Cars & traffic

Sep 9, 2012

Shouldn’t we talk about road pricing?

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The Chair of Infrastructure Australia, Sir Rod Eddington, called for a “mature and dispassionate” discussion about road pricing on Friday. Good, I wholeheartedly agree. This should be the number one issue for discussion nationally in planning the future of our cities.

Exhibit: Economic cost of traffic congestion, Sydney 1980-2020 (Source: Draft NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan)

Right now, governments around Australia are poised to spend billions constructing new urban freeways in an attempt to overcome traffic congestion. They don’t have to though.

If they started charging motorists to use road space they could immediately reduce demand, especially in the peak periods which drive the need for increased road capacity. They could instead spend a lot of those billions in other pressing areas, like public transport or education.

The problem with unpriced road space is it gets clogged in the peaks with too many low-value trips that contribute little to improving our economic and social wellbeing. Cheap road space also means travellers who have realistic alternative ways of getting to their destinations choose to drive instead.

Faced with a higher price, some travellers could shift to other modes like public transport and walking. Some could shift their time of travel from peak to non-peak periods.

Some could “chain” multiple single trips into one journey and many could shorten their travel distance by using closer destinations. Some trips could be replaced with electronic transactions and some very low value trips could be foregone entirely.

The consequences of under-pricing scarce resources are well known. In the Murray, for example, farmers were offered water so cheap it was common to flood-irrigate pasture for relatively low value uses like grazing, ultimately causing immense environmental and economic damage.

According to an investigation by Ellen Fanning for The Global Mail, the real cost of running a 2 kw split-system air conditioner for four hours on a very hot day can be as high as $200. The customer however only pays around $2.00. She quotes Energy Minister Martin Ferguson:

Every time someone in Australia installs a $1,500 air conditioning system, it costs $7,000 to upgrade the electricity network to make sure there’s enough capacity to run that system on the hottest summer day.

Pricing road space has other advantages besides obviating or delaying the need for new freeways. Depending on how it’s implemented, it can potentially reduce the economic burden of congestion by removing enough vehicles to keep traffic moving (albeit still below the maximum permitted speed).

It can also raise additional revenue for the construction of new infrastructure, especially if variable peak period (i.e. congestion) charging is supplemented by distance-based charges.

One of the most important potential benefits of road pricing is driving higher demand for public transport. As I discussed last time, it’s not enough to provide good public transport.

A significant shift toward more sustainable modes will only happen if car travel is simultaneously made more expensive. Congestion increases the cost of driving too, but charging is a more efficient and sustainable solution.

There are a number of ways to implement road pricing. Existing point-based methods of tolling freeways via gantries and in-car transponders could simply be extended to non-priced freeways.

Or a cordon might be run around a congested part of the city and vehicles charged as they cross the line, as happens in London. More ambitiously, every kilometre travelled by vehicles on the entire road system could be tracked by GPS technology and charged by distance and time of day.

The main criticism of road pricing is the claim it’s inequitable. Yes, higher income travellers will be better placed to deal with road pricing, just as they are with all other motoring-related costs.

However that issue has to be balanced against the economic and environmental damage done by excessive car use. There’s also an incorrect and somewhat patronising assumption that lower income travellers don’t make high-value or important trips.

We need to bear in mind that everyone regardless of income currently pays for necessities like food and rent according to the amount they consume. Everyone pays for essential services like water and power irrespective of their income. Everyone who uses public transport pays and the revenue is used to make public transport better.

As currently happens with essential services, those most at risk financially from road pricing should be compensated. That could possibly be done by way of a concessionary tariff or, preferably, by an income supplement.

The biggest obstacle to road pricing is political. People are inherently loss-averse and are likely to resent being charged for something that’s always been seen as “free”, or is assumed to have already been paid for through other taxes.

To its credit, the O’Farrell Government’s Draft NSW long term transport master plan released last week mentions road pricing as a potential option numerous times, albeit in careful terms. The emphasis is on distance-based charging, heavy vehicles and on pricing the existing freeway network, but it’s more forthright than other jurisdictions have managed.

Road pricing needs to be put centre stage in the national discussion about how we want our cities to develop. It’s fair to say it’s the number one issue. It’s politically fraught, but we’ve got to have that “mature and dispassionate” debate.

There’s another whole discussion to be had about how best to go about implementing road pricing to maximise public acceptance, but that’s a big topic I’ll leave for another day. In the meantime, here’s some aspects of that issue I’ve discussed before (here).

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46 thoughts on “Shouldn’t we talk about road pricing?

  1. IkaInk

    Uhh… I’ve read so many of his papers now they all blend together. Thought that was the one that went into a bit more detail but I only skimmed it yesterday.

