Monday, 11 September 2023

Cambridge cancels congestion charging and it isn't a surprise

I wrote in March 2023 about Cambridge's ambitious proposal for what it was calling a "Sustainable Travel Zone", but which was actually a congestion charge, and how it was not going well.

Well the BBC has reported that it has been cancelled, less than two weeks after revised plans were suggested that ought to have been the original plans in the first place.

I criticised the original proposal because its scale and scope were too ambitious, and because it offered little for those who would pay, as it was primarily designed as a revenue raising scheme, which had its scope defined by the amount of money local politicians wanted to raise to uplift the quality of its bus service.  £50 million was to be spent enhancing services.

As a revenue raising scheme that was also described as being intended to "reduce traffic" it is hardly surprising that those who faced paying didn't see what they would benefit from, especially as few could envisage how the proposed improvements to bus services were "better" than their own cars, and there was next to no effort made to sell the proposal on the basis that it might improve travel times for those who still drive.

From that objective came a scheme design that was blunt and ill-focused.  Why?

  1. It was designed as an area charge, like central London's congestion charge, so there could only be a single charge per day regardless of how much driving was undertaken.  Those who undertook a single trip would pay the same as those driving commercially throughout the day.  
  2. The area charge encompassed ALL of Cambridge. It effectively made the entire city into a congestion charge zone, regardless of how busy any streets were at any time, it priced the city for access, so those who drove towards the central city (who likely had other transport options for their trip) paid the same as those crossing from one side to the other (which would typically involve a less direct public transport trip).
  3. The charge would apply all day, from 0700-1900.  So there was no effort to focus on peak charging at all, or focus on congestion.  Although it would initially only apply in the AM peak in 2025 to commercial vehicles it would expand to all day operation from 2027 for all vehicles that would not be exempt.
  4. HGVs would pay exponentially more than cars, at £50 per day (perhaps £25 if zero emission) compared to £5 for cars.  It's unclear how Cambridge expected to function effectively by treating HGVs as if they take up 10x the road space of cars (and have no modal substitute) when they actually take up 2.5-3x the road space of cars.
There was a proposal for a low-income discount for some drivers, along with exemptions for those attending medical appointments and a range of other categories. However, much of this did not seem to help much with the public perception.

The public response to the proposals was highly negative, with protests, a petition and debates, plus the local election in 2023 seeing the Conservatives (who oppose the proposal, as it has been advanced by the Labour led Council) win a seat on the Council.

I suggested the proposal be scaled down, to peak only charges (with a half-price shoulder period), cordons rather than area charges (and two cordons, one around the city centre and one around the city edge) and a lower multiplier for heavy vehicles.  

Revised plans

At least one of those ideas was taken on board, with plans announced in August 2023 for peak-only charges (0700-1000, 1500-1800) and 50 "free days" for residents to be able to drive without charges, every year. A 50% discount would also apply to locally owned businesses using HGVs and vans, and a 50% discount for people on low incomes.

The revenue to be collected would only be £26 million per annum, but would be enough to implement significant bus improvements. Perhaps had the scheme been scoped like that from the first place, it might have had a chance of being implemented. 

However, it has since been abandoned altogether, not least because the Liberal Democrats have withdrawn support. The Liberal Democrats govern the neighbouring South Cambridgeshire District Council (which surrounds the city of Cambridge) and lead the Cambridgeshire County Council. As the proposed congestion charge has to be agreed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership Assembly (which includes representatives from multiple local authorities), it would be difficult to see it proceed without their united support.  The Liberal Democrats asked for a "pause" to investigate other sources of funding to upgrade the bus system. 

It appears this reflects increased national antagonism at measures which appear designed to penalise driving, and concern about the political fallout of supporting such measures at this time.

 Collapse and what now?

The final collapse of the concept came when the Labour group on Cambridge City Council withdrew support, out of concern for impacts on low income families. This is clearly not assuaged by the proposed 50% discount for low income households or the proposed 50 "free" trips permitted per annum for residents. What this all appears to be is a political reaction to a response to proposals that did not convince the public.

The Councils all still wish to upgrade bus services, and are not opposed to the fundamental objectives, but it is not clear how they proceed, short of recasting the whole scheme to include something  for those who drive.

I'm not surprised it has all faltered, in part because notwithstanding much of the public's stated interest in addressing environmental issues including climate change, there is much less enthusiasm in paying more in what are seen as taxes to pay for services that they do not see as benefiting them.

Assuming Cambridge still wants to proceed it needs to re-evaluating its policy around road charging to think more about one question - What will road charging do for those who pay?

There are two clear answers to this which it should consider:
  1. What travel time savings and improvements in trip reliability will the system be designed to achieve?
  2. Can some of the revenue be used to improve the road network, whether by addressing deferred maintenance or improving some bottlenecks or safety issues in the network?

Could Cambridge get a road pricing scheme it could accept?

This requires a very different mindset from that which treats pricing existing road users as a useful tax to pay for alternatives only. It doesn't mean that revenue cannot be used to support improving public transport and cycling, but it does mean that first and foremost pricing be used to improve the level of service of those who pay.


If the scheme were redrawn to be cordon based, or even zonal based, at peak periods only (and only in respective directions of travel) there would be a chance it could be focused on congestion and improving travel time reliability.  Cambridge has an awful road network for motorists seeking to avoid driving towards the centre to travel from one side to the other, (for example consider driving from the northwest to the southeast without following the city centre ring route) no doubt because local politicians didn't think that was important. It might help to think about the extent to which pricing should be focused on congested routes, particularly those with viable (or soon to be viable) competing public transport options.

A city centre cordon would be a reasonably elegant start, followed by a peripheral one that enabled vehicles exiting the M11 or A14 highways to avoid Cambridge altogether, or a few strategic charging points on bridges over the River Cam.  Pricing ought to reflect road space occupancy, so none of the 10x multiplier for HGVs, just make it 3x, with 2x for smaller trucks.  If pricing only operates at peak times there is less need for discounts and exemptions as well.

