exploring the possibility of a congestion charge for Auckland – and the Wellington City Council has signalled its intention to put a plan up for public consultation within months. Congestion charges are intended to reduce peak hour traffic.

The Road Transport Forum is right behind the idea, which it hopes will free up the roads for freight.

Chief executive Nick Leggett believes reducing the number of cars on the road will boost productivity.

“It isn’t some amazing solution it’s one of many things that we need to do to improve people’s use of public transport, get them out of their vehicles, reduce congestion on the highways so critical freight can move but so we’ve got a much better transport system which allows Wellingtonians to move around and get on with their day while also improving productivity in the region.”

However, the Automobile Association argues there’s not enough evidence to support congestion charges. Senior infrastructure advisor Sarah Geard says the council will struggle to get the public’s backing without more preparation.

“It would take many many years to work through how these systems could work and to build public support because ultimately without public support these things can’t be taken forward,” she said. “Proposals need to be based on really good analysis so the public can understand the benefits that these changes would deliver relative to the costs people would incur.”

On the streets of Wellington some people put the proposed congestion charges down to poor governance.

“Absolutely ludicrous, the cities they’re comparing them with overseas probably have decent public transport systems in place and their government probably support those systems, this city doesn’t and they can’t cope with the bus services and the people they have now, it will fail dramatically,” said one member of the public.

“I’d say it’s another example of incompetent local and national government as opposed to getting the money that they already have and using it wisely,” said another.

However, some see it as a necessary step to getting traffic out of the CBD.

“If we want to get vehicles out of the CBD, we need to get people in and the public transport at the moment doesn’t really cut it so we’ve got to do something,” said one person.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster is pleased to see the Government moving on congestion pricing, and hopes it may get the traffic moving in more ways than one.


  1. Campbell Barry, 13. June 2021, 9:21

    Congestion charging before having a reliable public transport system with capacity = cart before horse. [via twitter]

  2. Psyllids and Lerps, 13. June 2021, 9:40

    What about trades and delivery drivers who have no choice but to drive into the city? Do they get an exemption?

  3. TrevorH, 13. June 2021, 10:08

    Without an efficient and reliable public transport system providing a viable alternative for commuters, a congestion charge is simply another burdensome tax on working people.

  4. Kara, 13. June 2021, 10:23

    Just checked the alerts on Metlink and it appears that Tranzurban routes are in dire need of drivers. Cancellations all over the place. So a well functioning public transport system before congestion charges is a no brainer. And I don’t have a car.

  5. GK, 13. June 2021, 10:48

    Need frequent, reliable and ingrated public transport network first.

  6. C.R.E.A.M., 13. June 2021, 12:51

    We’ve all been played by local government. Destroy the bus network, force everyone into cars and then charge congestion tax without providing an alternative. Ker-Ching!

  7. M, 13. June 2021, 13:03

    So Andy … will the WCC be paying the congestion tax or claiming it as an expense?

  8. M, 13. June 2021, 13:19

    This is exciting news for the towns and cities wanting government departments spread across the country creating jobs for their residents. Time to move these jobs out of the capital city to places where living wage workers and workers are not treated as cash cows. And why not. Technology allows it, would keep government in touch in what is happening outside of wellington. And sure helps with the created congestion issue in Wellington.

  9. Marion Leader, 13. June 2021, 14:03

    Thank you, M. Moving government departments out of Wellington would help with the housing market. It would also help with the rates because of the mate’s rates which they pay. Replacing offices with real people would be a bonus.

  10. Ray Chung, 13. June 2021, 14:36

    I’m a supporter of “user-pays” but suspect that the congestion charges will stop people coming into the city for both business and pleasure. Personally, I’d like to see public transport improved so that more people take it. I had a discussion with someone about these e-bikes that are so popular and the cost and energy required to make the lithium batteries and problems in disposing of them. Now if these cyclists all took a bus, we’d be able to stop spending money on cycleways. Imagine that a single bus can take 60 cyclists off the road!

  11. Claire, 13. June 2021, 15:23

    A mix of things would be great. Congestion charges would work in certain time bands. Why is everyone coming into town at the same time? Workplaces could stagger start times. Free buses would make a big difference.