    He’s got a bit more in Transport for Suburbia, but unfortunately the information on Vancouver is spread throughout the book somewhat, it’s not in one convenient chapter.

    I’ve also just found this. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge of a paper (you’ll notice some paragraphs copied and pasted from the other one I linked to; and Mees explains the paper has been rushed) but it’s got a bit more information.

  2. Alan Davies

    Josh Gordon in The Age today on road pricing, Road ahead full of political traffic jams.

    Update: Jacob Saulwick on Sat 15th Sep in The Age on road pricing, White line fever exacts heavy toll.

    Update 2: Oakeshott wants congestion tax in cities (ABC, 18 September 2012)

  3. IkaInk

    One other thing I forgot to mention in either of the posts above regarding Vancouver. Vancouver saw a reduction in journey to work times, despite having the fastest level of population growth of any Canadian city over the same time. So exactly when congestion should have been making trips take longer, they started taking less time.

    IkaInk: Thanks for the reference to the Mees paper. It confirms that average travel times fell in Vancouver between 1992 and 2005 (although it relates only to the JTW). However Mees is pretty vague on the reasons. I couldn’t find any mention, much less analysis, of the types of factors you attribute the change to i.e. “put in a lot more transit lanes at the expense of mixed-use lanes; and give PT vehicles priority at intersections.” I don’t doubt there’s a correlation, but is there any work that demonstates there’s a causal link? AD

  4. Dylan Nicholson

    “I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that cycling and walking can replace serious PT”

    No, but I’d claim it can replace a significant percentage of current trips taken by cars in inner city areas.

  5. michael r james

    Dylan Nicholson at 7:12 pm

    Fair enough, especially for those cities you cite; though both are somewhat small cities and have always had better PT than any Oz equivalent. But for the bigger ones their Metros and other PT has been the most important feature. Paris (and now London) have adopted cycling late in the game. In fact the adoption of cycling (and walking a lot more than usual) in Paris came about from the extended PT strikes in 1996. This was shortly after I departed Paris for Oxford and I must say I regret I missed this event as it seems a real turning point in Paris’ development, including social –because the forced mass pedestrianization and cycling/rollerblading for the few months of the strike has had an unforseen long-term positive effect. It led to cycle lanes (and police crackdown on drivers) and eventually led to the Velib cycle system which has since been copied in various cities around the world.

    Anyway, the main point being that I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that cycling and walking can replace serious PT, certainly with our sprawled out cities.

  6. IkaInk

    @Michael – It looks like I may have inadvertently exaggerated a few claims there. Sometimes I remember the basic outline and blow out the facts in my mind. Vancouver did certainly see a mode shift towards PT but it may not have been the only city.

    I may have gotten it wrong about it being the only North American city, I see now my source says its the only Canadian city that saw a reduction.

    @Alan – Re Vancouver, when you say “average commute times actually went down”, are you referring to all trips or a particular mode?

    All modes for the journey to work. The reasons cited for this decline were shorter distances being travelled by car and faster PT journey’s.

    This has most the information I was citing:

    (Sorry about yesterday’s inaccurate post, it was posted at about 12.30am Toronto time when I really should have been sleeping.)

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    Michael, I don’t agree that “European cities either have less congestion…*solely* because they already have a mass transit system”. The number of people of that ride and walk is statistically significant in such cities. Famously, both Amsterdam and Copenhagen have managed to resolve keep congestion under control largely through ensuring bicycling is an option attractive to a large percentage of commuters.
    It’s also true that there are other reasons driving is far less attractive – narrow streets, poor availability of parking, high petrol prices. Good P.T. is critical, but only part of the picture.

  8. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #37; michael r james #38:

    I too agree with those succinct and well-expressed points. I agree also that some reduction in road capacity would inevitably need to accompany road pricing (not to mention cycling). I think though that how much road capacity is enough is a much harder question.

    Re Vancouver, when you say “average commute times actually went down”, are you referring to all trips or a particular mode?

  9. michael r james

    Yes, IkaKink, most of us probably can agree with that.

    But just a little quibble. I think it would be inaccurate to assign Vancouver’s successful PT to dedicating a few freeway lanes to transit lanes, since they have in fact built much dedicated rail. (Oh, and they’re Canadians so “obviously” their quirky actions hold not lessons of value to the car crazed world like the US or Australia; for amusement take a gander at the Slate article this week on Why Are Americans Nuttier Than Canadians?)