The use of revenue is important as well. Whilst Cambridge won't want to be seen to be replacing spending on maintenance with revenue from a congestion charge, it could consider whether deferred maintenance could be addressed or better yet, some small scale highly efficient road improvements that may make intersections work more effectively or address other localised bottlenecks or safety issues.  Using road pricing revenue for economically efficient road improvements is a net positive for the community, and with pricing there should be no concern about inducing demand, but rather improving the efficiency of the travel of those needing to use the roads. This means buses too, as well as light commercial vehicles, freight delivery and the like.

However, I fear that the ambition and the failure to recognise the need for road pricing to give something to those who pay has "poisoned the well" politically around the very philosophy of congestion pricing.  This is hardly surprising, as far too many of the advocates for pricing do so from an antipathy to private motoring, rather than seeing it as a tool to make roads operate more efficiently, and so be an opportunity to improve all travel.  It should not be a surprise to find that people who drive don't like paying more for what appears to be no benefit to them at all.  I would have thought the lessons of the failure to proceed with congestion charging in Edinburgh and Manchester 20 and 15 years ago respectively (and indeed the failure to even expand London's congestion charging scheme) should have been learned.

Wednesday, 12 July 2023

Hawaii becomes latest US state to legislate for road user charging

Following on from Oregon, Utah and Virginia, Hawaii is the latest US state to introduce road user charging (RUC) (called road usage charging in the US) as a revenue raising measure.  

Senate Bill 1534 has been signed into legislation by Governor Josh Green and is now Act 222, following two sets of pilots into distance based road charging in the State.

The Act does the following in respect of RUC:

  • Eliminates the US$50 state annual registration surcharge from 1 July 2025. 
  • Until 30 June 2028, requires EV owners to choose either to pay a $50 per annum fee or a per mile rate of US$0.008 (0.8c per mile) to be reported annually at vehicle safety checks. 
  • From 30 June 2028, RUC will be mandatory for all EVs. 
  • A plan is to be developed to implement RUC for all cars and light-duty trucks by 2033 and report to the Legislature about that plan. 
This is more advanced than RUC in any other US state, as Oregon, Utah and Virginia all provide the option of paying an annual flat fee and can then drive as many miles as the vehicle owner wishes. Hawaii will enable that option only until 2028, after that date, RUC will be mandatory. This is much closer to RUC in Victoria, Australia and in New Zealand.

More importantly, the legislation lays the path towards moving ALL light vehicles onto RUC, and therefore away from fuel tax, which is much more forward thinking than other jurisdictions (including Victoria and New Zealand).

RUC in Hawaii will effectively be reported using odometers, inspected at the state's mandatory annual vehicle safety inspections. 

Important to remember Hawaii not only has state gas tax that this is intended to progressively replace, but county based fuel taxes, and this program will aim to try to replace them as well (although not the Federal tax on fuel, which pays into the Federal Highway Trust Fund).

This followed an extensive pilot program to test RUC with the public in Hawaii, seen in the HiRUC final report here.  This website has a good description of that program. This followed the previous Hawaii Road Usage Charge Demonstration Program (PDF). 

Disclaimer: Throughout the Hawaii Road Usage Charge Demonstration and the HiRUC project, Milestone Solutions (now part of CDM Smith, and previously called D'Artagnan Consulting) was the lead contractor responsible for delivering Hawaii’s research and demonstration program including public and stakeholder outreach, policy and financial analysis, technical and system design, implementation, and evaluation of results. I worked on several elements of the HiRUC project.

Monday, 10 July 2023

Will New York congestion pricing encourage more US cities to follow?

The recent news that the New York lower Manhattan congestion pricing proposal has received Federal endorsement (which was needed as some of the roads to be charged are Federally funded) seems likely to be the last major barrier before the proposal can be actually implemented.  It has taken some time, not least because the Trump Administration neither progressed nor rejected the proposal.

The proposal is basically an area charge around lower Manhattan, which is called the New York City Central Business District Tolling Program.  This is a fair title as it probably isn't sophisticated enough to really justify the term "congestion pricing" although it should reduce congestion, it is essentially designed to raise revenue.  

New York congestion pricing concept map

There are some oddities about the proposal, notably that the road around the periphery of lower Manhattan is exempt from the charge, when for almost all trips is only worth driving on to access the zone within it.  It is notably also an area charge, which is a concept only implemented elsewhere in London (and then it was only because the Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology in 2003 had such a poor read reliability rate that the target was to get each vehicle to pass around three sets of cameras to be sure it would be identified).  So it will charge vehicles entering AND vehicles remaining within the area during operating hours.

Key characteristics

Vehicles will only be charged ONCE per day, so it won't penalise frequent movements (this will appeal to commercial traffic, but should dissuade some occasional traffic and regular commuters).

Residents earning less than US$60,000 a year will get a tax credit for tolls paid, essentially a low income exemption for residents of the zone. It is currently proposed that a 25% discount would apply for low-income frequent drivers on the full CBD E-ZPass toll rate after the first 10 trips in each calendar month (excluding the overnight period)

Emergency vehicles and vehicles used to transport people with disabilities will be exempt (the latter category could be quite extensive!).

A new entity called the Traffic Mobility Review Board would recommend the rates table, with prices to vary by time-of-day with a mandate to consider how traffic might move, effects on air quality, costs, effects on the public and safety.  Indications are that prices could be between US$9 and US$23 depending on time of day, with overnight charges of US$5.

Rates from midnight till 0400 must be no more than 50% of that of peak charges (you may question why there is a fee at all at that time, but this is because the main objective is revenue). 

Drivers paying existing river crossing tolls (not all river crossings have tolls) will get those tolls credited to paying the Lower Manhattan charge.

Charges will be levied by detecting E-ZPass toll tags. Vehicles without toll tags will be charged through Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras which will be used to identify the vehicle's owner through Departments of Motor Vehicles, and be mailed to the owner. 

