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.  

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Will Denmark be the next European country to develop light-vehicle RUC?

According to the Ministry of Transport website of Denmark (in Danish), the Danish Government has agreed to a pilot of road user charging (RUC).  The Technical University of Denmark with state-owned infrastructure company Sund & Baelt  is to undertake a study as follows:

DTU's development experiments with road pricing are carried out with a randomly selected representative group of citizens. DTU's primary focus is to investigate the effects of introducing tolls on the roads that are challenged by congestion and thereby collect experiences of behavioral changes among motorists. The experiences from the experiment can form the basis for a possible further work with tolls for passenger cars.

So the idea appears to be to test RUC on congested roads, with a subset of users, to understand behaviour change to inform further work on road pricing. Sund & Baelt already operates the tolling systems on Denmark's tolled crossings - the Great Belt Fixed Link between the islands of Funen and Zealand, connecting the main islands of Denmark with the European continent, and the Øresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. 

2,000 citizens will be subject to the pilot which will take a total of three years, with tariffs that will vary by location based on congestion. It is clear it will only be for light vehicles (those under 3.5 metric tons Gross Vehicle Weight). The pilot budget is DKK20 million (~US$2.9m).

Meanwhile, a petition signed by 50,000 citizens is requesting that the Great Belt Fixed Link toll be removed. The toll is DKK250 (US$37) per car, which is high, but the cost of the bridge and tunnel link was DKK21.4b in 1988 (US$3.1b), so it is reasonable to recover those capital costs from the users (particularly for a Government committed to encouraging greater use of public transport).  The Local reports that the debt for the bridge won't be fully repaid under 2032. 

Comment 

It's clear that revenue from fuel tax is putting pressure on lots of jurisdictions, but it is curious that Denmark appears to be focusing on reducing congestion, which is a difficult objective to achieve unless all light vehicles are put onto a RUC system.  I'll look forward to more information in due course.  

Monday, 21 February 2022

Does road user charging harm electric vehicle sales?

RUC makes little difference to EV sales.

Under a year ago I wrote this piece Would RUC for EVs harm sales? largely in reference to concerns in Australia from the Electric Vehicle sales lobby that Australian states investigating road user charging (RUC) based on distance, for light vehicles; would significantly reduce consumers' propensity to buy such vehicles. 

Dr Jake Whitehead from the University of Queensland apparently conducted a study which was cited in an article in Driven that claimed it would hurt sales by 25%, claiming that it would be perceived by drivers as adding $4,000 on the cost of owning and operating an electric vehicle. I demonstrated in my previous article that this was highly questionable, because no purchasers of petrol powered cars estimate the fuel tax they would pay on top of the cost of owning and operating the car. If they did, it might be around A$367 a year for a new petrol Hyundai Kona driving the average annual 13,838km of a car in Victoria. This compared to around A$346 for an equivalent EV paying the Victoria state RUC. Sure I understand Whitehead's estimate, but it simply isn't a valid comparison to think anyone buys a car thinking about the lifecycle costs of charges associated with using the road (although buyers of many commercial vehicles do make such estimates). 

However, there is now some actual evidence, with the latest sales data on electric vehicles in Australia.  You see Victoria introduced RUC (known as the ZLEV road-user charge) at A$0.025 per km for battery-electric EVs (BEVs) and A$0.02 per km for plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs). Both also obtain a registration fee discount of A$100 a year. 

The data for 2021 indicates that 6,396 EVs were sold in Victoria, with 7,430 sold in NSW and 5,342 in Queensland. Given RUC was introduced in July 2021 if Dr. Whitehead's assessment were valid you would expect a significant decline in EV sales relative to other states, but that isn't what happened.

You see the 7,430 sold in NSW compared to the total passenger vehicle fleet in NSW is around 0.17% of all vehicles. Whereas the 6,396 sold in Victoria, compared to the total passenger vehicle fleet in Victoria is around 0.16% of all vehicles.  If it made a difference it was barely discernible, and undoubtedly less relevant than other factors.

In the ACT, the number of EVs sold comprised 0.37% of all passenger vehicles registered in the territory, the highest of any state and territory, but that's not so surprising. The ACT has relatively high affluence, motor vehicle registration is free for two years for EVs, with a 20% ongoing reduction.  

Queensland has a slightly higher number of EVs as a proportion of all passenger vehicles at 0.18%, but that's close enough to NSW and Victoria to suggest that there isn't a significant difference in policy impacts.

Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and Northern Territory all have much lower sales, as a proportion of the total passenger vehicle fleet, than the other states, ranging from 0.1% to 0.05%.  In shortsthere is a great deal of reluctance to buy EVs in Australia, but the wealthiest eastern states/territory have better sales.  Note that both NSW and South Australia announced they would introduce RUC from 2027.

So from that I conclude that RUC in Victoria has made virtually zero difference to EV sales in the state. 

That's with a RUC rate of A$0.025 which is equivalent to US$0.029 per mile or £0.02 per mile or €0.016 per kilometre. That is higher than some US states have implemented or are proposing, but much lower than would be a replacement rate for fuel taxes in any European countries.

A higher rate might make a difference to sales. Certainly New Zealand has maintained an exemption from its RUC system for EVs, which would have resulted in them being charged NZ$0.076 per km (A$0.071 per km, €0.045 per km, US$0.08 per mile or £0.06 per mile). Exemption EVs from RUC has undoubtedly contributed to greater sales per capita than in Australia, but I suspect other factors, including price of electricity and the network of charging points matter as well (plus less range anxiety in a smaller jurisdiction).

What it means is that RUC, as a policy tool, needs to be considered within the context of a wide range of pull and push factors for jurisdictions that want to encourage sales of EVs. 

Thursday, 17 February 2022

UK House of Commons Transport Committee Road Pricing report released - so here's my review of it

Nothing new in the UK investigating road pricing

The UK's journey towards national road pricing has been long and arduous.  It once started with the Lorry Road User Charging programme in 2002, essentially a more ambitious version of the highway heavy vehicle RUC systems in continental Europe, but that was abandoned because the business case didn't stand up at the time, given the costs.  It was replaced in 2004 with National Road Pricing, which was to pioneer TDP (Time Distance Place) based road pricing, to better manage congestion.  However, that collapsed due to public opposition, primarily out of concern about how much motorists would have to pay, and a lack of trust that fuel duty and vehicle excise duty would be cut at the same time.