    As to your claim about it being the only North American city where mode-share started shifting to PT, I suspect that cannot be true. Not just Portlandia (which demolished freeways) but even LA which has (re)built (painfully, expensively, slowly) its metro system and also has transit lanes on some of its major freeways (LA actually has a quite extensive and reasonably efficient PT system though mostly of the type I don’t like, buses), and hasn’t built a new freeway since forever (except the 1998 Century Freeway to the airport which includes an extension of the Green Line metro) so its PT modeshare simply must have increased?

  10. IkaInk

    I’m guessing what you meant to say was Unless the car is suppressed in some way, it will always be faster than PT.: or at least something along those lines.

    Anyway, here’s a few simple points that most of us are sure to agree on:
    1- The biggest advantage the car has over PT is the ability to save time.
    2- The biggest cost of PT is time, this is why eliminating fares is not likely to dramatically grow PT patronage (and why I believe congestion charging alone will not cause much of a mode shift).
    3- Only where congestion is high, does PT perform well in capturing mode-share.

    Therefore in order to address Point 1 and use Point 3 to our advantage it is necessary to speed up PT and slow down private vehicles. Two simple, and relatively inexpensive measures can do both: put in a lot more transit lanes at the expensive of mixed-use lanes; and give PT vehicles priority at intersections.

    These methods were used in the Vancouver Liveable Region strategy in the 1990s and it was the only city in North America where average commute times actually went down over the following decade (or thereabouts), and where mode-share started shifting towards Public Transport.

  11. michael r james

    Actually David Hensher’s main point was the plea: “One of the important features of the proposed plan that seems to have been given inadequate praise by the critics is the need to secure metropolitan corridors for future transport options.”

    I agree with Dylan Nicholson’s complaint but also find this ostensibly sensible concept of securing corridors is actually not sensible at all, for the obvious reason that the space required for the different types of transport is so so different. It was amply illustrated by the pic the SMH ran with his article: one of those giant Sydney interchanges (possibly M7) that occupied space of about 50 football stadia–enough space for a considerable TOD town. The linear part of such motorways also occupy huge swathes.

    In fact this inconvenient reality about roads is why plans inevitably become so humungously expensive: lots of the road ends up in tunnels. And of course even the smallest road tunnel (generally two tunnels each with 2 lanes) occupies about 3-4x times the space of rail which can usually be put into a single tunnel with minimal clearances.

    It is a bit hard to tell what Hensher really wants as a solution. (He has the depressing title of professor of management!) As Dylan N says/implies but Hensher seems in denial of, European cities either have less congestion or can contemplate congestion pricing or other policies to deter drivers, solely because they already have a mass transit system (invariably rail because buses simply cannot do the heavy lifting) that–in great distinction to roads–can take up a huge increase in load without spending another dollar. Of course some cities (London) apply congestion pricing to PT as well–travel into London by train is much more expensive at peak hours.

    Hensher tries hard to play the cool, calm and rational master by saying the discussion “needs to be free of the emotion and ideology of ”train lovers”, ”bus lovers” and ”car lovers” but this is faintly ridiculous as elsewhere he admits that investment in these different options has wildly different long-term outcomes. Namely, what transport planners have known for nigh half a century at least, that if you build more roads or widen existing roads, they will quickly fill. And the most obvious: if your city has a deeply inadequate PT system then people will keep driving no matter what the policy is (or as in Sydney, move to Brisbane or Melbourne to escape).

    And incidentally, with reference to the quotation AD gave, the planners could be completely inactive on congestion pricing or equivalent policies and the congestion itself would do the job–but only if there is a reasonable PT alternative. And AD, your observation that most roads are not congested most of the time is either not true already, but as any analysis of other real-world examples shows, will not be.

    NSW and Qld are entering into a truly dark age of transport planning where multiple tens of billions of dollars will be committed to road projects and PT will be forever postponed. Yesterday Newman’s budget slashed various PT projects while still retaining massive road schemes. Examples of the jaw-dropping disparity: removed 100% of the $40M from School Transport Assistance while the RACQ fumes at the modest cut to the Safer Roads Program from $66M to $61.2M! Barely a word on the proposed Cross Rail project (but cutting $35M in its land acquisition program, which is sure to be a long-term money saver, not!), while renewing a $1.3 billion increase to roads (mostly for the Legacy Way road mega-tunnel). Beggars belief.

  12. Dylan Nicholson

    “Unless the car is suppressed in some way, PT will always be faster.”
    Don’t think that’s what you meant? Anyway, if speed of travel through the inner-city during peak periods was most commuter’s main concern, they’d all get fit and use bicycles 🙂

    The next sentence puzzles me too – surely congestion pricing is only meant to apply when/where there *is* congestion?

    suburbanite, no disagreement on the benefits of encouraging people out of their cars regardless of congestion (and I’d add in the manifold advantages of being less sedentary), and it’s another reason why I wouldn’t be thrilled to see congestion pricing introduced before some serious efforts were made to provide and support alternative means of transport.