$US$207.5million is committed over five years to mitigate negative impacts including the low-income discount, monitoring of traffic, air quality and transit stations, 

Objectives and expected results

Officially the goals are:

  • Reduce daily vehicle-miles traveled within the Manhattan CBD by at least 5 percent.
  • Reduce the number of vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD daily by at least 10 percent.
  • Create a funding source for capital improvements and generate sufficient annual net revenues to fund $15 billion for capital projects for the MTA Capital Program
  • Establish a tolling program consistent with the purposes underlying the New York State legislation entitled the MTA Reform and Traffic Mobility Act.

1. Net revenues!  80% of net revenues will be used to improve and modernise New York City Transit (subway and buses), 10% to Long Island Rail Road, 10% to Metro-North Railroad. Zero revenue will be used to support even maintenance of the roads being charged let alone improvements to them. In effect, it is a transfer from motor vehicle operators to transit providers and their customers. Around US$1 billion in net revenues is expected.

2. Reducing congestion (although no formal targets have been set).  From the document filed with FHWA,  It is expected that there would be a 15-20% reduction in daily vehicles entering the charged area. Commuter car trips are expected to drop by 5-11%.  Notably through trips by trucks are estimated to drop by between 21 and 81% (these are trucks with no origin or destination in the zone).  Public transport trips are estimated to increase by 1-3% in the area.  The net effect outside the charged area is expected to be a reduction of 0-1% in overall traffic volumes. Effects on active travel are expected to be small.   Taxi trips are estimated to change ranging from a 1.5% increase to a 16.8% decrease in trips.

There are also intended to be modest improvements in air quality, but this is largely not being highlighted.

New York is fairly special

Lower Manhattan is unlike much of New York, let alone other US cities.  It has much more of the characteristics of central London, than indeed most US downtown areas, and it has a density of public transport availability that is unmatched in any other US city. This ought to make it the easiest location to implement congestion pricing, (even though it is pricing road use 24/7).  617,000 people live in the Manhattan CBD, but 80% do not own or have ready access to a car, this compares to 9% across the USA.  That is primarily by choice, because of the walkability of so much of this relatively densely developed area, the availability of public transport options, and the lack of parking for residents' vehicles. 

Manhattan car ownership compared to the US

Approximately 1.5 million are employed in the Manhattan CBD, of which 84% typically commute from outside the CBD (pre-Covid).  65% commute from other suburbs of NYC, 18% from New Jersey, 8% from Long Island, and 7% from other New York counties. 85% commute using public transport, 11% by car and the remainder by active modes, taxi/rideshare vehicle.  Again this is completely unlike commuter patterns elsewhere in the United States.

Manhattan commuter mode shares

The value of time of congestion lost in New York is estimated to be US$1,595 per driver per year in the NYC region, equal to 102 hours of lost time.  On one measure bus speeds have dropped 28% in the Manhattan CBD since 2010.

However it is far from being all about commuters, the data also indicates that 7.7 million people enter and exit the Manhattan CBD on an average weekday, 75% by public transport, but 24% by car, taxi, ride share vehicle or truck, indicating that there is a far more significant problem of all day travel in Manhattan than commuter peaks. This has parallels with other large dense cities such as London, whereby the motor vehicle traffic is largely not AM/PM peak commuter driven in the city centre.  The numbers of vehicles entering Manhattan CBD each weekday is equal to the entire population of Phoenix, AZ. 

The profile of this motor vehicle traffic is astounding. 

Profile of Manhattan CBD vehicle entry/exit

Volumes do peak inbound in the AM, but largely stay steady from noon until 2200 and outbound trip peak at 0700 and grow slowly until 1600 and then only drop off significantly after 2200.

This explains the desire to have charging across the day (although 2300-0500 seems excessive). 

This also explains why New York is special, as most other US cities do not have a CBD anywhere near as dominant or dense as New York. While most have a central business district of some importance (see Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco), and could implement some sort of cordon or area charge in such locations, the scale and density of traffic in those locations does not match that of lower Manhattan.  Furthermore, it is critical to understand that any schemes would be unlikely to have a significant affect on traffic more widely across those cities. That's because most traffic movement in US cities does not starting or terminating in the downtown, but rather criss-crossing smaller commercial centres and locations of employment, as people live and work in a vast array of different places. US cities in most cases are highly dispersed. 

Even the New York scheme is not expected to have a significant impact on traffic beyond Manhattan, with an estimated reduction of 1% across New York City more widely. 

So if congestion pricing is to be implemented primarily to resolve congestion, unless the focus is the downtown area and roads approaching it, a downtown cordon is unlikely to achieve much from a network point of view.  

This is not to say there is not merit in targeting car trips to downtown areas at peak times to reduce congestion in those areas and encourage modal and time of day shift (and as a result free up some road space on corridors approaching those areas).  There certainly is, but congestion pricing has proven extremely difficult to implement in the US because there is excessive focus on revenue raising to support public transport, rather than improving the level of service for those paying to use the roads.

In US cities it is much more likely that significant improvements to congestion will be achieved not by pricing access to downtown areas, but by pricing corridors (and ultimately pricing whole networks).  Corridor pricing, as seen in Singapore, is much more likely to encourage the behaviour shift needed to optimise throughput on congested roads.  However to understand that, city planners and politicians have to broaden understanding of congestion pricing being just about encouraging modal shift, for it is just as much about changing time of travel and frequency of travel.  Indeed in US cities it is likely to be moreso.  In Stockholm, the data on behaviour change for that relatively large inner city cordon, indicates that only 40% of the reduction in car trips during charged periods was attributable to modal shift. That is certainly important, but the remainder is a whole set of other behaviours including:

  • Shifting driving time from the peak period to the off-peak period (with lower charges) or uncharged period either in one direction or both directions of travel.
  • Reducing frequency of driving, by consolidating appointments and activities into fewer trips.  This means the same productive activities were able to be carried out with less frequent driving. 
To date the main policy focus from cities in the US wanting congestion pricing has been an eye on revenue, which is understandable, as there is a lot of potential to raise money. However, public acceptability is rarely built upon what is seen as a new tax.  Lower Manhattan is special because most people who live there don't have a car, and most people who commute or travel into it, don't do so by car, but although none of the net revenues will be used to directly benefit those paying, there IS a focus on achieving results in terms of reduced congestion. 