  12. Harry, 13. June 2021, 18:43

    Actually I wouldn’t mind congestion charges but fix the buses FIRST. To talk about congestion charges now is just not fair.

  13. Concerned Wellingtonian, 13. June 2021, 19:07

    Free buses would be a lot quicker especially because thoughtless people spend so much time fiddling to find their Snapper cards or cash to pay the driver.

  14. Ray Chung, 13. June 2021, 19:52

    The trouble is that nothing is free. Is it fair for the rates to increase for the buses? The service definitely needs to improve. I had three buses cancelled or just didn’t turn up last week.

  15. Cr Daran Ponter, 13. June 2021, 20:08

    This discussion has been promoted by the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee’s investigation into Congestion Price Charging for Auckland.

    Good to see these types of tools being considered. They require a long lead-in time and should only be introduced where good public transport provisions are in place.

    For Wellington this means that congestion charging tools should only be applied:

    a) after roll-out in Auckland – let’s see how they go first!
    b) following significant further investment in PT in Wellington – fully integrated ticketing, new stock of trains and buses, greater frequency of services, new services, low cost of public transport trips.
    c) with appropriate lead-in times – let’s not rush this – things need to line up.

  16. bsmith, 14. June 2021, 7:57

    Could I also surmise that you might want to employ a few more bus drivers as well.

  17. Michael Gibson, 14. June 2021, 10:47

    Cr Daran Ponter says that the introduction of congestion charges “require a long lead-in time”. Could he possibly look up the Regional Council’s records for 1983? I remember that congestion charges were being considered then and that they were a big election issue. All credit to the excellent then-Assistant Transport Manager, Dr Dave Watson, who did a lot of excellent work on the subject. Please don’t emulate LGWM on this as well as everything else.

  18. Guy M, 14. June 2021, 12:25

    Daran, I’m sick of people saying that we should not rush things and that we should wait to follow Auckland. Why? Why not be a leader and forge the way ahead? Why not make up our minds and go forth into the world and show the rest of NZ that Wellington is not a basket case but instead is a proud and capable self-governing city? Why not decide what Public Transport system we want, publish the routes, buy the properties, move the services and actually start to do things, without another 10 years of blathering about? Why not make us proud to live in Wellington for a change?

  19. Greenwelly, 14. June 2021, 14:55

    Guy M… because there is a developed inplace political agreement (ATAP) for it to happen in Auckland. There’s no agreement/announcement that it will be used anywhere else.

  20. Cr Daran Ponter, 14. June 2021, 17:05

    Guy M – lead away Guy. You have the luxury of “all care – no responsibility”. I don’t. $100s of Millions of dollars are at stake here. A whole fleet of additional buses, a new fleet of trains, etc etc. My caution here is that we need congestion charging but we also need to line up the PT improvements in a planned manner ahead of the introduction of road pricing.

  21. Cr Daran Ponter, 14. June 2021, 17:12

    Michael Gibson – earlier transport planners may have talked about congestion charging, but they had no greater ability to it than they do now – because they had no statutory authority to do so. Presumably Michael, this is why you didn’t lead-out on congestion charging when you yourself were a regional councillor.

    What we are asking here is to have the tools for congestion charging available to us. Bu make no mistake, having the tools and using the tools are two quite different things. PT MUST be ramped up well in advance of congestion price charging and that will take commitment from taxpayers and ratepayers for the $100s of Millions of new PT investment required to ensure that people have good PT options ahead of road pricing

  22. Guy M, 14. June 2021, 17:14

    greenwelly – I’m operating on the presumed (and possibly hopelessly optimistic) option of Clr Daran Ponter being in enough of a position of power that he and Mayor Andy Foster could “kick some butt” in LGWM and get it moving.

    So: although we don’t have an ATAP, we have a LGWM plan – just that they seem to be too incompetent / unconfident to make it formally into a WTAP. We need people in power, like the fantastically forward looking Ponter and the dynamic Foster (sometimes, flattery gets you somewhere!!) to actually get things moving.

    Publish WTAP and be Damned !