That was 2007.

One of my big questions is whether UK politicians and policy makers have learned from that failure, and maybe learned from the successes of jurisdictions elsewhere that have partially implemented forms of RUC, such as in continental Europe, the United States and New Zealand. 

House of Commons Transport Committee report

Last year, the Transport Committee of the House of Commons (UK) held an inquiry into road pricing (and also electrification of the road vehicle fleet in the UK).  It released the findings of its work on 2 February 2022 with a full copy of the report available here (PDF).

The Committee notes in its report that it "launched an inquiry in December 2020 called Zero emission vehicles and road pricing. We chose to split the inquiry into two parts. We reported our findings on Zero emission vehicles in July 2021. That Report addressed the opportunities and challenges presented by the advancement of the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030. This Report on Road pricing covers the second part of our inquiry. It examines the consequences of the shift to electric vehicles, including tackling the decline in fuel duty and vehicle excise duty."

Before I review the report's key findings, it is important for those unfamiliar with the UK to recognise that the report is influential but not binding on the UK Government. It is a matter for Cabinet and ultimately Parliament to make decisions on implementing any form of road pricing or road user charging (RUC) for the UK.  

What is behind the inquiry?

  • Revenue
  • Demand impacts of no charges on electric vehicles

It's fairly simple, because it follows on from the primary reason RUC is being implemented in US and now Australian states. Revenue from fuel taxes is threatened by the shift away from fossil fuel use by road vehicles. £28 billion is the annual revenue from both fuel duty and with the UK looking to prohibit sales of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, it will drastically erode revenues from motor vehicles. Add the £7 billion raised from vehicle excise duty (an annual registration fee for motor vehicles) that is hypothecated to the National Roads Fund (which fully funds National Highways and contributes towards spending on local roads) and the total revenue is equivalent to 4% of all tax revenue, and this is more than just a problem for spending on roads, let alone transport.  That revenue is five times what is spent on roads, so it is a general source of revenue.

In other words, unlike the US or Australia where motoring taxation barely or doesn't at all cover the cost of paying for roads, in the UK it does so and so much more.  Setting aside externalities (and given no other sector pays for externalities either), the roads make a significant fiscal surplus.

However, it's not all just about money, it is also about the demand impacts. Electric vehicles pay nothing to use the roads, which means that driving is substantially cheaper for those vehicle owners than others. This is a matter of both equity, but also overall impacts on the network. If a third of vehicles are paying nothing in say ten years' time, the effects on congestion are likely to be considerable. I recall a study around twenty years ago that estimated the demand impacts of fuel duty on driving in the UK was around 10%, in other words, 10% fewer miles were driven in the UK because of the effect of fuel duty. As fuel duty has not increased in 11 years, that impact is likely to have weakened somewhat, but it still exists. So for the UK, RUC is also about sending a price signal to drivers to think about whether to drive or choose another option.

Key conclusions

  • It is difficult to predict the timescale of the impact on revenues. In 2021, 11.6% of new cars were battery electric and it is estimated by 2026, only 4% of all registered cars will be electric. (comment: Indeed, but hybrids and more fuel efficient vehicles are eroding revenues easily as much as electric. It would be wrong to focus solely on pure electric vehicles) 
  • However, it gets much harder to introduce RUC when there are many electric vehicles compared to when there are few, so the message needs to be sent that electric vehicles will have to pay to use the roads. (comment: agree)
  • A shift to electric vehicles could increase "traffic levels" by 51% by 2050 according to the Department for Transport (DfT), with the average driver spending an additional nine hours a year in traffic by 2040. (comment: "on average" hides some disparities, but the aggregate impact is likely to be true. Cheaper driving will mean more driving).
  • "Any alternative road pricing mechanism must be revenue neutral to the Government rather than causing drivers, as a whole, to pay more than they do currently. Such a mechanism should be phased in before fuel duty and vehicle excise duty decline to zero. The situation is urgent; work must begin without delay" (comment: YES absolutely)
  • Technology already built into vehicles (in-vehicle telematics) has potential to collect and deliver the data necessary for a road pricing system (comment: Yes, and this happens already today on a small scale in Utah).
  • "The Government must assess the potential effect of a road pricing mechanism based on telematic technology on high-mileage drivers, such as road hauliers and those in rural communities, and on those least able to adapt to increased motoring costs." (comment: Yes there should be modelling and even piloting of road pricing to assess those impacts. Noting that road hauliers should see the HGV Levy replaced by RUC, but rate setting needs some serious policy analysis. A cost allocation study should be carried out).
  • "The successful implementation of a national, technology-based road pricing scheme is contingent on the Government explaining how data capture will work in practice, ensuring that data management is subject to rigorous governance and oversight and reassuring the public that their privacy will be protected" (comment: Data privacy is critical, but there needs to be acknowledgement of some obvious ways to ensure this, such as not having a government owned RUC system collecting trip data, specifying the level of location disaggregation needed, consider having a non-location aware option (at least for a transition period))
  • The DfT and Treasury should set up an arms-length body to investigate and evaluate options to replace fuel duty and vehicle excise duty (comment: This seems reasonable, but there isn't an actual need to replace vehicle excise duty. Vehicle excise duty is only an issue because electric vehicles are exempt, but that exemption need not be maintained. However, there are merits in shifting from ownership based to usage based charging of motor vehicles).
Conclusions that are questionable
  • (para. 25) A claim that the UK can be a "world leader" in road pricing, is bold but also maybe fanciful, especially given how little progress has been made in the UK compared with other jurisdictions. The report doesn't note that there are three and soon to be four jurisdictions charging light vehicles (in all cases but one, electric vehicles) by distance instead of fuel duty. There are two jurisdictions that charge heavy vehicles by distance, weight and configuration instead of fuel duty. There are twelve jurisdictions that charge heavy vehicle by distance and weight as well as fuel duty, using GNSS technologies. However there is very little citing of relevant international experience. Is that because most of those who gave evidence have no such experience> There are multiple companies in Europe, the US and New Zealand that run RUC account management operations, including supplying technology for vehicles (heavy and light). If the UK WAS able to implement a national road pricing scheme that included congestion pricing based on distance it might be world leading (although I suspect Singapore might beat it), but it has so far proven that it cannot even roll out a basic cordon or area based congestion charge beyond London and Durham after 21 years. 
  • (para. 28) The claim is that "The devolution of road pricing could lead to the introduction of clunky, unconnected schemes that charge users the same price for driving one mile into the zone as those who drive across it for hours in a day. The more regional schemes that are created, the harder it will eventually be for the Government to implement a functional national system". This is simply nonsense, not only because it is based on the idea that there is only ONE type of congestion pricing scheme (cordon or area charges) and only one way to implement it (assuming there is a flat all day charge). Why can local schemes not work with a national system? The US looks like it may have multiple state RUC systems and ultimately federal system, which may all be interoperable and function seamlessly. Several European countries have toll schemes plus heavy vehicle RUC systems operating in parallel (see Belgium which has a national heavy vehicle RUC scheme, with Brussels developing a local congestion based scheme for light vehicles). New Zealand has a national RUC system and is investigating a local congestion pricing scheme for Auckland. There MIGHT be a problem if systems require multiple accounts, or multiple pieces of on-board equipment, but this is unnecessary and avoidable. It is likely to be lower risk for congestion pricing to be locally defined and implemented, even if nationally regulated.  It seems to be an excessively engineering rather than policy and business based perspective.
  • (para. 32) The report cites John Siraut from Jacobs who says:
"He stated that a system where charges vary dynamically based on the road being used and the time of travel are “certainly perfectly feasible to do”, even though they do not exist at the moment"