The Traffic Mobility Review Board is a good measure to ensure that the policy and rate setting around the scheme will deliver net benefits, although the membership of the Board is required to have one member recommended by the Mayor of the City of New York, one member reside in the Metro-North Railroad region, and one member in the Long Island Rail Road region.  The board composition is available here.

My expectation is that there will be more studies on congestion pricing/charging, but getting public acceptability for it will continue to prove difficult. That is because far too many developing such programs are focused on raising revenue, without thinking about how pricing can improve conditions for those who still drive (New York has not ignored this). Some ignore the enormous benefits pricing can deliver to improving bus capacity and reliability, just because of reductions in congestion. Finally, far too many look at a program like New York (or London) and just try to copy it, rather than thinking more broadly about the ways congestion pricing can be implemented on a road network.  There are far better examples than London, and more sophisticated systems and policies in place in cities such as Stockholm and Singapore, but it is entirely possible to do something quite different, and be effective.

Congestion pricing needs to be led by policy objectives and be tailored carefully to local conditions. A key reason it failed to expand in the UK beyond London is that too many advocates did not seek to design to target congestion, but to target potential revenue, and far too many wanted to communicate to those who they wanted to spend net revenues on, not those who would pay.

After all, congestion pricing that doesn't reduce congestion is just another tax.

What next?

The scheme can be implemented around early to mid 2024, after contractors, design, build, install and test equipment to be installed at the roadside.  Meanwhile the Traffic Mobility Review Board will develop recommendations for a rate schedule, which will need to be approved by the MTA Board for public consultation and hearings, before final decisions are made. 

It can only be hoped that its implementation is a great success, that it meaningfully reduces congestion in lower Manhattan (and the routes approaching it), that this improves air quality and improves mobility overall, and helps to catalyse thinking across the United States about the merits of congestion pricing.

However, most of all I hope it catalyses thinking about how congestion pricing needs to be tailored for each city, to meet its needs, its objectives and to develop the public acceptability needed to avoid it being a major controversy.

London, after all, became the first and to date the ONLY large city in the UK to implement congestion charging, and it remains only applied to the centre of London (hopefully more journalists will not think the Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zones in London are congestion charging zones, they absolutely are not). 


Monday, 29 May 2023

Consultation on Cambridge's Sustainable Travel Zone reveals widespread opposition

I wrote a couple of months ago about how poorly plans for a blunt congestion charge for Cambridge (UK) were going, in terms of public response, and this seems to be continuing following publication of the results of formal public consultation into what is being called a "Sustainable Travel Zone".

The Sustainable Travel Zone would be a single area charge (£5 for cars but much more for trucks) across virtually all of metropolitan Cambridge, which would operate 12 hours a day weekdays only. It would legally be a congestion charge, and would effectively emulate London, except for its scale of operation. Whilst the London congestion charge only affects a tiny proportion of greater London (separate from the Ultra Low Emission Zone), the Cambridge Sustainable Travel Zone would affect all of Cambridge. Why? It would appear to be to ensure that it would raise enough money to pay for the significant increase in bus services.

Rarely have congestion pricing schemes ever been publicly accepted if sold on the basis that it is about raising money (effectively a sophisticated form of tax) rather than reducing congestion. The record in the UK is that several cities have attempted to progress congestion charging on the basis that it would raise a lot of money for public transport (see Manchester and Edinburgh), and been rejected by the public.

By contrast, congestion pricing has been successfully advanced in Stockholm because it was about reducing congestion, whereas it saw considerable opposition in Gothenburg because that is about raising revenue. It is difficult, although not impossible to get support for such a scheme as a revenue raising instrument, but it would appear to be that people in Cambridge are not warm to the idea.

Cambridge News reports that although 70% of the population supported the transport improvements, 58% opposed the Sustainable Travel Zone/congestion charge. Only 34% supported the Sustainable Travel Zone as proposed. 

Another report breaks down the results in more detail:

61% of those aged 16-24 who responded to the consultation were in favour of the charge

64% of those aged 55-64 opposed the charge.

Of those living within the proposed zone boundary, 49% were opposed and 46% in favour.

Those living outside the boundary were 60% opposed, 32% in favour.

Key concerns expressed were those wanting more exemptions, thinking the £5 charge was too high and thinking residents should have an exemption.  Many wanted Addenbrooke Hospital excluded from the zone. 

So what now?

29 June is the date when the Greater Cambridge Partnership meets to consider what to do next. It could just plough on, but it may be better to think about some of the ideas I wrote about before on how to phase in charging.

  1. Just introduce it in the AM peak only at first, in part to demonstrate the effects, but also to encourage some time-of-day shift in travel (which many would rather do compared to shifting mode). It would also give some idea of the elasticity of demand in the AM peak for driving to better inform forecasts for revenue. Sure it won't be enough revenue longer term, but then the improved public transport package can be focused on the peaks instead. Expand it to the PM peak later, as that would capture more traffic likely to mode-shift, rather than inter-peak traffic. 
  2. Replace the blunt area charge with two cordons.  One in the city centre (whether it is a tight city centre or one bounded by the effective ring roads of the A1303, A1334, A603), one at the proposed outer boundary.  This means people won't be charged for simply moving their cars short distances, and will focus attention on entering Cambridge and then central Cambridge. 
  3. Have a shoulder charge (at half price) for the first and last half hour to encourage time of day shift and provide more options for motorists.
  4. Dedicate some of the net revenues to some improve road infrastructure this means fixing substandard intersections, and although there will be resistance to using the money for maintenance (as it would reduce funding from other sources), some of what motorists pay should benefit them.
It is plausible that the full Cambridge scheme could be introduced over time, but any combination of the above ideas can provide a pathway of phasing it in. Say an inner cordon could operate 0700-1900 (with a half hour shoulder fee), but the outer cordon only 0700-1000 and 1600-1900.  