    Dylan Nicholson:

    No, that’s what I meant, though of course, as with everything, there are exceptions. They wouldn’t all use bicycles because their desire for speed and convenience is trumped by their fear of serious injury or death.

    I should’ve been clearer in the last sentence – I’m talking there about road pricing more generally. AD

  13. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #31, 32:

    Depends what you mean by “good alternatives”. I hear people say they’d use PT instead of drive if only PT were good enough, when what they implicitly mean is they want PT that’s nearly as fast as a car in uncongested conditions. Well, PT is PT, it can’t do what a car does. Unless the car is suppressed in some way, PT will always be faster.

    One reason pricing is a better way of suppressing car use (and hence increases PT use) than congestion, is because most of the time, in most parts of the city, roads actually aren’t congested.

  14. suburbanite

    ” There’s no reason that shouldn’t be the case in at least the relatively central parts of Australian cities (yes, we also have the problem that our cities are far too spread out at the fringe, but that’s generally not where most of the congestion occurs, and more can be done to help even those in car-dependent suburbs travel into inner-city areas without bringing their single-occupant cars).”

    Car use (and dependency) needs to discouraged even where there isn’t a congestion problem. That is until you solve these problems:
    – Driver incompetence
    – Air pollution
    – Noise pollution
    – Damage to roads
    – Land wasted for parking spaces, including problems associated with water run-off
    – Money wasted on building and increasing road capacity
    – Menace to pedestrians and cyclists
    – Encouraging sprawl

  15. Dylan Nicholson

    Oh, I should have added *more reliable* to “more frequent/less-crowded”. Having grown up in Japan, the other big reason she won’t use P.T. here is because she has no faith that the services will actually run on time (or at all).

  16. Dylan Nicholson

    Alan, that doesn’t make sense to me – *if* good alternatives to driving are readily available to a large percentage of population, then whatever congestion is left is what those that choose to drive are happy with, so you have ‘solved’ it. E.g. my partner puts up with driving through considerable congestion 4 days a week simply because the only alternative is to take two uncomfortably crowded trains and a tram, with which there is poor connectivity and typically long wait times, with no shelter. She does it even though she pays more in petrol+parking than should would paying for P.T. With more frequent/less-crowded services and a sheltered tram stop she’d be one less car on the road.

    The solution already exists in most large European cities, where there’s no congestion pricing – those that don’t want to put up with traffic congestion ride bikes, use P.T., or walk. There’s no reason that shouldn’t be the case in at least the relatively central parts of Australian cities (yes, we also have the problem that our cities are far too spread out at the fringe, but that’s generally not where most of the congestion occurs, and more can be done to help even those in car-dependent suburbs travel into inner-city areas without bringing their single-occupant cars).
    I’m not against congestion pricing per se, but it doesn’t strike me as being close to being either sufficient or necessary.

  17. Alan Davies

    Head of Sydney Uni’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, David Hensher, in the SMH today on road pricing. The money quote:

    I believe in the adage ”to make public transport more attractive, we have to make the car less attractive, and that no amount of public transport investment that we can afford without reform road pricing will solve road congestion”.

  18. Tom the first and best

    The bans on trucks in the fastest lane, of 3 lane plus each way motorways, in Europe is more necessary there because their motorways have generally higher speed limits and the trucks have 90km/h limits so there needs to be the capacity to overtake slower trucks by cars.

    Road rule enforcement needs to be stepped up for all rules.

  19. Tom the first and best


    Childcare location choice would be effected by the available PT. Childcare near home PT or work would be more used that other childcare. There should also be a concession toll rate for those on low incomes so that the general toll can be higher.

  20. Tom the first and best


    The Yarra would not be a good southern boundary for the congestion charge. There is too much employment in Southbank and St Kilda Rd to not include area south of the Yarra.

  21. Tom the first and best

    Setting the cost of owning a car too high has to be considered but also the dissuasionary effect encouraging people to own fewer cars and rely more on PT, walking, cycling and carshare. Inner-city car registration should cost more than car registration in outer-suburbs which in turn should cost more than in rural areas.

    Congestion pricing is very much needed for the CBDs, freeways/tollways and major arterial roads.

  22. IkaInk

    @Alan- Your sunk cost fallacy link is broken, but I’m aware of the concept anyway.

    It may be true that the sunk cost fallacy encourages Singaporian’s to drive their cars as much as possible, but make no mistake that the reason Singapore’s roads are relatively uncongested is the combination of a very extensive road network and cap on the number of cars implemented by the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) program. The COE program is also responsible for a large part of the high sunk costs, as the certificates are auctioned off. They fetch very high prices because car ownership has been made very desirable.

