Which Auckland mayoral candidates are on board with a congestion charge?

The next Auckland mayor could for all practical purposes scrap any congestion charge the Government wishes to impose on use of the city streets.

So where do each of the six mayoral candidates sit on the expected announcement next week that motorists could be charged a fee of up to $3.50 to use CBD streets by 2025?

A Herald poll of more than 35,000 readers found 75 per cent were against the idea.

But that was a very blanket ‘for or against’ question. And as the mayoral candidates’ answers have shown, the devil is in the detail of any congestion policy.

It is understood Government ministers are expected to announce some form of congestion pricing when they deliver their final Emissions Reduction Plan on Monday next week.

A congestion charge in some form has backing by Labour, National, the Greens and Act.

If successful, officials believe charges could help take 12 per cent of traffic off the city’s clogged roads, easing Auckland’s $1.3b congestion problem while reducing emissions.

But it is unlikely the Government would bother to fight an Auckland mayor and council vehemently against the policy.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has backed such policies in the past on the condition other transport options were available and the city’s 10 cent per litre regional fuel tax was phased out.

But he won’t be at Auckland Council after October’s local government elections.

Which of the six candidates vying to take his job support congestion charging?

Viv Beck – Yes (but needs to see detail)

The Auckland central city business association chief executive says she is in favour of congestion charges, but acknowledges it will likely be unpopular.

“Congestion is a big issue for the city and the region and I think we do have to look at it [congestion charges] seriously given the pressure our network is under,” Beck said.

The centre right candidate says she prefers a congestion charge because it is a targeted “demand mechanism” rather than the regional fuel tax, which is applied to everybody using the roads.

But she did have reservations.

“I think we do need to see more information about how the impact on lower income Aucklanders would be managed. We haven’t seen the detail,” the Heart of the City chief executive said.

“I think it also disproportionately penalises people in some of the outer suburbs that just have no public transport alternatives, so there’s an issue of fairness.”

Beck said she would be against congestion pricing if it was not complemented with significant investment in public transport so that people have alternatives to a charge.

Wayne Brown – Maybe (once the CRL and other projects are finished)

Brown was slightly exasperated with the suggestion of a congestion charge with so many other Auckland transport infrastructure projects outstanding.

The businessman and former Far North Mayor said he thinks projects like the City Rail Link really need to be completed in some form so commuters have viable options before a congestion charge is implemented.

“Congestion charging only makes sense if there are viable public transport alternatives,” Brown said.

“Auckland needs to finish the important public transport projects underway. The goal needs to be to get Auckland moving faster. Congestion charging might be part of the mix but only if integrated with an operational transport system.”

Brown said congestion charging could not be just a “revenue grab” and if he was mayor he would negotiate the policy directly with central government.

“It would not be left for Auckland Transport.”

Efeso Collins – Yes

The Labour Party-endorsed candidate and Auckland councillor for the Manukau Ward was in favour of a congestion charge because it was fairer than what exists now.

Collins somewhat controversially did not vote in favour of Auckland Council’s Regional Fuel Tax because he viewed it as a regressive tax that unfairly impacted the working class communities in his South Auckland electorate.

But replacing the fuel tax with a congestion charge would be an “ideal situation”, he said.

“As long as we have an absolute commitment to reducing emissions, reducing congestion and making sure we’re not penalising particular communities depending on where they live, I would be supportive of congestion tax.

“I voted against the regional fuel tax, and I’ve always seen congestion tax as a fairer approach.”

Leo Molloy – No (but maybe in the future)

The prominent Auckland hospitality figure is passionately against a congestion charge – at least in the short term.

The Headquarters owner said now is not the time to hit the wallets of Aucklanders with another tax.

Molloy said his broader transport policy would be to “immediately scrap” the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax and implement a trial of free public transport for a year. An analysis of how this was affecting congestion would also be undertaken, he said.

“Only then should we consider the introduction of a small congestion charge for travel into Auckland’s CBD during peak hours on main roads, provided commercial vehicles are exempt from the scheme, to ensure small business owners are not unfairly penalised.”

Craig Lord – Yes (with conditions)

Lord said he campaigned on an regional congestion charge when he finished third in the 2019 Auckland mayoral election, and his position hasn’t changed.

“It’s something that should be seriously looked at. But there’s a lot of technicalities that need to be nutted out,” the former engineer said.

Lord would want a congestion charge in a form similar to other cities around the world where there is an electronic tolling system for specific high use arterial roads.

But he insisted there should be “caveats in it” so that various motorists weren’t charged including: taxis, Ubers, tradies travelling to a job or worksite, couriers and trucks.

Lord said “I agree with it” but not as a “blanket [policy]”.

“There’s lots of ifs, buts and maybes involved for me,” he said.

Ted Johnston – No

The New Conservative Party co-leader was the most unequivocal of the mayoral candidates in his stance on congestion charges.

“I’m completely opposed to a congestion tax. I mean if the Government wants to try to show off to the world what a great job it’s doing, don’t make Auckland pay for it. We’re the victims,” he said.

The South Auckland lawyer laid much of the blame for the city’s congestion on the policies of present and past Auckland Council governing bodies, and did not believe the average motorists should have to pay a cent to offset this.

“Our problem is that the ideologues running our council want to get cars off the road for global warming etc but we are carrying the rest of the world on our back,” he said.

“We now want to spend $2b on cycle paths and we’re running out of money.”

Johnston claimed new bus lanes doubled congestion by pushing cars into a single lane. Slower speed limits and new cycle paths also increased congestion in his opinion.

“A lot of congestion is the fault of the council’s action,” he said.

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