This is simply wrong. There IS a system that varies by location, time of day and charges by distance, in the Czech heavy vehicle RUC system. For heavy vehicles, the charges vary based on the type of road (motorway vs. 1st class highways) and the time of day.  Arguably, Singapore also has a system that varies by road being used and time of travel since.. 1997 (albeit not charging by distance), but certainly the can rates vary across 78 charging points by small increments of time of day. Strange in particular when he is previously cited as saying "Singapore comes closest" to the model discussed, which suggests he may have been misquoted at least once. . (Disclaimer: I used to work for a wholly owned subsidiary of Jacobs, in the UK from 2012-2015).

  • (para. 34) The report says "The Government must assess the potential effect of telematic technology on changing drivers’ behaviour and delivering its wider policies on air quality, congestion, public transport and public health.".  No, the effects of telematics technology on drivers' behaviour should be minimal. It is about the policy that is implemented, not the technology (although technology is the enabler).  Furthermore, if you think introducing road pricing should also address a whole host of externalities, then you'll spend another five to ten years investigating it.  This seems like an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction. The effect on environmental and transport policy outcomes will depend on the policy selected. 

Where to from here?

There is one thing missing from the report, which is a thoughtful and considered view on why road pricing failed last time it was tried in the UK. Perhaps it is because most of the politicians were not in Parliament at the time, perhaps it is because the public servants don't want to look into what were largely mistakes by public servants and politicians.  However, it is important to remember how sensitive the issue is.

The number one reason road pricing failed before was that the policy was not designed to benefit those who would pay, and there was no leading of the narrative to address the two biggest concerns:
  • Road pricing means paying a lot more to drive
  • Road pricing means tracking everywhere that you drive
It cannot be repeated too much that road pricing needs to be introduced in a way that generates the same net revenue as fuel duty and vehicle excise duty. It has to be done in stages and steps that are achievable, but it is almost impossible to introduce any form of congestion pricing until all vehicles are on a road pricing system that measures location and time of day.

So congestion management should be very much a secondary concern, it should be about replacing the current system. There are various pathways for doing this, ranging from starting with electric vehicles, starting with newly registered vehicles or with heavy vehicles.  

There should NOT be pursuit of a central government owned and managed system that is procured centrally with a single provider of technology and account management. This is NOT a model that any jurisdiction has pursued for network wide RUC for twenty years (see Switzerland).  There should ALSO not be pursuit of a PPP with a single integrated supplier of a system to collect revenue, that is ALSO not a model any jurisdiction has pursued for sixteen years (see Germany).  It should be an open market of certified service providers, supported by a government managed enforcement system.  Revenue should be collected by competing service providers, with multiple technical platforms (such as in-vehicle telematics or plug-in devices), but enforcement managed by government.  

Consideration needs to be given as to how to refund/credit fuel duty paid when vehicles that pay fuel duty transition to RUC.

NONE of this matters unless policy is designed correctly.  That means:
  • RUC rates that are based on a rational economic assessment of what different types of vehicles should pay.
  • Charges that don't vary by time of day until a vast majority of vehicle are on a system
  • Charges that vary by road type and location for traffic management purposes, but not to such an extent as to encourage use of vehicles that do not pay RUC
  • Hypothecation of some revenue for roads, to go beyond what the National Roads Fund does now
  • Care being taken as to how to treat the surplus of revenue beyond what is needed for roads.
  • A feasible staged transition path.
It doesn't require investment in alternatives to motoring.

This requires a level of engagement with the public and business that did not happen with National Road Pricing, but is exactly what has been going on in some US States in recent years.  

It would be extremely helpful if the UK looked beyond itself to see that things are moving fast elsewhere.  

Take for example Victoria, Australia.  In a short period of time it went from studying to implementing a basic distance based RUC system for electric vehicles, based on odometer reporting.  Is it the long term scheme? No.  Does it work? Yes. Is it a start beyond which more can be learned and it can be built on? Yes.

I lived in the UK for fourteen years, I worked on Manchester's congestion charging scheme that faltered because of a lack of public support (in part because there was poor communications with those who would pay as to what it would mean for them). I observed the National Road Pricing project going wrong because politicians and civil servants didn't think they needed to seriously and convincingly address concerns of the general public about paying twice, or being tracked. If they still think that, then road pricing isn't going to happen easily.

It's my hope that both DfT and The Treasury can reflect carefully on lessons learned from the past, in the UK and elsewhere, and recognise that for road pricing to be advanced in the UK it might need to think of doing it in incremental steps, that means not all objectives are met at first, and that it doesn't need to re-invent the wheel.

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Can 2022 see congestion pricing moving faster than a glacier?

For all of the fanfare and success of the late 1990s and early 2000s in congestion pricing being launched, it is 2022 and it is still possible for experts in the field to be able to name every single city in the world that has some form of congestion pricing on existing roads.  