  23. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #7:

    Singapore’s problem is the humungous fixed costs imposed on cars work in opposition to the intent of the congestion pricing scheme. It’s the sunk cost fallacy.

  24. IkaInk

    @Russ – I agree with almost all of what you are saying, however your arguments pretty much summarise exactly why I don’t think congestion charging is a very good solution. Faster trips will likely just lead to longer trips for those that can afford the economic cost, whilst driving those that can’t away from congestion areas. What benefit does that provide? You’ve marginalised the poor, and made driving more attractive to those that are less financially sensitive. That might be OK if alternative transport options for the poor are improved with the money raised, but I’ve little faith that would happen in any of the Australian cities with the exception of perhaps Perth.

  25. drsmithy

    Lastly we get to the trucks. Where Australia is out-of-step with the US and Europe is that trucks are FORBIDDEN from using the outer lane on 3-lane highways, and can only use the outer lane on 2-lane highways for passing. If this simple practice were adopted in Australia, we would have less “ducking and weaving” in traffic to get around trucks – that require greater distances to stop and then crank-up again,

    Lane discipline across the board in Australia is horrifically bad, with the USA being only developed country I’ve driven in that’s worse (and they have the advantage of massive freeways everywhere to get away with it). Existing laws (keep left unless overtaking on higher speed roads) already take care of 99% of the situations a truck-specific law could, but no-one pays attention to them since they’re never enforced, so I doubt your suggestion would have any significant impact. Or, more accurately, would have any more impact than just enforcing existing laws.

    Lane discipline in (Western, at least) Europe is generations ahead of Australia. Even in the UK, which is probably the _worst_ country there, freeway driving (in particular, but really across the board) is downright pleasurable compared to anywhere in Australia.

  26. drsmithy

    There’s also an incorrect and somewhat patronising assumption that lower income travellers don’t make high-value or important trips.

    The point is not that low-income earner don’t make trips that are important or high value to *them*, the point is that (say) $30/day of tolls takes proportionally a hell of a lot more out of low-income earner’s pocket than a high income earner’s. Someone on a low income may find that they simply cannot afford such tolls.

    Another good example would be single (or even multiple working) parents who need to put children into childcare. Driving a car and doing it on the way to work might just turn a 20-30 minute trip into a 30-45 minute trip. Having to do the same entirely on public transport, or by dropping the child off in the car before returning it home and then taking public transport, could easily blow that 30-45 minute trip out to 90-120 minutes, a huge chunk of time to lose out of every day.

    Personally I’d like to see more incentives for employers to encourage working from home. Though that, of course, is likely to lead to people – particularly more well off, since they tend to have more work-from-home-friendly-jobs – deserting the inner and middle suburbs for the fringe and semi-rural areas, an idea I imagine would send all the “urban planners” here into a fit.

  27. Dudley Horscroft

    Tony Ward is right that congestion pricing is good in principle, but I think he is wrong in suggesting “Australian CBDs have much less traffic, with many more entry points (with the possible exception of Sydney).” Melbourne has comparatively few entry points. I have just checked with my (old) Melway and find that there are only about 23 entry points into the “Golden Mile” area, while, due to the Yarra in the south, Merri Creek in the east, the old VR line between Park St and Brunswick St in the north and the Moonee Ponds Creek in the west, a much larger area could be covered by 50 toll points. Some of the smaller roads that cross the boundary could be closed to through traffic, or made one way out in the morning, in in the afternoon, or passable by residents only – see the barriers used at Melbourne University restricting entry/exit to authorised vehicles only.

    But more to the point is that roads are very expensive to provide. And there is no revenue from roads. Sure, there is revenue from excise on petrol, and fees from car and driving licences – but that is a sumptuary tax, and the fees relate to permission to take a lethal weapon (a vehicle) on the road.

    Consider here in Tweed Shire. A major road diversion has just been completed, at a cost of about $360M. No tolls on the vehicle drivers who use it – the money is taken out of the general taxpayer’s pocket. No matter whether he be rich or poor, the taxpayer pays. And he pays even if he never uses it. This and all other road improvements should be tolled. Rail users are tolled – fares for passengers and freight charges for goods, so should be road users. Roads pay no rates – road users should pay some charge for the roads they use to the value of the rates that should have been levied on the road. Our rates are paid on the undeveloped value of the land – that is exactly the same value as the road outside our houses, businesses, factories, etc. The capital spent on roads should provide a proper return on the asset – the $360M capital cost of the Sexton Hill diversion should bring in at least $18M per year as a reasonable return on capital employed.