Thursday, 25 May 2023

Denmark implementing heavy vehicle RUC from 2025 - but not without protest

Initial Danish heavy vehicle charge network

From 2025 Denmark will be the 12th jurisdiction in Europe to have some form of distance-based road user charging (RUC) (or tolls) for heavy vehicles.  Some may argue about the definition (as two of these are essentially network tolls using tolling technology) but the others are Iceland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, Bulgaria and Russia.

Key elements of the new scheme, called the "Kilometer-based toll":

  • On 1 January 2025 all heavy vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight of 12 tonnes or above will have to pay per-kilometre road user charges based on the vehicle's weight and emissions rating. This will apply on the national road network and other main roads, including public roads in "environmental zones". This is a network of around 7,300 km (around 9.7% of public roads, but the roads that carry most of the freight traffic).
  • On 1 January 2027 the charge will be extended to all heavy  vehicles of 3.5-12 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight as well.
  • On 1 January 2028 the charge will apply to all public roads in Denmark (a network of around 75,000km).
  • On 1 January 2025 Denmark will withdraw from the Eurovignette scheme, which applies to trucks 12 tonnes and above, and requires trucks to prepay a set number of days they are driving on the national road network (trucks can buy an annual Eurovignette).

Average charges will be DKK1.2 per km in 2030 (US$0.17 per km). 

The policy focus is on reducing CO2 emissions. It will apply to all trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 12 tonnes or more. It will be expanded to heavy vehicles of 3.5 tonnes and above from 1 January 2027.

It is being introduced alongside multiple complementary measures:

  • Rules on weights and dimensions for trucks on Danish roads are to be eased, enabling larger and heavier trucks to operate
  • Improvements to rail freight in Denmark including a loans scheme for rail freight operators.
There will be a single rate geographically across all major roads in Denmark (it will not apply to local roads), with a higher rate for cities with low emission zones. The charge will automatically collect higher fees for the low emission zones.  There will be no VAT as it is legally a tax.


Only the following heavy vehicles will be exempt:
  • National armed forces and emergency services vehicles;
  • Vehicles adapted and used exclusively for fire and rescue;
  • Police vehicles; and
  • Vehicles belonging to the "road services" (believed to be maintenance/operations)


Unlike almost all other implementation of heavy vehicle RUC anywhere, Denmark is taking a technology neutral approach to how data is measured and collected from heavy vehicles to enable collection of the charge.  Given the number of similar schemes in Europe, it called for accreditation to be a certified service provider, meaning that as long as a private commercial toll/RUC service provider could meet the performance requirements specified, it could be certified to collect the charge.  Denmark has received six application to do so after the deadline of 30 April (to enable initial operation) from the following firms:

  • Brobizz (Denmark)
  • SkyttelPASS A/S (Norway)
  • Telepass S.p.A. (Italy)
  • tolltickets GmbH (Germany)
  • Toll4Europe GmbH (Germany)
  • ØresundPAY (Sweden)
This does not necessarily mean all or any of these operators will be certified, but indicates Denmark has taken an open system approach in encouraging competition in delivering RUC services to heavy vehicles in the country. 

The project is being led by the Danish Road Directorate, but the contract for establishing it was granted to 
Sund & Bælt, a Danish government enterprise responsible for some major infrastructure projects such as the Øresund Crossing between Denmark and Sweden. 

The remuneration of EETS providers will be done under two categories:
  • A fixed percentage of the revenue collected (1.5% for the calendar year 2025 and 2% for the subsequent year)
  • A fee based on the number of active OBEs (On Board Equipment). An active OBE is an OBE that has been provided by the EETS Provider and installed in a vehicle registered with the EETS Provider, and for which circulation on the tolled road network has been detected at least once for the respective calendar month. (DKK60 per month (US$8.66) for the calendar year 2025, down to DKK15 per month the following year (US$2.17). 
Consider if a Class 5 above 32 tonne truck travelled 100,000km in a year (outside LEZs), it would generate DKK20,000 (US$2885) in gross revenue, so the EETS provider in the first year would obtain DKK300+DKK720=DKK1020 (US$147). So volumes of business matter (and it also encourages EETS providers to target the higher emitting vehicles that generate them more revenue).

Number of vehicles and kilometres driven

Number of trucks registered in Denmark in 2021

Initial installation will be for 35,500 locally registered vehicles, but the foreign vehicles are not included in this.  

Distance driven on Danish roads by heavy vehicles

The total distance to be driven by vehicles subject to the RUC is depicted above.

User experience

It is expected that regular users of the Danish road network will have a contract with an EETS provider (European Electronic Tolling Service) which will supply or use telematics installed in the vehicle.  The vehicle owner will pay the EETS provider, which will then pay the charges to the government.  Denmark is neutral about whether the EETS provider uses On Board Units already installed on trucks, new ones or uses the telematics system already built into some trucks.

Occasional users of the network (visiting trucks from foreign countries that infrequently enter Denmark will be able to buy a single trip ticket for a specific journey online, through the website of the "toll charger" (which is Sund & Bælt). 


The rates table applying from 1 January 2025 is seen below, it differentiates between three weight categories and five emissions categories with higher rates in low emission zones.

Denmark heavy vehicle RUC charge table

As can be seen rates range from DKK0.20 to DKK2.03 per kilometre (US$0.03 and US$0.29 per kilometre or US$0.048-US$0.47 per mile).  Note this replaces a rate structure of the Eurovignette below:

Eurovignette in DKK

This starts at DKK89 for one day on the network (US$12.85) to up to DK1755 for one year (US$2534), which depending on how much distance a truck travels on the network will determine if it is going to be paying more or less with the new kilometre-based RUC.