However, let me first DEFINE what I mean by congestion pricing.

I do NOT mean the use of time-of-day tolling on toll roads (because toll roads already have pricing applied, it is simply the application of a demand-based rate not a flat rate), nor the introduction of toll or High-Occupancy-Toll (HOT) lanes, which are in most cases the provision of premium priced lanes to bypass congestion on other lanes, not the application of pricing on all capacity in a corridor.  As desirable as time of day tolling can be to manage demand, and as desirable 

It hasn't been because of technology either, it's not technically difficult or expensive to introduce a financial charge on a single or multiple sets of points on a road network.  Nor is it because of doubts about its effectiveness, because pricing is proven to influence demand away from roads at times they are well priced. See Singapore, Stockholm and London (at least in the first few years), followed by Milan and Gothenburg.

Furthermore, when considering the range of issues around urban mobility, congestion pricing is not only proven to be able to relieve congestion, but it also reduces noxious emissions and consequentially CO2 emissions. At a time when so many cities are proclaiming a commitment to addressing climate change, it seems strange indeed that so few bother with a proven policy that enables better use of roads and encouraging modal shift, time of day shifts of travel, and which is more potent that probably any other single intervention to change travel behaviour in cities.

This is not to say there aren't many cities with two other non-pricing interventions:

  • Low emission zones
  • Access control regulations

Many cities in Europe implement these (this excellent website identifies them by country).  However, this isn't pricing. Low emission zones tend to operate 24/7 and are a policy to change the engine type of the vehicles operating within the zone, and access controls are effectively bans or restrictions. 

So which cities have congestion pricing? First let me somewhat discount the ones that exist largely to protect historic centres.  Durham in the UK and Palermo in Italy, and arguably Valletta in Malta (albeit it is more sophisticated than London or Milan, as Valletta charges by the hour).  There aren't many of them, but the characteristics of their local street network are such that it is easier to justify charges that seek to rather bluntly reduce the amount of visitor traffic. An oddity is coastal holiday town Jurmala in Latvia (near Riga), which has a charge imposed during the spring/summer season, largely to control tourist vehicle numbers. It isn't based on time of day, so is similar to the vignette schemes operated in some European countries.

Norway deserves a special mention, because it has seven cities with urban toll rings, not all of which have peak charges. In all cases, they exist primarily to raise money with only Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand and Trondheim having peak charges to help manage congestion.  Norway has a long history of successfully using tolls to pay not just for new highways and bridges, but also major urban road improvements, by instituting cordons.  So I'd argue that in the cases of those four cities, Norway has congestion pricing as part of the urban toll ring, because it charges ALL trips passing the cordons at peak times.  They are unlike toll roads that are only on a single facility.

Beyond that, the list remains small:

  • Singapore: Remaining the "gold standard", it is on a slower path to transition its technology, but is still the only two cordon plus corridor charging scheme anywhere in the world that prices incrementally purely to achieve an optimum level of service for its road network.  For Singapore, reducing congestion is the goal, because with that comes changes in modal demand that helps sustain more public transport services, reductions in emissions and overall net benefits for the city state in having a more efficient transport network. 
  • London: Despite over 20 years of there being legislation enabling local authorities in the UK to introduce congestion pricing, it is only London (and Durham) that have done so (noting London's powers are under different legislation) in the UK. It remains the only area charge in the world, although Valletta's scheme effectively functions as a more sophisticated one. Its hours are longer, but it is largely the same as it was when it was introduced. Unfortunately, because its gains were not sustained, its example has seemed to inhibit further congestion pricing across the UK.
  • Stockholm and Gothenburg:  These two Swedish cities remain the only two in Sweden to have the "congestion tax", and have managed to evolve their schemes over time. Stockholm's is more about congestion that Gothenburg, which largely introduced the scheme to pay for some large scale transport infrastructure improvements, most of which are not yet complete. Gothenburg's has been far from popular, although resistance has waned in recent years and it has been tweaked to reduce some of the key complaints.
  • Milan: Many Italian cities have permit schemes to access their central cities, but Milan has a congestion charge, which started as a low emission zone. Milan has a complex charging schedule based on vehicle emissions, but is otherwise it is a cordon scheme with a flat charge.
  • Dubai: The Salik scheme in Dubai is one of the few corridor schemes, and in most cases has a flat rate apply on all charging points. It was introduced to manage congestion even though there is no variation of charges by time of day.
  • Abu Dhabi: The newest operational scheme, called Darb, has parallels to Dubai's, but is superior because it is a cordon that does not require tags AND only operates at peak times 0700-0900 and 1700-1900 Saturday to Thursday.  It is still the newest congestion pricing scheme anywhere in the world. 
  • Tehran: Tehran's cordon scheme gives all vehicles 80 days a year of uncharged travel, but beyond that a fee is charged which is dependent on time of day, and a measurement of the duration spent in the charged zone.

Yes New York is under development, and over this year there will further detailed design and consultation undertaken, before a decision likely at the end of the year, but it is still not operational. There are numerous studies underway in cities ranging from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Chicago in the US, and Auckland, New Zealand may yet get approval to proceed this year. Hong Kong is on hold because of the limitations on travel due to Covid 19. Meanwhile, Doha may yet follow the two cities of the UAE in introducing congestion pricing in future years.

So what is it going to take?  Is congestion pricing doomed to be the idea that emerges in one city every few years or so? Has Covid 19 changed travel patterns in ways that make congestion pricing less or more urgent? 

There are a number of factors that affect it. Firstly, the motivations for considering pricing are usually mixed. Many politicians like the idea of revenue that can be used to fund whatever it is that interests them, but the public is understandably reluctant to support any proposals that simply look like a new tax. Few politicians are interested in congestion pricing as a tool to improve conditions for those who drive, to ease congestion and even fewer want it to replace existing taxes. This makes it difficult to get the public on side.

However, there are grounds for some optimism. New York seems likely to proceed, and that will be seen as a demonstrator project for the United States, and may rekindle interest in congestion pricing elsewhere. Yes, the conditions seen in lower Manhattan aren't replicated elsewhere in North America, and in Europe there is always some scepticism about concepts implemented in the US (although it already exists in the UK, Sweden and Italy), but New York will be a step forward in demonstrating how pricing can positively improve traffic and the local environment. 