    When you have sorted out these costs and made sure that road users pay for the roads they actually use, then think about charging extra for congestion costs they inflict on each other.

    You will then probably find that public transport is profitable and not in need of subsidy!

  28. Dylan Nicholson

    Except petrol prices are, for a large portion of drivers, probably not sufficiently big a component of the costs of owning/running a car to have much impact. Yes, they do have a psychological effect over and beyond the higher costs associated with depreciation/finance etc., but I’d be guessing it would have more effect on journeys taken outside peak periods than those that drivers simply accept as being “necessary” because they have to work. OTOH, the poor availability of cheap or free parking in most European cities (especially in Switzerland!) surely has more of on impact on encouraging people to use alternative forms of transport – if you know that a typical trip into the city in your car is likely to cost you $10-20 in parking and potentially 20 minutes just looking for a spot, you’d only use a car if the alternatives were truly horrendous. Further, the space wasted (and the visual eyesores created) by allowing cars to park for free (or close enough) is mind-boggling.

  29. Ed Black

    What a mess of an article. From mixing up capital and on-going expenditure to ignoring the fact the most day traffic on freeways is B Doubles, semis, taxis tradies and goods vans of all sizes. Can’t get them on public transport and tolling them will increase all costs for everybody.

    Motorists carry a huge share of financing government as it is. My rego in Victoria has gone from $575 last year to $644 this year, an increase of 12%. Why, what for? CPI is way less.

  30. Geoff Baker

    Gradually increase petrol price to the equivalent of UK prices and use the money on public transport improvements (start with buses – 10 seaters to start with to get people to train stations)

    Then there’s room on the roads for those who really need to drive.

  31. michael crook

    Good article and comments, but sadly we turned the wrong way a long time ago when we opted to turn Australian cities into carbon copies of the US cities, and ignore the good examples out there of properly planned public transport, eg Zurich. The lobbying by the road builders also helped and there is a distinct sniff of corruption about the Queensland major road projects over the last five years.

  32. Coaltopia

    Hopefully first we can end this obsession with car tunnels: Brisbane City Council is now in stupid debt for something I never use. Something that encourages more driving, shifts the congestion elsewhere, pollutes the air and turns whole areas into an LA triple-fly-over visual nightmare.

    Then we can actually build something useful like a subway.

  33. Tony Ward

    The idea of CBD congestion pricing seems okay in principle – but we need to see much more detail on the costs of setting it up. The system in London has a massive number of closed circuit cameras, and as I understand it setting that system up cost more than the entire first year’s revenue. Compared with London, Australian CBDs have much less traffic, with many more entry points (with the possible exception of Sydney). So the implementation costs would be much higher here, with lower returns. Not sure this looks like a great propostion!

  34. suburbanite

    This issue is a complete waste of time and no sensible solutions will be politically feasible in the near future. The problem is you have a generation of people raised to believe that their driving imposes no costs on anyone else, and also hold onto a self-serving delusion that they already pay too much for their behaviour. They live in suburbs built for cars and make inappropriate vehicle purchases not based on there transport needs but on their sad shortcomings in life. Hence the proliferation of large off road vehicles driven by balding overweight old men how dream of being explorers instead of desk jockeys.
    Arguments and facts are not going to make these people face up to reality.

  35. dunph

    I rode my bike to work this morning, as i try to do on most days when working from the office and not interstate. Reading the comments above, it strikes me that TAX is the issue, rather than providing INCENTIVES for the alternatives.

    I’d be happy to see company vehicle car allowances SLASHED if it meant that I could claim travel to work on my bike as Carbon-Tax positive, Medicare Levy positive and perhaps get some safety gear – like helmet, gloves and hi-viz top as deductible.

    Turning to the other major congestion issues – here in Melbourne we have no rail-link to either Tullamarine or Avalon Airports – surely a SITTER for reducing road congestion, as well as those moronic Taxi Drivers / VHA cars who regard it as their god-given right to sit in the fast lane at 80km/h.

    Lastly we get to the trucks. Where Australia is out-of-step with the US and Europe is that trucks are FORBIDDEN from using the outer lane on 3-lane highways, and can only use the outer lane on 2-lane highways for passing. If this simple practice were adopted in Australia, we would have less “ducking and weaving” in traffic to get around trucks – that require greater distances to stop and then crank-up again,

    So, as the owner of a transport company, I prefer to ride my bike; hate sharing the road with heavy vehicles and prefer INCENTIVES to change behaviour, rather than TAXES.