  23. Guy M, 14. June 2021, 18:06

    Thanks Daran – Is that an offer for me to take on the leadership of LGWM ? I’ll take that ! Write me a contract and I’ll be there on Monday.

    But yes, I completely understand the big responsibility on your shoulders – and others. What hacks me off is that LGWM have still not come forward and said “This is the Big Picture” – we want LR/PT along THIS route, we will plan for a high-speed Bus route along THESE routes, here is THE plan for the entire cycleway network in Wellington – get those big ticket items out there in public, start the process moving. Here we are now some 10-12 years on from the Basin debacle, and we still do not have a definitive plan of what will go where. But David Dunlop is in there now – and he’s a bright spark – he’ll get it moving. Fingers crossed…

    Yes, if you search hard enough in the dark places on the web (ie riffle through the troves of documents that LTSA left on their servers etc), there are tiny fragments of a co-ordinated scheme – but there is still not, as far as I can tell, a coordinated plan out there proudly in the public, saying: THIS is what we plan to do.

    Its only after that, that you need to order millions of dollars worth of trains. Need a plan to work to first!

  24. K, 14. June 2021, 20:07

    The big issue with congestion charging in Wellington city us that it isn’t merely a destination, but also a thoroughfare through the Wellington region. If you want to get to the southern or eastern suburbs (including the airport, southern/eastern beaches/regional parks, and indoor sports center) from anywhere north of Wellington requires one to go through Wellington central. State highway one literally goes through the central Wellington – are they really considering what is effectively a toll on SH1? I can’t see that working at all. It would effectively be a tax on 75% of Wellington region residents from going to the airport. They would have to exempt state highway one at the very least – which is what accounts for most of the inner city congestion anyway.

  25. Dave B, 14. June 2021, 20:26

    Guy, if they rush headlong into trams (trackless or otherwise), this significantly precludes being able to do what really should be done which is to extend the hugely-effective “heavy rail” system that we already have. Maybe it’s worth waiting in the doldrums for a few more years (it has been nearly 50 years since this was seriously proposed in the 1960s) to properly get Wellington moving!

  26. Michael Gibson, 15. June 2021, 7:11

    K. From recollection, Dave Watson’s plans dealt with all that. They were well ahead of their time but now there are no excuses for further delay in looking at them.

  27. TrevorH, 15. June 2021, 7:21

    Congestion charging is a tax where we get to pay for the failures of LGWM and the councillors involved with it. Nice work.

  28. bsmith, 15. June 2021, 7:40

    Every council/councilor will be licking their lips in anticipation of a congestion charge. I dont believe that public transport would be fixed first. As soon as it’s possible to introduce it, then the narrative will be “we need to commence congestion charging to pay for this”.

  29. Cr Daran Ponter, 15. June 2021, 9:03

    bsmith – not on my watch. Congestion charging is first and foremost a tool to lever mode shift.

  30. Joolzz, 15. June 2021, 10:29

    Dave B. I had an interesting chat with a rail engineer in Australia a couple of years back and he said: every major city has heavy rail to the airport. Imagine how many cars would be taken off the road from the Kapiti coast and beyond? My late father who was a Works civil engineer used to say that NZ no longer had the stomach for the “big jobs” and long ago stopped listening to those with practical skills.

    I’d like to see a body of engineers with proven skills and experience formed to provide sage, direct advice to government at cabinet level and get not just Wellington moving, but the whole country.

  31. Guy M, 15. June 2021, 10:32

    Dave B “Maybe it’s worth waiting in the doldrums for a few more years.” – No, no, no. Enough of the doldrums. No more waiting. Storm the Bastille! I’m sick of waiting – I don’t want to be dead before this thing is solved. We have been endlessly asked again and again what we want, and we have got precisely nowhere. It is time for someone to front up and say “THIS is what we are doing, and we start NOW !!”. Seriously. Capitals and exclamation marks included.

    Honestly – do I have to step in and do everything myself? Isn’t there anyone in the city who knows how to get things done? Do we need to get Dr Saint Ashley Bloomfield onto the case?

  32. bsmith, 15. June 2021, 14:00

    no first and foremost, it’s another form of taxing the general public.