Hong Kong is unlikely to proceed until Covid19 is behind the region. Auckland has a reasonable chance of proceeding to become the first city with a population over 1 million that is predominantly car dependent to have congestion pricing, but there probably won't be news on that for a few months.

Can we hope that maybe ANOTHER European city might advance congestion pricing? Maybe Copenhagen (again), maybe Dublin, maybe Brussels (already looking to replace registration fees with a time and distance based RUC)? It seems utterly extraordinary that Gothenburg is the last so far in Europe.

In the US, it seems unlikely any more will progress seriously until after New York has implemented its scheme, but with San Francisco advancing a cordon (with charges in some cases based on driver income) maybe it can get further, but the real reward in the US will be for something beyond cordons, towards corridor based charging.

In Asia, with Hong Kong on hold, Jakarta is constantly in the "nearly implementing" phase, but has major structural issues holding it back (particularly enforcement of number plates). 

Is there anywhere else looking promising?



Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Will the Mayor of London introduce road pricing on a wide scale?

Transport for London (TfL) has a serious financial crisis due to ongoing declines in patronage of London Underground, Overground and bus services because of the Covid 19 pandemic. Patronage has never recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and now the Omicron variant has scared off many more passengers, with London Underground peak time patronage now at half of pre-pandemic levels. Given London Underground usually generates a net surplus of fare revenue over operating costs, this has had a severe impact on TfL’s finances.

The tools available to the Mayor of London are Council Tax (a tax on residents of London), fares and congestion charges, or to cut spending.  So far the UK Government has provided £4 (US$5.3) billion in assistance since the start of the pandemic, with another £1 billion in capital spending from the Spending Review (in part paying for the, still under construction, Elizabeth Line - formerly known as Crossrail). 

However, this is not enough. TfL is seeking £500 (US$0.66) m for the remainder of the 2021/2022 financial year, £1.1 (US$1.46)b for 2022/2023 and up to £500m for each of the following two years, plus guarantees of long-term capital funding. 

So there is pressure to save and raise more money, and the Mayor must come up with ideas, to get a longer term rescue settlement plan from the UK Government.  Part of this is politics, with the Mayor claiming he will have to scrap 100 bus routes, reduce frequencies on 200 others and possibly close one Underground line (which seems highly unlikely).  He is currently proposing to increase Council Tax by £20( US$26.50) a year, phase out free bus travel for people aged 60-65 and to keep congestion charges at the recently increased level of £15(US$19.90) a day.  I’ll focus on the road user charging based ideas.  It's worth remembering though that the London congestion charge is only imposed on a comparatively small part of London (see below)

London congestion charge zone as a part of greater London

London boundary charge

The Mayor has made various proposals, including a cordon charge for vehicles entering Greater London of £3.50 a day. That idea is particularly troublesome because the boundary of Greater London is not, as many think, the M25 motorway, but actually an administrative line that most Londoners would not know exists.  It would slice through Buckhurst Hill, part of Dartford, cut off Chigwell and Grange Hill from London, separate Borehamwood and Elstree from Barnett and Edgware, and Watford would be outside London. Moor Park would be divided from Northwood, Sunbury and Walton-on-Thames are on the wrong side of such a cordon and Long Ditton the wrong side from Surbiton.  Chessington would be inside, but Epsom outside. As can be seen in the map below, the boundaries are not well known and in only a few cases does the M25 actually represent the edge of London (e.g. adjacent to Heathrow). In short, it would mean a lot of communities, with relatively poor access options to neighbouring communities, would face a congestion charge, although it would effectively be just a toll – because it isn’t about congestion.  If it were, it might apply at peak times, but this is a money making proposal, albeit it would not be introduced until October 2023 (so it is not going to make much difference in the short term).

Ministers are not supportive of the idea and there is some uncertainty over whether the Mayor has the full legal powers to implement such a scheme.

Map depicting Greater London boundaries from Wikimedia  (Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0)

London's "share" of Vehicle Tax

The idea with more merit is for Transport for London to receive some of the money raised by Vehicle Tax (what are effectively vehicle registration fees), which is currently almost entirely hypothecated for National Highways.  The Mayor’s estimate is that this is worth around £500m a year, although it is far from clear how much is spent on motorways in London in a year, it is likely to be much less than that.   

Of course this wouldn't mean the Mayor doing ANYTHING new, it's just a claim on an existing tax collected by the UK Government, which would then need to find the same money from elsewhere to pay for National Highways.

The argument of the Mayor is that London vehicle owners pay Vehicle Tax, but there are few motorways in London itself. This is true, but then I have long argued that there is a stronger case for Vehicle Tax to be hypothecated to pay for local roads not the strategic road network, because as a fixed charge, it makes more sense to pay for the roads that are used for access, not roads primarily used as arterials (which would be paid for by usage-based charges).  However, without changing the policy around use of Vehicle Tax more generally on those grounds (after all, why should London get such funding but not other municipalities), it seems unlikely that much of a case can be made for Transport for London to get such money for its roads. 

So that idea isn’t going anywhere either.

There is also a proposal to tax online deliveries (in London), which seems difficult to administer and enforce (as there would be a need to identify all those undertaking delivery activities, which can include anyone with a car contracted to deliver anything from a retailer). 

More road pricing?

The Government has been encouraging the Mayor to be more ambitious and implement a wider road pricing scheme to manage congestion and as a corollary, generate the revenue needed.  It appears the Mayor is not interested, having already implemented an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) across a wide area (within the North and South Circular Roads) with some controversy, although it doesn’t raise much revenue.  However, what could the Mayor do?

The Mayor has considerable powers to implement road pricing, with the purpose of managing congestion, not raise revenue, so could consider a number of options.  Here are some of them:

1. Multiple zone charges: Whether area charges as at present (capturing all vehicle movement within an area) or more simple cordons, London could become a patchwork of congestion charging zones at peak periods. Crossing between zones could be subject to a charge, a little like underground fare zones.  The main difficulty with this idea is that it would seem inherently unfair for those living or with businesses located adjacent to a boundary to have to pay to travel in one direction, or to have a cost in the way of customers from that direction.  Unlike tube boundaries, it isn’t easy to soften that.  In any case, it could be an option, and it is not any less blunt than a greater London boundary charge.