The burden on Danish business is estimated to be DKK2.5b (US$370 million) offset by DKK1b (US$140m) due to the measures to enable larger trucks on the roads, so the net impact will be US$230m per annum by 2030.

It is estimated to reduce emissions by 0.4 million tonnes by 2030, but with 0.3 million tonnes coming from the road user charge and 0.1 million tonnes by allowing larger trucks on the network.

Summary leaflet here


An organised opposition group "the Road Tax Committee" has been set up to oppose the proposal and it has been engaging in protests by blockading roads.  Some of the trucking industry is calling for a delay to implementation until 2030, largely so there are more lower and zero emission trucks available to purchase, so they would not face the highest charges.  The "Road Tax Committee" has since dissolved, but protests and opposition continue.

All of this indicates how important it is to get some support from the trucking industry before introducing charge that are, by and large, likely to charge many of them much more than they do now.

It seems challenging to introduce any form of road user charging without intending to ensure that net revenues will be used to, at least, ensure the road network is well maintained and managed, but there is little expression of this. The messaging is focused on fighting climate change, and nowhere else has this been seen by the trucking industry as a policy it can support. France tried this previously with the abortive Ecotaxe proposal (which I wrote about extensively over nine years ago).

In every other European jurisdiction that has managed to implement heavy vehicle RUC, the objective has been clear - the need to raise revenue from the vehicles that generate the most damage to the road network, including those from foreign jurisdictions. A secondary objective with some has been to encourage more environmentally friendly vehicles, but that is reflected in preferential rates for low emitting vehicles, it is not the primary objective. I would not be surprised if protests continue in Denmark until there is some recalibration of the objectives and policy. 

Hopefully Denmark can reach a point where it finds compromises that brings the trucking industry with it, whether it be about timing, the rate structure, the use of net revenues or any combination of the above (or even consolidating other taxes), so that it too can join the list of jurisdictions with RUC. Bear in mind that it will need to progress it to replace fuel tax revenue in the medium to long term as well.

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

Australia quietly runs the National Heavy Vehicle Charging Pilot - manual option

The Australian Commonwealth Government has been undertaking a programme of trialling distance and weight based road user charging (RUC) for heavy vehicles.  It ran a small-scale trial in 2019-2020 using existing telematics equipment, which was evaluated here.  Now the large-scale trial, manual technology component, was launched quietly by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DITRDCA) in July 2022 and will run until the middle of the year.  It uses hubodometers, installed on powered units and trailers, with prepaid permits. It has parallels to New Zealand's long established Road User Charge system that has applied to heavy vehicles (over 3.5 tonnes) and light diesel vehicles. since 1978.  The graphic below depicts how the manual pilot works.

Australia's National Heavy Vehicle RUC pilot manual permit based system

Participants "buy" a permit (no real money is exchanged) for distance travelled, enabling participants to compare what they pay to stay up to date with distance permits, compared to what they pay in fuel tax and registration fees under the current system.

The video below includes segments from some of the trial participants.

This is not the only part of the trial, as a telematics based trial is due to start later this year, using a mix of new and existing on-board telematics systems on a range of trucks and buses.

The purpose of the trial is to gather data about various types of operators, obtain feedback on their experiences of the technological option and what operators think of paying by distance rather than tax on fuel and the high Australian registration fees for heavy vehicles.

The findings will be interesting and should inform decisions about whether to proceed with reforms to replace the fuel tax and registration based system (known as PAYGO or fuel based RUC), with a distance, weight and configuration based road user charge.

Disclosure: Milestone Pacific Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of CDM Smith) has been a technical advisor to DITRDCA on the National Heavy Vehicle Charging Pilot since 2019.  I have been leading that advice.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Cambridge (UK) announced plans for a congestion charge - and it is not going well

The Greater Cambridge Partnership has announced plans to introduce a congestion charge for the city of Cambridge. This has been mulled for some years, and of course the record of UK cities introducing congestion pricing, beyond London and Durham has been a failure - primarily because the public has been opposed, so it will be interesting to see how and whether this actually gets implemented.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership is a public sector body set up between five local authorities and the UK Government to implement a City Deal - which is a partnership for funding infrastructure and development for the city using a mix of local and central government tax income.

It would be fair to say that the proposal has been highly controversial, and with good reason. 

The congestion charge zone has been labelled the Sustainable Travel Zone. I'd question whether rebranding something achieves much, as the public's scepticism can only be enhanced when a euphemism is used to describe what it actually is - it's an area which will have road pricing. 

What's the objective?

The objective expressed first in the consultation document is to raise money to spend on subsidising a significant improvement in bus services. The second objective is to lower the level of traffic.  The implication is that there would be reductions in congestion, but it would be wrong to infer this is about improving travel times for those who drive.

Where's the money going?

The proposed improvement in bus services includes simpler fares, more routes and more services, with 10 minute headways, more evening services and more services to rural areas. It certainly looks like a huge uplift in service, but of course someone has to pay, and the Greater Cambridge Partnership wants motorists to. £50 million a year is proposed to be spent, and the congestion charge is not to be introduced until most of the bus service improvement have been implemented. 

A big uplift in cycling infrastructure and improvements to encourage more walking, including secure cycle parking.

What are the details?

Proposed Cambridge congestion charging zone

Friday, 11 November 2022

Congestion pricing doesn't require public transport to be an alternative for most trips - the Mayor of Auckland makes a common mistake

Does congestion pricing need all motorists to have a "reasonable alternative", by mode of transport?


The alternatives to congestion pricing include:

  • Modal choices (public transport and cycling/walking for shorter trips)
  • Time of day choice (driving outside charging periods)
  • Route choice (avoiding driving on priced roads if possible)
  • Trip frequency choice (driving less frequency if a trip is regular)

The single biggest reason cars have become ubiquitous in cities is because they enable trips to be undertaken between origins and destinations that are not, and are likely to never be efficient to take by other modes. For trips to city centres, public transport can be an option for many, at peak times and indeed for trips between locations on public transport corridors, they obviously can be undertaken instead of driving, but for many cities, especially lower density cities like Auckland, characterised by houses on blocks of land in outer suburbs. It is not ever going to be efficient to have bus services that are always walkable to all of those suburban outlying areas.

