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Wellington congestion charge: Mayor says ‘we need to know now’

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Andy Foster says the city “needs to know now” whether the Government will allow a congestion charge in the capital so it can be included in Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Wellington’s mayor and Greater Wellington Regional Council transport committee chairman Roger Blakeley have appeared before a select committee meeting this morning.

Their submission comes after Transport Minister Michael Wood said he is open-minded about a congestion charge in Wellington, a significant shift from his predecessor’s position on the issue.

The charge was ruled out by former Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who confirmed to the Herald in late 2019 there were no plans to introduce it in Wellington.

But Wood softened the language around the issue earlier this month by saying he was open minded to it.

At the moment the transport and infrastructure select committee is holding an inquiry into congestion charging in Auckland, following the completion of the Congestion Question project.

Foster and Blakeley told the committee this morning Wellington should be identified as the next city to investigate road pricing options, following Auckland.

Foster said congestion pricing was one of the “pieces of the jigsaw”.

“We need to know that it can be included in the overall picture and we need to know now,” he told the Herald after the meeting.

He said it should be consulted on alongside the $6.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport plan, which will deliver improved walking, cycling and bus priority measures as well as a mass rapid transit system.

Blakeley agreed a charge should be investigated alongside public transport improvements.

“People will get a price signal through the congestion charge, but they need to respond to that by having alternatives.”

Both were clear people must have solid public transport options prior to a congestion charge being introduced, which would require investing in greater frequency and reliability.

A congestion charge would be key to delivering on the regional council’s ambitious target of 40 per cent mode share shift by 2030, Blakeley said.

Both Foster and Blakeley acknowledged there are people living in lower socioeconomic areas who would need to come into the city at night for jobs such as cleaning.

“But they shouldn’t be pinged a high congestion charge to come into the CBD to do that sort of task,” Blakeley said.

Foster said he thought there should be no charge at all during off-peak times.

Continuing advances in technology meant any system could be designed with equity in mind, targeting specific times of the day and types of travel, they said.

Wood has previously said that no decisions have been made yet.

But he acknowledged congestion charging was something that Wellington City has clearly signalled as an area of interest.

He stressed congestion charging should not primarily be seen as a revenue-raising tool.

“So I think it would be a mistake in the context of Let’s Get Wellington Moving to be leaning on that to fund it. Congestion charging should primarily be seen as a tool to manage our roading network, to de-congest the network, and to get more efficient use out of it.”

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