2. Strategic corridor charges:  Congestion charges could be applied on some congested corridors, this could include some Thames Crossings (Blackwall Tunnels will have a toll introduced when the Silvertown Tunnel opens), parts of the North Circular Road, A40, A4, A13, A10 etc.  These would need to be carefully designed to minimise diversion of traffic, but could be implemented at specific times to lower congestion on those routes (and would generate revenue).  They could even be designed to exempt shorter trips by requiring vehicles to cross two or more points to be fully charged.  Key would be to only apply charges at times of peak demand, not all day like the current congestion charge.

3. Distance based charge with a high flat fixed fee:  The theoretical best solution would be to enable road pricing by distance, time and location, so those that drive the most miles, at certain times at certain locations, pay more.  Such a system could be trialled, using telematics systems already built into some cars and trucks, and new systems that could be installed in suitable vehicles.  Users could choose to pay by mile, or pay a high flat fee instead, at least during times of peak travel (such a system could be zero rated during off peak hours or weekends).  It could be limited to travel within the North and South Circular Roads, with those roads not charged, and could have charge rates that vary by route/road type (higher on B and unclassified roads, lower on A roads to discourage rat-running).  The big issue with this option is it needs time and needs vehicles to be suitably equipped with the technology to make it work (the idea in Brussels of using mobile phones for this is not without merit, but has bigger challenges around enforcement). 

Key to making any wider congestion pricing scheme be acceptable is that it needs to deliver a significant improvement in the level of service for those paying. That means it should ease congestion, considerably.  Net revenues should also ensure that road maintenance is at a suitably high standard because it would be inefficient and unfair to be paying by mile and have potholed roads.  It also means there should be some capital works to address bottlenecks, such as fixing Hammersmith Bridge, but also intersections that are poorly designed, and even plugging the grossly inadequate sections of the North Circular.

It seems unlikely such a radical step would happen, but if it did it would go a long way towards encouraging the sort of modal shift the Mayor says he wants, as well as reducing emissions and significantly improving the productivity of London – as cargo, commercial vehicle users and buses could all operate much more efficiently than at present.  Given around half of all London households don’t have a car, it seems likely that if presented as a package to avoid Council tax increases, improve congestion, improve road maintenance, make bus services more reliable and lower emissions, it might get support. 

Meanwhile... tinkering

Meanwhile, the Mayor has announced that he is cutting back the congestion charge operating hours from 0700-2200 to 0700-1800 (as it was before), which will cut revenue by about £60m a year, although it will still operate between 1200 and 1800 on Saturdays and Sundays. Discounts for fleets paying automatically or anyone paying automatically are to be abolished as well, effectively increasing charges for light commercial vehicles. This is, of course, just tinkering.


Monday, 20 December 2021

Jakarta includes congestion pricing in its Transportation Master Plan

According to Tempo, 18 Jakarta roads are to progressively have congestion pricing introduced, cover 174 kms of road.  Jakarta has been discussing congestion pricing for over eight years, and has trialled it with some success, but has not been able to develop sufficient support to introduce it in full.  Jakarta maintains its "odd-even" policy for number plate access into the central part of the city in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Jakarta has made tremendous efforts to improve the quality of alternatives to the private car in  recent years, spending a great deal on footpaths adjacent to key corridors and installing cycle lanes (63km by 2020) and major new public transport networks. This includes lanes for bus rapid transit, expansion of the city's metro and major upgrades of its long neglected commuter passenger rail network. It also integrated fares for most public transport including a flat fare for travel between modes.

This saw Jakarta win a sustainable transport award at the end of 2020. This matters because for congestion pricing in Jakarta to be a success, it needed capacity for alternative options and the city was particularly poor for active travel, but with Covid, there has been a significant increase in cycling and walking. 

There remain challenges for congestion pricing, including enforcement based on number plate recognition, but if implemented well, it could see a significant transformation for a city plagued by congestion, pollution and previously with very poor alternatives to driving.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Netherlands to introduce road pricing for light vehicles from 2030

Those who have been following the road pricing scene for around twenty years may have memories of the Netherlands attempting to introduce road pricing (as in full network, all vehicles, distance/location/time of day based road user charging) several times in the past.

So the most recent news that the new coalition government in the Netherlands has decided to advance road pricing may give some a sense of déjà vu. However, I am a bit more optimistic.

Five previous attempts at road pricing for light vehicles

Three times in the 1990s there were congestion pricing proposals based on either city cordons or corridor based pricing, all of which failed due to political opposition. However, in 2001 and then again in 2005 there were attempts to introduce nationwide road pricing schemes called Kilometerheffing and Anders Betalen voor Mobiliteit.

Kilometerheffing (Kilometre charge) was announced in 2001 as a proposal to introduce distance-based RUC at a flat rate initially, from 2004, transitioning all vehicles onto the system in 2006 (to replace registration fees and sales taxes). It was to be built to be capable of allowing location and time of day based pricing in due course to help relieve congestion. There was widespread opposition, in part due to the forecast €6 billion implementation cost (as it was to require On Board Units to be installed in all vehicles). The proposal was abandoned by the new coalition government following the 2002 election.

Anders Betalen voor Mobilitei (pay differently for mobility) was announced in 2006 with legislation to follow in 2009 for implementation in 2018, also distance based varying by time of day and location. A key condition was that it would be implemented when operating costs would be no greater than 5% of gross revenues. However, the 2010 election saw a new government cancel the proposal, due to concerns over its scale, costs and difficulties in persuading motorists of the merits.

In short, the Dutch appetite for believing politicians that road pricing is about improving mobility is low. There is some sign of progress though.

RUC for trucks coming in 2024

In 2018 the Netherlands decided to introduce RUC for heavy goods vehicles. This is unsurprising since it is surrounded by countries with such systems (Germany since 2005 and Belgium since 2012). It will apply to all trucks 3.5 tonnes and above, on all motorways, highways and major roads (and local roads that may see traffic diversion). It would not apply to the handful of toll roads in the country. It Is now planned that the Netherlands will have heavy vehicle RUC from 2024, although legislation to enable it has not been passed yet. Rates will vary by weight/size and emissions rating. It is intended to replace the Eurovignette for the Netherlands and reduce vehicle registration fees (and apply to foreign as well as domestic vehicles). Revenues will be placed in a hypothecated fund for transport.