  36. Russ

    IkaInk, you are looking at the problem in absolute terms, when you should be looking at the margin. Congested traffic is in an equilibrium between desired trips and the time cost of completing them. Adding a monetary cost will shift some of the demand for the road at that time. Because time to travel on congested roads is an exponential, a small shift in demand can significantly increase speeds. Hence, of course Singapore’s drivers travel as far as Melbourne’s. When the aim is to increase travel speed – which will naturally shift the equilibrium towards longer travel distance – that is the point. Their total automobile travel is naturally much lower, for several reasons, mostly unrelated to congestion pricing.

    Where a road is either not congested, or so congested a charge merely shifts the type of demand (towards more time sensitive trips) there won’t be any noticeable shift in traffic patterns at all. But I don’t think anyone has ever advocated road-pricing as the silver bullet. I would however caution against requiring it to go fund alternatives, for two reasons: 1) money is fungible, so a fixed fund in one part of the budget for transport expenditure will merely allow the government to drain transport expenditure in another part of the budget, and 2) if the amount of money raised is large enough to force the government to spend money they otherwise wouldn’t, then there is a high probability it will go to projects of limited value. That said, promising a lot of extra public transport is probably part of the required political cost of its implementation.

  37. Dylan Nicholson

    Steve – that’s why I said PT needs to be reliable fast & comfortable. Time spent on PT needn’t be unproductive, frustrating or stressful – and personally, mostly isn’t as it is now. But driving through peak hour traffic will always be thus until driverless cars are the norm, which is still 20 or 30 years off at least.

    As far as the suburb design issue – I was actually riding through Craigieburn yesterday, and thinking it doesn’t really need much to make it a decent place, in fact it’s really quite pleasant to cycle through (but why was I the only one?). The main problem is, as you say, the average distance from house to shop/train-station/school/office. Realistically anyone living here has to commute quite a long way to get to work, but if it’s by park & ride that might not be so bad.
    Out of curiosity I placed two maps side of side of that area and my own at the same scale:

    The density of the residential streets isn’t radically different, so I doubt the density of the housing is either (and the average # of residents per house in Craigieburn is probably higher(, but the difference in # of train stations, shops, schools etc. are worlds apart (trying putting ‘shop’ in the search box once you bring up the map). Congestion pricing isn’t going to fix that…actually I wonder, is congestion even a particularly bad problem in such outer-suburban residential areas? It’s certainly pretty awful around my area.

  38. Steve777

    “There’s already a huge cost imposed on those who choose to drive in peak hour traffic – that of unproductive time/frustration/stress.” That also applies to public transport, except that the duration is longer. While it may not be enough to provide good public transport, it’s an essential precondition otherwise people won’t use it until driving takes longer and /or parking is prohibitively expensive (as is now the case with CBD workers).

    The availability of telecommuting has got to be part of the mix. Many people, especially those who have little need of face to face customer / client contact, could do most of their work from home, connected to their company’s network. Further, any need to occasionally attend the office could be organised so that commuting happens outside of peak hours.

    Another problem is the design of our newer suburbs, and that’s not going to change soon. Many of our outer suburbs could not exist without the car. Row upon row of houses in cul de sacs, miles from shops and other facilities with few nearby employment opportunities, served by an unreliable hourly bus service which runs nearly empty most of the time because everyone feels they have to drive. Maybe we could establish car parks at strategic sites in outer suburbs, for example lease hotel carparks (beer barns built in the 70’s before random breath testing) or build car parks in what is now agricultural land, with frequent bus services from the car parks into business hubs. Maybe that won’t work but it’s going to require some creative thinking to come up with solutions.

  39. Yclept

    We already have congestion pricing and distance pricing by virtue of the huge tax slug the government takes for every litre of fuel sold, and that is syphoned off to subsidise other non related services. Please don’t pretend the motorist isn’t already slugged hard.

    Congestion could be reduced if the government stopped handing driving licenses to people who obviously can’t drive and shouldn’t be in control of a vehicle. Just look around and observe the bad behaviours so inherent on our roads. But then I suppose if they got rid of the bad drivers they would lose all that fuel tax and fines for speeding etc so they have a vested interest in keeping the roads chock full with fuel burning endlessly from stopped vehicles.

    And does the congestion tax really work in London? The last time I was in a London cab the driver was saying how every time they increase the congestion tax usage falls but then builds right back up again, so it’s just another tax that doesn’t serve its purpose.

  40. IkaInk

    Road pricing as a method to help fund proper alternatives to reduce congestion makes a lot of sense. Road pricing as a means of directly controlling congestion makes very little sense.

    The problem with unpriced road space is it gets clogged in the peaks with too many low-value trips that contribute little to improving our economic and social wellbeing.

    Citation please! – Congestion deters low-value trips already. How often does anyone decide that 5.30pm peak hour traffic is a good time to tackle Bell Street to get to the nearest supermarket? Why will an additional few dollars of cost suddenly change the equation for all but a small minority?