So those that claim public transport alternatives need to exist for everyone are mistaken or actually just opposed to congestion pricing.  I hope the Mayor of Auckland is simply mistaken.


I've written before about Auckland, New Zealand's, experience in investigating congestion pricing.  A major report was released just before the pandemic (see here) and I wrote about it here.

In short it was recommended that Auckland implement congestion pricing, starting with a small inner city cordon (effectively as a pilot, but consistent with Auckland Council's objectives to reduce car use in the inner city and provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and buses) followed by corridor based charging, in some ways resembling how Singapore's excellent ERP system was rolled out. 

The pandemic stopped further progress, but in the meantime the Government of the day was re-elected, with a majority for the ruling Labour Party, and it followed up with a Parliamentary Inquiry into congestion pricing in Auckland. which recommended that congestion pricing proceed.

It's worth noting that congestion pricing is not controversial at the level of national politics, although there is debate about how to use the money, and the priority of objectives. The Green Party supports it, so do the Opposition centre-right National and free-market liberal ACT parties.  However, it would be fair to say that progress in advancing congestion pricing in Auckland has been glacial over the past year.

To enable congestion pricing, the Government needs to introduce legislation to permit it to be introduced and this has not yet occurred.  However, in the meantime there were local elections in New Zealand. Auckland's Mayor had retired, and he has been replaced by the centre-right candidate Wayne Brown, who has reportedly now said that congestion charging is a "distraction" and 

"Congestion charging could only make sense once every Aucklander has the option of catching a bus or a train that they know will show up on time, every time – and we are two years away from that, at the very least"

There are two big mistakes with this:

  1. If it were decided to introduce congestion pricing, it would take at least two-three years before it could be ready in any case.  Indeed, the argument has been made that the right time to introduce it is when Auckland's underground city rail loop is completed in 2025 or so.
  2. There is no reason for EVERY person to have a public transport option to substitute every possible car trip, indeed it is neither possible nor rational nor necessary.  This is because many trips will simply change time or frequency of travel, especially more discretionary trips.
What does congestion pricing do?

Fundamentally, congestion pricing is applying a time and location sensitive price to road use directly, with the intention that it shall alter behaviour of marginal users of the road network (those sensitive to price relative to the value of the trip by road at that time and location), so that they do not use congested roads at specific times, reducing congestion to more economically efficient levels.

In most cases congestion pricing has not been mostly about people shifting modes of travel, although modal shift is very important, it is a common mistake to think that if, say, 5000 car trips are priced off the road at 0800 that the occupants of those 5000 cars (which will be more than one per car on average) all catch a train or bus.

In Stockholm congestion pricing reduced trips over the cordon by 25% (Source: Centre for Transport Studies, Stockholm, CTS Working Paper 2014:7), but of that 25% the percentage breakdown of behaviour change varied:
  • around 10% points were commuters that shifted mode (so only around 40% of car occupants went to other modes)
  • around 6% points were discretionary trips (likely social, recreational, retail) that changed either the destination of travel at charging times or travelled less frequently.  So they still drove, just fewer times per week (consolidating trips) or to another destination not subject to pricing.
  • around 5% of trips were commercial trips (deliveries, tradespeople, taxis) that disappeared, again likely due to consolidation of trips (deliveries being managed more efficiently, tradespeople booking work for a single trip across the cordon rather than multiple ones during a day)
  • <2% changed route (using the bypass motorway to avoid the charged cordon).
  • <1% changed time of travel, noting the Stockholm scheme operates all day, but has lower prices between the peaks. 
The key conclusion being that a great deal of behaviour change is having fewer discretionary trips and more efficient management of trips.

In London most shifted mode it is believed, to buses, but it is difficult to be sure because there was a significant uplift in the level of bus service, which is believed to have resulted in more trips in any case.

For Auckland it is proposed to only have charging during the peaks, so the potential for changing time of driving is significant, much more like Singapore, which only applies charges at times when demand slows traffic below stated performance levels (very few routes have charges outside peaks, especially post-Covid).

What would happen in Auckland?

If the first stage of congestion pricing were introduced, it is likely a significant proportion of motorists would shift mode of travel, assuming bus service reliability were back to pre-pandemic levels, and the City Rail Link is opened.  However, the majority would still drive. Of those that wouldn't, many would drive off-peak instead, some discretionary trips might go elsewhere at the peak, and some would not travel at all.  

It's worth noting that the highest peak charge was assumed to be NZ$3.50 (US$2.10). Over a work week this would be NZ$17.50, this is less than the normal public transport fares (there is currently a 50% discount applied by the Government to address the cost of living temporarily) and of course for many they also pay for parking.  

The inner city cordon is estimated to reduce car trips across Auckland by only 0.4%, and even if the FULL corridor scheme were eventually introduced, there would be a 1.3% reduction in trips.  This is enough to make a significant impact on travel times and trip reliability for the vehicles that ARE paying, plus of course buses.

It's also worth remembering that freight/logistics trips mostly cannot shift modes, and in many cases can't shift time of travel, but that isn't a reason not to price those vehicles using a scarce resource (road space) when they will benefit from it operating more efficiently.

Bus services can be improved significantly because of the effects of pricing

This is the almost instant "win" of congestion pricing, ignoring any money that might be raised and diverted into public transport. Reducing traffic congestion improves travel times for buses, improves trip reliability for buses, and enables more services to be operated with the same number of buses and drivers. FHWA (US) noted that in London:

 “Excess wait time” at bus stops fell by 24 percent across Greater London during the first full year of charging, with a 30-percent decrease within the zone itself.

Stockholm also saw such an improvement in trip times, that bus services that had been enhanced were cut back somewhat because too many services were operating with too few passengers. 