  33. Dave B, 15. June 2021, 18:09

    Guy, you have my full empathy. I too am sick of waiting for Wellington’s transport to get back on track, and I also wish to see this happen before I get too much older. However, while we may have been asked endlessly about what we want, I think you will find there is still very little consensus as to what this should be.
    A majority (I’m guessing) favours more roads over mass-transit, but completely ignores the mounting body of evidence pointing to this being a bad idea. A minority group of ardent PT supporters clamours for light rail, but what form of light rail divides the group. ‘Tram-train’ advocates want to see trams running from stations on the existing rail network through to the airport, versus ‘separate-system’ advocates who see no need for through-journeys and are quite happy for all train passengers to carry-on being kicked out at the northern edge of town. Then there are a few bus-supporters who would like to see ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ take over the Johnsonville Line and somehow secure a priority-route through the city, ‘trackless-trams’ being but a variant of this. A few favour monorails, ‘suspended rail’ or even gondolas, and last but not least, there is myself who strongly believes we should build-on the rail system we already have by extending it properly.
    Any wonder then, that LGWM and GWRC are struggling to make a decision? Yet as Daran Ponter points out, hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, as is the long-term efficacy (or lack thereof) of whatever is chosen. We cannot afford to consign yet another generation to the misery of short-sighted mistakes and ineffective solutions.

    I support Joolzz’s idea of a group of competent transport-professionals being engaged to advise the government on how to lift New Zealand out of its transport-shambles. Such a team would most likely need to come from overseas (I would recommend Switzerland since the Swiss have a good handle on transport), and they would need to be completely free of any commercial interest in a particular product or solution. We could call it “Let’s drag New Zealand into the 21st Century”.

  34. John Rankin, 15. June 2021, 20:09

    bsmith says a congestion charge is “another form of taxing the general public”; this is incorrect. Best practice for congestion charging is to pay a “decongestion dividend” — all the money collected, less administration costs, is paid out to residents of the region. Among the reasons this is the best approach are (a) you set the price that achieves the decongestion goal; and (b) you reduce the impact on the less well off, for example by paying a larger dividend to those with a community services card. The reason using a congestion charge to raise revenue is a bad idea is that you will set the price to achieve a revenue goal, not a decongestion goal. If local revenue-raising is the goal, use a regional fuel tax.

    DaveB perhaps misrepresents those of us in favour of light rail for Wellington. AFAIK, neither extending the heavy rail network nor building a light metro are options LGWM’s MRT business case is considering. If the choices are bus rapid transit, trackless trams, and light rail, for me light rail is the best option. I think it’s a missed opportunity that LGWM is not considering the option to “build-on the rail system we already have by extending it properly”. My own opinion is that light rail or light metro would prove to offer better value-for-money than extending the existing system, but I may be wrong. If the MRT business case does not include the option to extend the existing system, it needs to state why it was excluded.

  35. Mike Mellor, 15. June 2021, 23:35

    Joolz: your Australian rail engineer was sadly mistaken in saying that every major city has heavy rail to the airport. In Australia that currently applies to just two of the eight state and territory capitals – though more are on the way.

    Dave B: judging by the performance of the four-lanes-to-the-planes mayoral candidate not that long ago and by the overwhelming support for a pedestrian and public transport Golden Mile, your guess that a majority favour more roads over mass transit may not be entirely accurate.

    John R: you’re right – all relevant options should be on the table, with evidence-backed reasons for any exclusions. With all such options in the running, LGWM can focus on the best package(s) that meet its well-thought-out objectives. This approach would mean that all transport advocacy groups could (and should) be satisfied that their preferred option has at least been considered, if not indeed accepted. Without that, barrows will continue to be pushed…