So that is a start, and puts it on a par with its neighbours, and also helps to set up some of the infrastructure that could support RUC for light vehicles, even though it is not on all roads (which is common to all such European schemes, except Switzerland and Iceland).

Light RUC from 2030 announced

The new coalition Government is to introduce RUC for light vehicles by 2030.  The political parties in the coalition had different views on the topic.  The liberal/centre right VVD, centrist liberal D66, centre right CDA and the conservative CU coalition.  The VVD and CDA only wanted it to apply to electric vehicles, but D66 and the CU want it to apply to all light vehicles, including light commercial vehicles, so that is what is going to happen.

It was originally only to apply to electric vehicles, but will be phased in for all light vehicles.

What do we know so far?

· It will apply to ALL light vehicles

· It will apply to distance travelled on all roads

· Charge rates will vary by emissions rating, but not location or time of day

· Once introduced, tolls will be abolished on the three existing/planned toll roads

· It will replace sales tax on vehicles and registration fees, not fuel tax

One report indicated that KPMG had estimated the capital cost of introducing RUC for all light vehicles (9.1 million in the Netherlands) is €160 million (which seems plausible, although the technology proposed is not published), with annual operating costs of €350-450 million (which seems ridiculously high, but again the technical proposal is not reported).

So what now?

2030 is a long time away, so it is entirely possible this wont proceed as expected, except that it is widely accepted that as the electric vehicle fleet grows, revenue from motor vehicles is in decline. Fuel tax revenue will drop, but this wont directly replace it, although it is hard to see it not doing so, in effect.

Key is that the Netherlands is, this time, not considering road pricing to relieve congestion, but just to replace existing revenue sources.  The UK should heed this, as its previous attempt to introduce road user charging sought to fix congestion, but this simply isn't possible until all vehicles are on the system, and that means equipping all vehicles with technology to measure distance by time and location.

The Netherlands is just introducing a basic distance based system, that will only be defined geographically by the borders.  There is a lot to do, but at least this seems like a policy that, as long as it is clear it is replacing sales tax and registration fees, might just be acceptable enough to be a successful fifth attempt at introducing RUC in the Netherlands for light vehicles.

More here and here (both Dutch)

Monday, 6 December 2021

Victorian Government "Supports in Principle" replacing registration fees with distance, time and location based road user charges

What was proposed?

Victoria, Australia, Infrastructure Victoria (an independent government advisory body on funding, regulation and governance of infrastructure) put out a series of recommendations for the next thirty years as a draft strategy for the state. That draft is available here (PDF).  It made several recommendations regarding road pricing notably the following (there are several on parking pricing which I will NOT cover here, but are adjacent to the road pricing proposals:

48. Remove annual charges while introducing distance-based pricing for electric vehicles

Remove annual up-front charges, such as registration fees, while introducing a distance-based road user charge for electric vehicles in the next two years. Consider extending this to other types of vehicles on an opt-in basis, allowing for expansion over time.

This was implemented earlier this year.

also

49. Appoint an independent transport pricing adviser

Immediately appoint an independent body to advise on and monitor transport prices.

This isn't just tolls/road pricing, but also public transport fares, but it is interesting to want more transparency and objective advice on pricing

51. Incorporate congestion pricing for all new metropolitan freeways

Apply congestion reducing tolls to all new metropolitan freeways, including the North East Link.

This is fair enough too to help spread demand, with lower tolls off-peak and higher during the peak, with a commitment to use such tolls to manage demand permanently.

52. Trial full-scale congestion pricing in inner Melbourne

In the next five years, trial full-scale congestion pricing in inner Melbourne.

This also seems reasonable, the presumption being it is some sort of cordon, but given the intensity of public transport and active mode provision, it also seems worthwhile.

and finally

55. Phase out fixed road user charges and introduce user pays charging

In the next 10 years, replace fixed road user charges with variable distance-based and congestion charges. Ensure user pays charging reflects the relative costs of providing roads, and encourages drivers to change their behaviour.

This is a much bigger deal, because it means replacing annual registration fees with distance, time and location based road user charging, reflecting both the costs of infrastructure and congestion.

The Victorian Government response

The Victorian Infrastructure Plan, is the State Government's response to Infrastructure Victoria's proposal. So what did it think of these road pricing proposals?

Number 48 is already implemented, so was obviously accepted..

49 (Independent pricing advisor) was not supported because "current legislation and procedures provide sufficient scope to review and set transport pricing to ensure positive community outcomes". It's effectively not wanting oversight of existing processes and political direction over pricing, which is disappointing. The National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) supports such oversight.

51 (Congestion pricing for all new metropolitan freeways) was not supported because "This recommendation does not align with existing government policy. Each new tolling project in Victoria currently requires its own project-specific legislation to establish a legal basis to facilitate the operation and tolling powers involved in the project. These tolls are set at rates that aim to achieve balance for a number of movement, revenue and contractual objectives. The North East Link motorway will be tolled, but rates have not yet been set. This legislative requirement means that significant lead time is required for each new tolling project to ensure that it has the required rights and powers to charge tolls and enforce their collection."

Victoria COULD move from project-specific legislation to general empowerment legislation for tolling, and this could then allow for this. Project-specific legislation is desired by concessionaires who want certainty over the regulatory environment, but this is not essential. The reason the proposal has been rejected is not about the merits of the policy. 

52 (Trial congestion pricing in inner Melbourne) was not supported because "This recommendation does not align with existing government policy, however the Government is continually monitoring the balance of public versus private vehicle use and congestion on inner-city roads. Impacts of management of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly changed travel patterns particularly into Melbourne CBD and this has increased uncertainty about future demand, particularly in central Melbourne."

Again, there isn't a claim about the merits of the policy, it isn't either a concern that Covid means that there is concern congestion pricing might go too far (which is a function of the scheme design, not the concept). If there isn't congestion, then it isn't worth implementing. Again there is no real criticism of the proposal on merit.

BUT there is hope...

55 (Phase out fixed road user charges and introduce user pays charging) is supported in principle.

This has much more potential that congestion pricing on new freeways or in central Melbourne, as it involves drastically cutting registration fees and replacing with distance based RUC with charges varying by time of day and location (congestion pricing).