Congestion pricing CAN be designed to make life better for those driving

Many who support congestion pricing do so because they want fewer car trips, as an objective, but it is worth remembering that the goal of the original Congestion Question study was to improve network performance. Less congestion benefits those who pay to use the roads at peak time, because they have more reliable travel times, shorter travel times and also save on vehicle fuel/energy costs. Moreover, the use of net revenues can be applied to reducing or abolishing other motoring taxes, such as the NZ$0.125/l Auckland regional fuel tax (including GST), which apply to ALL road users, regardless of where and when they drive.  

Mayor Wayne Brown expressed concern that transport policy in Auckland under the previous Mayor was increasingly antagonistic towards drivers, but he could embrace road pricing as enabling better conditions for drivers and public transport users, and as a tool to reduce the burden on motorists outside peak times. 

What SHOULD happen?

The New Zealand Government should announce it is going to introduce legislation enabling congestion pricing under certain conditions. This won't force the Mayor of Auckland and Auckland Council to proceed with pricing, but will raise the question more explicitly, and it will enable Wellington (and other cities) to progress it, if they so wish.  

Given 2023 is election year in New Zealand (and polls indicate there is a reasonable likelihood the governing Labour Party would be voted out of office), it might be too much to expect this level of courage, but this IS a government that has set a target of reducing total kilometres driven by light vehicles, across the country, by 30% to meet climate change targets. To implement that requires measures much more intrusive than a congestion charge for central Auckland.

Congestion pricing in Auckland should not be delayed because the Mayor doesn't fully understand the impacts it will have. Government should enable it to happen, and progress detailed design for the preferred scheme options, with the intention of being able to implement it by 2026 at the latest (and if the Government changes after the election, it might help replace the Auckland regional fuel tax, which was implemented by the current government. 

A focus on making Auckland public transport more reliable and frequent is fine, but road pricing can help with that, and it would be wrong to lose momentum on Auckland road pricing because of concerns that can be easily addressed in the detailed design phase.

Monday, 17 October 2022

Hong Kong to introduce congestion pricing on Cross-Harbour Tunnels

Hong Kong has been investigating congestion pricing since 1984, but in recent years seemed like it was likely to progress some sort of cordon for the Central-Wan Chai area. The Transport Department Hong Kong website appears to have frozen at 2020, which is not surprising, as this coincides both with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the period of protests and unrest arising from opposition to the increasing mainland takeover of the Special Administrative Region.

Meanwhile Hong Kong has made a more obvious step announcing it will introduce congestion pricing applying to the three Cross Harbour Tunnels.

The Standard (Hong Kong) reports that between 0700-1000, 1700-2000 the Cross Harbour Tunnel (the central and most congested one) and the Eastern Harbour Crossing (on the right) tolls will increase by HK$20 (US$2.55) per crossing. It won't apply to the much less congested Western Harbour Tunnel, which will have a discount applied (HK$5-HK$10) once the franchise for that tunnel expires (putting it in public ownership) later this year. Buses will also have a cap introduced (which had not previously applied, noting most Hong Kong bus services are commercial albeit regulated services). 

It's worth noting the Cross Harbour Tunnel is priced currently at HK$20 per car (US$2.55), the Eastern Harbour Crossing at HK$25 (US$3.18) but the Western Harbour Crossing is HK$75 (US$9.55) because the latter toll is recovering the capital costs of building it through a private concession (the other two tunnels were built as private concessions but returned to public ownership some years ago). 

It's reported around 60% of vehicles using the tunnels are private cars.

Full details of CURRENT tunnel rates are here. The rates apply to buses and trucks, all largely proportionate to road space occupancy.

This looks like a positive move, of course it won't replace what is needed in Central/Wan-Chai, but it is clear that the Cross Harbour Tunnel in particular is a major bottleneck, and this should help to encourage both modal and time shift, but also attract more demand to the Western Harbour Tunnel, which generally operates free flowing most of the day.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Western Australia to implement RUC for EVs, Auckland congestion charging to be announced, Virginia launches RUC in July 2022

I've been very busy, but there are some announcements worth noting as follows

Western Australia announces it will introduce distance-based RUC on EVs in 2017

As part of an package of measures to incentivise increased sales of electric vehicles, the Western Australian Premier has announced that the state government will introduce 

 introduce a distance-based road user charge for zero and low emission light vehicles commencing from July 1, 2027 to ensure all motorists pay their fair share towards the maintenance and construction of WA roads.

A base rate of 2.5 cents per kilometre for electric and hydrogen vehicles and two cents per kilometre for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will apply, with both rates indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

This parallels what has already been announced in New South Wales, what has been introduced in Victoria in 2021 and what was also announced for South Australia (but for which the recently elected Labor Government has vowed to repeal).

Western Australia has some history in looking at heavy vehicle RUC, but it will be interesting to see how this may be implemented, as it could be a simple odometer reporting based system given there is little interstate light vehicle traffic. 

New Zealand Government to make announcement on progressing congestion pricing in Auckland next week

It has been studied and investigated for some time, but Radio New Zealand is reporting (alongside other media outlets) that when the New Zealand Government Emissions Reduction Plan is released on Monday 16 May, it will also announce it will implement congestion pricing for Auckland.  It is likely to be focused on a downtown inner city cordon-style scheme at peak times only, but with the potential to expand into corridor charging beyond that. It also appears that the net revenue may be used to offset a cut and eventual abolition of the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax established only in 2018 to help fund transport projects in the city.  That tax is currently at NZ$0.125 per litre including Goods and Service Tax.

Virginia to launch RUC for EVs on 1 July 2022

Virginia will be the third US state to implement distance-based RUC for light vehicles on 1 July according to NBC12.  Branded "Mileage Choice" it will offer EV, hybrid or other ultra fuel efficient vehicle owners the choice of paying by mile instead of paying a flat annual fee for registration (currently US$109 per annum).  Distance will be measuredly a plug-in device supplied by Emovis, with an initial odometer reading captured by smartphone imaging to register.