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Insights 2: 31 January 2020
Oliver Hartwich explains on Newshub how New Zealand can learn from international road pricing systems.
Election years are an opportunity to debate issues constraining Kiwis comments Roger Partridge on NBR.
Research Note - Pricing Out Congestion: Experiences from Abroad

Congestion pricing: Lessons from abroad
Dr Patrick Carvalho | Research Fellow |
Chronic road congestion is a global epidemic, plaguing poor and rich countries alike. In dozens of cities around the world, from Bogota to Rome, from Moscow to Boston, from Toronto to Dhaka, from Sydney and Melbourne to Auckland and Wellington, the average motorist wastes more than a hundred hours every year idling behind the wheels in overcrowded routes.

More than just a driving nuisance, congestion constitutes a serious global economic problem. In response, cities across the globe are turning to decades of scientific research and empirical support in the use of congestion pricing to manage road overuse.

By letting drivers face the costs of adding a vehicle on clogged roads, congestion charges encourage commuters to find trip alternatives such as other travel times, routes and transport modes.

In our new report released this week, we show that not all congestion pricing schemes are created equal. That means we can learn from those cities that have got it right (such as Singapore and Stockholm) and those who have got it wrong (like London that still infamously ranks among the most congested cities in the world).

The first takeaway is that congestion charging rates do not need to be high to produce effective results. A prime example is the Singaporean scheme with collection points charging from as little as NZ$0.51 to a maximum of NZ$4.05, ensuring a steady flow of vehicles even during rush hour.

Another promising lesson is that technology is on our side. Recent advances in geolocation technology have reduced the barriers of costly congestion pricing infrastructure.

In New Zealand, for instance, the same technology already being used to collect electronic road user charges on diesel-powered vehicles could be easily converted to charge for time and location (i.e. effectively implementing congestion pricing).

The international experience also shows that in well-designed schemes, the public does not take long to start backing congestion charging once they get used to it and see the benefits. A case in point is Stockholm: public acceptance more than tripled to 67% once its congestion pricing was up and running.

In short, congestion charges work, and the experiences of these international cities can be an excellent blueprint for New Zealand to learn from and tailor a road pricing scheme that is just right for us.

When the price is right, a proven solution to chronic road congestion is ours for the taking.

Read Pricing Out Congestion: Experiences from Abroad here

Mining for the benefit of New Zealanders
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Minerals never mined cannot benefit New Zealanders. They might as well not exist.  

For centuries under English common law property owners could mine below their land “to the centre of the earth”. In 1937 the government expropriated without compensation all such rights to petroleum. Confiscation of common law rights to uranium, gold and silver, much coal, geothermal energy and much else followed. What about the Treaty? What, indeed.

Today the most valuable minerals can only be mined at the dubious pleasure of the Crown. The existing Crown Minerals Act 1991 acknowledges that they should be mined where doing so benefits New Zealanders. Its purpose is to promote mining where it achieves that benefit.

Well and good to this point. Benefit to New Zealanders must encompass every subjective aspect of well-being. It is inclusive. Nothing limits it to income-generating considerations. A raft of safety and environmental legislation ensures that.

The catch is that a 2019 government discussion document considers benefiting New Zealanders as being at odds with the imposed grandiose goal of “reshaping our economy and how we pay our way in the world”. Its vision is of a “productive, sustainable and inclusive” carbon-neutral economy.

The document canvases potentially extremist goals not centred on well-being, such as preserving “natural capital”. Minerals never mined could count as natural capital, yet never benefit New Zealanders.

Nor does the “promotion” of mining sit well with government decisions to prohibit new mines on conservation land, phase out offshore oil and gas exploration, and stamp down on fossil fuels in pursuing zero carbon. Such measures reduce rather than raise productivity. With respect to the fossil fuels goal, a well-designed emissions trading scheme for carbon should do more for wellbeing than specific mining or exploration measures.

In The New Zealand Initiative’s view, voters elect governments to govern to benefit New Zealanders.  Minerals should be exploited when doing so benefits New Zealanders. This means considering all aspects of well-being, not just environmental effects.

This week, The New Zealand Initiative made a submission on the discussion document. We opposed removing the goal of promoting mining for the benefit of New Zealanders from the purpose statement of the Act.

Unless you think that the best form of mining is mining that does not happen, you will agree with us.

You can read our submission on the Review of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 here.

In defense of boring names
Ali Gammeter | Research Intern |
“Yes, we are all individuals,” the crowd unanimously shouted in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Which made a mockery of professed individuality.

In today’s society we are trying harder than ever to be unique. We create hyper-differentialised types of diets, fashion, subculture and ways to spell the name Ashley. But this quest to uniqueness might catastrophically overlook a terrible plight - unique names.

At least an article in Stuff suggested that this week. It revealed the grievances of people with unique names. These poor souls wish nothing more than to be, well, boring.

“I have a unique name and I hate it with my entire being”, says Ethereal. Understandable.

There is something to be said in favour of boring names. While a name like “Karen” has Peugeot-driving soccer mum connotations, it is better than being named “Philomena”.  So here I stand in staunch defence of boring names.

In 1948, two Harvard professors published a study which discovered that a unique name has adverse effects on the psychology of its bearer. Research has also claimed that names could affect job interview call-backs, grades, and what other people think of you. So, if your name is “Berrien”, don’t worry - your underachievement or lack of friends could just result from your weird name.

I would also speculate that politicians with boring names are exponentially more electable than those with unique names. No elected National prime minister has ever had a name longer than two syllables. Every Prime Minister before Jacinda Ardern had a boring name. Sir John Key’s parents were onto something.

There was once a well-known band called “Peter, Paul and Mary”. I cannot imagine their success if they were instead called “Kashton, Paisleigh and Asparagus”.

Some will remember when Michael Jackson named his son Prince Michael II, aka “Blanket”, or when Nicolas Cage named his child “Kal-El” (yes, as in super-man).

People with weird names end up more ostracised and less successful than their boring-named rivals. So, if you’re planning on having a child this year, for goodness’ sake just name it Mike or something.

Sadly, this well-meaning advice comes too late for Sirjames, Tu Morrow, Facebook, Pilot Inspektor, Moon Unit and Chardonnay – all born and named over the past few years.

At least Chardonnay and the others can change their names once they have matured.

On The Record
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: Average annual hours lost in congestion per driver in selected cities.
  • Coronavirus declared a global emergency by WHO.
  • Treasury vs Transport over feebate scheme
  • Facebook will now show you exactly how it stalks you - even when you're not using Facebook
  • The Liberator: How one man's 15,000 pest fish changed New Zealand's waterways.
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