Congestion charging is a great idea, in theory, but in reality, not so much.
To make this theory wory, you need something pretty crucial; a good public transport system, like a subway, an extensive bus network, or fast trains going all over the show.
Because if you’re going to force people off the roads by making driving more expensive, then you need to force them onto something else.
And that’s the problem with congestion charging here in New Zealand. We don’t have something else - at least, not something else that’s decent.
Auckland’s got trains sure, but if you want to train down to Pukekohe it’s going to take you an hour twenty, which is twice what it takes in a car. Wellington’s got busses, but they’re stuffed, they don’t arrive when they’re supposed to, if they arrive at all. And you can say the same thing for public transport in whatever town you’re in.
And at this stage, short of a couple of stupid light rail ideas in Wellington and Auckland, our public transport system shows no sign of improving very soon.
So The New Zealand Initiative can bang this drum as long and hard as it likes, saying we need congestion charging in New Zealand, but until we’ve got an alternative, we’re not going to solve the problem.
All we’re going to do is make it more expensive to drive into town, but you’re still going to have as many cars on the road.
And here’s another problem with congestion charging: no one wants to pay more. Petrol’s already expensive now we’re paying more fuel taxes, parking’s a rip off.
That’s probably why both Melbourne and Sydney have recently rejected a congestion tax, because this just feels like another tax. It’s a political non-starter.
Now the NZ Initiative reckons there’s a way to get around that: make it revenue neutral. So, say the congestion charging collects $1 million, the idea is that the ratepayers get $1 mil back in something like rate cuts.
Come on, that’s not going to happen. How often do we get our cash back from whatever level of government?
Now this isn’t to write off congestion charging forever. It could work one day, but that day will only come around after we’ve built a decent public transport system. Till then, this is dreaming.