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AA says motorists are 'flying blind' about potential traffic congestion charge in main centres

The Automobile Association (AA) is calling on the next government to release more information about a possible congestion charge aimed at reducing traffic volumes in New Zealand's main centres.

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Barney Irvine says the next government needs to continue work on a possible charge to aimed at reducing traffic volumes. Source: Breakfast

Speaking this morning to TVNZ1's Breakfast, AA Principal Advisor for Infrastructure Barney Irvine said work on the concept had taken place over the past four years, but a report on the findings produced by working groups had not yet been released by the current government.

It's not the first time the AA has called for the release of those findings - they did so in October last year also, but the Government has not yet done so, with the Ministry of Transport saying it would release them "next year".

He said those findings were "sitting in a draw" somewhere and that it's time to bring them out, because the debate on a possible congestion charge could take "years".

A congestion charge, as implemented overseas, could see a small fee imposed on motorists who choose to travel in peak times on busy routes, in order to encourage them to find alternative modes of transport, and reduce traffic.

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Irvine said the AA had recently undertaken a survey of drivers in Auckland and Wellington, with 45 per cent of those found to be opposed to the idea, and feeling insecure about the potential costs.

He said that was why the Government needs to release the report - to start the conversation about the idea, because it could take a long time.

"We really want to see the debate move forward on this and we really want to see the next government pick it up out of limbo and start a discussion about it - and before the discussion, give us more information about whether the case stacks up," he said.

"We haven't seen any movement on it for four years - the public has been given no information about this - they're flying blind.

"It's only natural that they're feeling negative."

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Irvine said the findings of a government working group were completed more than a year ago, but the idea has not yet been brought back to discuss with the public.

"We don't want to have a situation where, a couple of years down the track, congestion is back to pre-Covid levels, or worse, and we haven't even started talking about it."

Irvine said a congestion charge was attractive because it could potentially, based on overseas results of 10-20 per cent traffic reductions, see levels drop to "school holiday levels, or better".

In the AA's opinion, a charge of $4 or so per trip was a good starting point - but Irvine also said there are other tools which need to be considered to make sure those charges didn't unfairly affect people on lower incomes.

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He said public transport, in some areas, is "right behind the curve", and that if people are going to be pushed towards using it, there should be some considering of exemptions or discounts in some cases.