The official response is: 

The Government supports the intent of this recommendation and is considering the long-term effects of the erosion of revenue from the fuel levy as more vehicles move to non-fossil fuels and electric propulsion. The introduction of distance-based charging for zero and low-emission vehicles in Victoria is a first step in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the transport network by making sure everyone pays their fair share to build and maintain our roads.

The Victorian Government is also currently working with its state and Commonwealth counterparts to enhance the manner in which heavy vehicles (those over 4.5 tonnes) are charged for their road use. The Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth Government on heavy vehicle road reform to develop a future model that is fair for all users of the transport network while funding maintenance and development of infrastructure and services that provide the best value to Victorians. The Government will continue to monitor the policy settings associated with road charges.

Victoria starts the journey towards expanding RUC

The simple fact remains that Victoria is the fourth jurisdiction in the world to introduce a road user charge based on distance for at least part of the light vehicle fleet (the others are New Zealand, Oregon and Utah).  Victoria recognising that it will need to transition other vehicles to RUC eventually.  It is working with the Commonwealth Government on Heavy Vehicle Road Reform (which includes a trial of heavy vehicle RUC).  

However, although it supports it "in principle" it is, technically, a huge deal to think about implementing RUC by location and time of day not just distance, across the State.  It requires all vehicles to have the necessary technology to distinguish distance by location and time of day, such as on-board telematics (mobile phones aren't up to it for multiple reasons).  However, it COULD be that if confined to Melbourne, that a backup system could be in place for unequipped vehicles (particularly out-of-state vehicles) to pay based on location and time-of-day.

Let's not get too excited, but it is a positive step forward and it is about a ten year transition.

Worth noting the responses to date:

The Australian Logistics Council is supportive but wants it to be nationally co-ordinated (which makes some sense, as there will need to be some interoperability and common approaches to dealing with vehicles from one state measuring distance travelled in another and being billed for it). 

Opposition MP Roma Bricknell (Liberal) is opposed, adopting the commonly held opinion that it would mean people in regional areas paying more, even though there is no evidence at all that people in rural areas drive more distance on average than people in cities.  Research in the United States indicates that it varies considerably, largely because people in cities tend to do many more driving trips (there is more to visit, more places to go), but shorter trips. So on average, people in rural areas may drive on average more or less the same as people in cities. However, what also matters is the fuel efficiency of the vehicles people drive, and if you cut registration fees significantly, people with multiple vehicles will pay less, because it is based on usage. 

Update:  

Friday, 3 December 2021

Brussels City Region Congestion/Road User Charge might be implemented in 2024?

Around a year ago I reported that the Brussels Capital-Region Government (which is one of the federal regions of the Kingdom of Belgium) was planning to introduce road user charging (RUC), specifically a distance, time and location based RUC for all light vehicles registered in and driving in the Brussels Capital-Region. Prices would vary by engine size (and it wouldn't apply to heavy vehicles because Belgium already has a national heavy vehicle RUC system). That was to start with a pilot called Smartmove, but ultimately lead to replacement of the very high annual vehicle registration fees in Brussels, with RUC. Charges would be applied to all public roads except the ring motorway and some park and ride access roads at the periphery.

Brussels City-Region zone for RUC

It is interesting for three reasons:

  1. It is the latest attempt to introduce distance-based RUC for light-vehicles in Europe, replacing an existing tax (there have arguably been several attempts, notably in the Netherlands, Finland and the UK). So far no European jurisdiction has introduced distance-based RUC for light vehicles (but it does exist in two US states, one Australian state and New Zealand, in all cases for only a subset of the light vehicle fleet).
  2. It seeks to combine RUC with a form of congestion charging, by varying distance by time of day and location.  The time of day factor is intended to charge higher rates for peak time travel, and the location factor being that only distance travelled within the Brussels Capital-Region would be subject to a fee.
  3. Smartmove intends to pioneer using smartphones as a means of identifying and measuring vehicle trips. This has not been successful elsewhere to date, primarily because of the difficulties in ensuring that the phone is always linked to the vehicle, and the vehicle always has a smartphone operating to measure and report trip data. 
There is a project website, but in English (and Flemish and French) at least it still has dates that are now unrealistic.

Covid 19 has delayed progress, so that earlier this year it was reported in the Brussels Times that it would not be implemented until 2024, noting there is considerable opposition from neighbouring regions Wallonia and Flanders (primarily because RUC would apply to residents from those regions entering Brussels, but they would not receive a reduction in registration fees). Other regions feared variously that it would be a "tax grab" from their residents, and that it could creation additional congestion on the uncharged ring road (which seems unlikely, given it is likely to reduce overall demand for driving in Brussels - and experience in both Stockholm and London with exempting boundary or bypass routes is that the net effect on such roads is neutral). 

Delays have cost money, as the Brussels Government was anticipating €250 million per annum in net revenue from the programme from next year (which clearly indicates that even after drastically reducing vehicle registration fees, RUC makes more money because it is charging vehicles from outside the region), and is now having to make budget savings to make up the difference. 

There have been legal challenges, with the Council of State (Federal Government) authorising the Brussels City-Region to introduce RUC, but only after it has consulted with Wallonia and Flanders.  The Minister-President of the Region has indicated legislation to implement it would not be introduced during the current Parliamentary term.  Brussels is authorised to proceed only with taxes that are not already the competence of the Federal Government, but the Viapass heavy vehicle RUC system is already implemented by all three regions. Also with a congestion pricing element, it is not just about revenue.

Brussels must do "everything it can to reach a co-operation agreement" with the other regions to prevent or limit possible discriminatory situations. Obviously the easiest solution would be for ALL regions to implement a similar policy, but that's unlikely at present.  However, it is NOT mandatory for Brussels to reach such an agreement, according to an article in L'Echo (French).

All of this means it is far from certain whether it is proceed. The next regional election is 2024 and there is limited political enthusiasm for the policy in the current government. This leaves aside testing the technology and its feasibility.

My bet is that the odds are that, at most, this will be a trial, because until the trial is implemented and runs, there won't be enough political support.

Of course separate to all of this is the gradual erosion of Federal fuel tax revenue because of the growth in hybrid and electric vehicles, but none of that revenue goes directly to the Brussels City-Region Government.  However, that issue really does require all of the Regions and the Federal Government to co-operate.