    The two-major case studies that economists regularly cite for “proving” congestion pricing eases congestion are Singapore and London. With Singapore the economists have completely missed the mark, and it is instead the fact that the total number of cars on the roads themselves are severely limited that means congestion isn’t crippling that very dense city, and indeed Singaporean’s car owners drive their cars as far as Australian’s on a year to year basis (quite an achievement considering the vastly different urban environments), so it is clear that congestion pricing hasn’t deterred those that can afford to drive from doing so. In London, congestion pricing was introduced at a time when road space for private vehicles was greatly reduced, hundreds of extra bus services were introduced, transit lanes were expanded, bike lanes were expanded, etc, etc. These were the policies that made the real impact. Of course congestion pricing helped paid for these policies and continues to do so.

    In conclusion, congestion pricing should be considered in the Australian context, but only as a fundraising measure, not a means of reducing congestion in itself. If we get congestion pricing without the other important policies that are necessary for congestion pricing to work all we will have done is made road space less equitable.

  41. Dylan Nicholson

    Increasing the price of petrol (which I think should happen anyway) is unlikely to do much to reduce congestion, as it doesn’t target the ‘scarce’ resource – i.e. road-space in busy areas at peak times.
    There’s already a huge cost imposed on those who choose to drive in peak hour traffic – that of unproductive time/frustration/stress. But people still do it anyway. So I’m not entirely convinced that introducing congestion charging on its own is enough to get more than a small percentage of commuters out of their cars. The only way it would is if money was spent first to ensure that the alternatives to single-occupant driving are seen as decent alternatives – e.g. more programs to encourage car pooling, better biking infrastructure, and I think a big one is ensuring that P.T. is not just reliable/fast but also comfortable – at the moment in peak hour you have to be very lucky to get a seat on a train or even many trams, and that makes the travel time basically unproductive (in fact I now make a point of choosing non-express services that may be slower but at least give me the capacity to sit and work for most of the journey). Another area that I’d say hasn’t been explored enough is encouraging businesses to give their staff more flexible start/end times, and discouraging them from providing free parking, if they’re in an area where good P.T. is available (e.g. my company is moving right next to a train station next month, yet their main concern is having enough free parking space available).

  42. Fool

    Absolutely no conflict of interest there Alan, with you being an Urban planner and policy advisor!
    FREEdom of movement is a right, and integral to a fair and fully functioning democracy!
    Please look at some other methods and means of resolving this issue, otherwise the article is just a biased opinion piece, garnering support for you own self serving interests!

  43. Anna Kae

    eech it’s a slippery slope… Let the trucks use the roads for free during the hours of 8pm and 5am… but then the cost of night shift labor to pay people to accept the deliveries is too expensive… DOH!
    Why is it I can drive in the USA during peak hour with not one truck on the road with all the cute little truckies sleeping happily away in the truckie roadside trailer park stops?
    Oh, because America doesn’t have the same wage set up as Australia.
    It’s quite simple Australia you can not have your cake and eat it too.
    Something has to give.

  44. melburnite

    Yes, toll all freeways I reckon ! And doesnt have to be a big toll, in fact if all tolled, then the current tolls could be lowered. But yes big political problem that tolling a ‘free’way is not publically palatable. So maybe doing so on only on inner / middle city portions of freeways would make more sense ? But then people and business might sprawl more rather than pay the tolls …..

  45. Krammer56

    The simplist (and cheapest) way to do this is to increase the taxes on fuel. We have pretty cheap petrol compared with most developed countries (see – USA excluded of course!.

    While it doesn’t directly respond to congestion, fuel consumption is higher in congested traffic. Anyway, if you want to deal with congestion by pricing, you need to make sure it is paid for directly by the user rather than employers, otherwise the hip pocket doesn’t hurt enough to change behaviours.

    Of couse it won’t work here because the Nationals will go berserk because the “poor farmers will suffer”. Actually given the cost of building and maintaining a far flung road network to serve rural Australia, higher petrol prices all round would probably be the right answer. In counry areas the taxes could go to roads, and in urban areas mainly to alternatives.

    Julia got is so wrong excluding petrol from the carbon pricing scheme – it should have been included and the revenue turned to dealing with travel needs sensitively.

  46. RidesToWork

    I’ve always thought that modest taxes to discourage undesirable activities (emitting pollution, smoking, driving short distances instead of walking or cycling) would be a better way of raising money for the government, and indeed lead to greater social benefits, than increased taxes on economic activity.

    Motorists in most European countries pay higher taxes than Australia, so I suppose it’s becoming accepted wisdom that might eventually happen in here.

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