  36. Dave B, 15. June 2021, 23:53

    John Rankin, my apologies if I have misrepresented anyone. Certainly, heavy rail extension is not mentioned as being under LGWM’s consideration (it should be!). The 2013 Public Transport Spine Study purported to consider it but undertook no serious analysis, dragged up a few problems with no acknowledgement that they might be solvable, then in a few short paragraphs dismissed it as “not consistent with the current RLTS…”. I suspect there is now a general mindset that ‘heavy rail extension is unfeasible so don’t waste time thinking about it’.
    But to do a proper investigation – such as would be done if there really was a desire to pursue the option – would require a lot of hard work including the exploration and detailed evaluation of multiple design-possibilities. Easier just to chuck it in the too-hard basket.
    Light rail in-the-street would certainly be much cheaper, but as for “better value-for-money”? – this depends on what the basic objectives are. If these are to continue with a largely road-based regional solution but with some form of local-to-Wellington-MRT tacked-on, then light rail would probably suffice. But if the objectives are a regional PT solution that would help us scale-back regional traffic-volumes and regional car-dependency, then I maintain that something more than a disconnected light rail system in the streets of Wellington will be needed. The difficulty is getting anyone to listen!

  37. Henry Filth, 16. June 2021, 6:59

    An entrance fee for Wellington? Like – pay to get in?

  38. Mike Mellor, 16. June 2021, 9:45

    Henry F: a fee that would be pretty easy to avoid, by choosing another means of transport rather than driving (all of which are better for your health, and for the planet).

  39. bsmith, 16. June 2021, 14:16

    So, let me get this straight. A congestion charge, which I will have to pay, will then, (once expenses are met), be paid back to me as a dividend. Good try.

  40. michael, 16. June 2021, 14:56

    Congestion charges come after there is an alternative for the public like fully functioning, ready accessible, all day, on time public transport. So instead of looking to ideas from overseas where they do have public transport systems that work, just get on with sorting out our transport.
    Too many people are now struggling to get to work any other way than by car. Wellington is becoming strangled by lack of action and I suggest by the time anyone actually gets around to sorting out the mess, a big number of people and businesses will have left.

  41. Mike Mellor, 16. June 2021, 15:35

    bsmith, you will not “have” to pay it – your choice.

  42. bsmith, 17. June 2021, 10:11

    No Mike you’re right, I do have a choice, and I can categorically state I will not be paying for it. I will take my business elsewhere. Then you can walk around to your heart’s content, in the knowledge that you have contributed to the demise of a once great place.

  43. John Rankin, 17. June 2021, 11:45

    bsmith and Mike Mellor: the laws of supply, demand and price are clearly working as expected. A market-based solution to congestion lets individuals choose whether or not they want to buy the product. When a scarce product is free (in this case, road space), it gets over-used. bsmith chooses not to pay the congestion charge and receives a dividend from those who think the price of congestion is worth paying.

    DaveB: as other commenters have noted, excellent public transport is an essential pre-requisite for introducing a congestion charge. For me, the big argument for considering an extension to the regional rail system south of Wellington railway station is that it would get its own dedicated corridor. This would offer a higher level of service than is possible with on-street light rail. LGWM received some good advice on how to optimise the performance of on-street rapid transit, but the temptation would always be there to dumb it down to save money.

  44. bsmith, 17. June 2021, 13:34

    John Rankin, if a congestion charge would only be implemented once a decent, reliable public transport service was in place, then as far as I can see, it will never happen. Are you trying to imply local/regional councils won’t implement one till this happens? They will do it as soon as they can, and use it to pay for their grandiose schemes.

  45. Guy M, 17. June 2021, 14:03

    Dave B. “A minority group of ardent PT supporters clamours for light rail, but what form of light rail divides the group.” I quite agree that is happening – but I do not think it means that LGWM cannot make decisions over the route. Obviously if they chose Heavy Rail then the gradients would be less, and perhaps the route would have to be different – but broadly speaking, unless they opt for an overhead monorail, the route for all the options would be exactly the same. Tram-trains, trackless trams, light rail, modern trams, whatever you want to call them: the only consistent voice I can hear or see making plans for the city are the people over at Eye of the Fish, or even the Auckland-based people under the Greater Auckland blog. Decide the route now, make it well known, get all the discussion underway and over and done with – then we can make progress.

    Luckily, as Daran Ponter appears to have made me in charge of all the decisions (just not yet in charge of the money), decisions will be coming quick and fast once I get my legs under the table… still waiting for that contract…