Congested roads are a big issue for many Tauranga residents, and for people travelling into the city from surrounding areas. Unfortunately though, there’s no easy way to make our traffic problems go away.
Tauranga City Council Commissioner, Stephen Selwood, says our rapid growth, geography and high-dependency on private motor vehicles are major contributors to traffic congestion and because there’s little scope for increasing the number of lanes on many of our roads, we have to look for other solutions to prevent the situation from getting much worse.
A report received at today’s (Monday, 4 September) Council meeting summarises the findings of a study on one potential solution – SmartTrip variable road pricing.
“As part of the Council’s forthcoming long-term plan consultation process, we will be seeking community feedback on the possibility of introducing variable road pricing,” Stephen says.
“Essentially, SmartTrip would replace the current toll road charges with variable charges across Tauranga’s highway corridors, with higher costs during peak travel times and lower costs when demand is less. Its intent would be to encourage people to think about their road use and, where they can, change their travel time, work from home, share their vehicle use, or use another transport mode like public transport, cycling or walking. Those who chose to or had to drive at peak travel times would enjoy a faster trip, saving them time and in many cases money.
“A SmartTrip proof-of-concept study has been carried out by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and Council, to assess the potential benefits and impacts of road pricing on our road network. Based on network-wide modelling, the study indicates that variable road pricing could have significant positive impacts on the way our transport network operates, as part of an integrated package of managing demand and network and service improvements,” Stephen continues. “If there is a reasonable level of support for further investigating this concept, we’ll work with Waka Kotahi and our SmartGrowth partners to prepare a business case which will provide the detail needed to bring a formal proposal to the community.”
Stephen notes that less vehicles on the road results in an immediate reduction in congestion, as can be seen during school holidays. That in turn would mean faster journeys, reduced delays and more reliable travel times; lower transport-related greenhouse gas emissions; and economic and social benefits, including better productivity and lower vehicle operating costs for businesses and more leisure time for private users.
Road pricing would also generate additional funding, which would allow planned transport network improvements to be brought forward, for the benefit of all users. “The study indicates that SmartTrip could generate around $88 million a year by 2035, over and above its operating costs, and $158 million a year by 2048, with the total funds generated adding-up to about $5.5 billion over a 40-year period,” Stephen adds. “In adopting the report recommendations, the Commissioners’ clear expectation is that all of the locally-raised revenue would be invested in creating a better city roading network, more-efficient public transport services and better active transport (cycling and walking) facilities.”
He also notes that SmartTrip would mean that all road users would be contributing to the local share of network improvement costs, not just Tauranga ratepayers.
Identification of the roads involved would be undertaken through the proposed business case process. The proof-of-concept modelling focused on pricing access to the Te Papa Peninsula and key state highways; however further work is needed to confirm that these would be the right corridors to apply road pricing to.
If SmartTrip was to be introduced, it would require new legislation, as well a full community consultation process to ensure the concept was understood and supported. Investment would also be required to ensure that efficient and convenient public transport services were in place before charging commenced, together with improved alternative travel mode options (walking, cycling and other non-car mobility options) for people who chose not to drive on the roads charging applied to.
Equity and affordability issues for private users would also need to be addressed to ensure that people who are dependent on their cars to do their jobs and for access to essential services would not be disadvantaged.
Potential impacts of traffic diverting onto unpriced local roads would also be considered as part of a business case and if SmartTrip was to be introduced, impacts would be monitored and action taken to reduce negative effects on local neighbourhoods.
“Current modelling indicates that despite a focus on public transport and mode-shift enhancements, vehicle trips on Tauranga’s transport network will increase by 27% by 2035 and more than 45% by 2048. Without a circuit-breaker, driver experiences on the network will continue to deteriorate, resulting in significantly increased network delays,” Stephen concludes.
“If that is the case, achieving our Urban Form and Transport Initiative (UFTI) and SmartGrowth objectives would be difficult, with an adverse impact on new development that provides houses and jobs; and the quality of life experienced in Tauranga Moana would also deteriorate, with less time available for leisure and whanau activities.”