An article in the UK Financial Times (registration required at no charge) reviews road charging, in light of the abolition of the Western extension of London's congestion charging zone this weekend.
It draws a few conclusions that I don't think can be supported by the evidence:
As recently as 2006, many policymakers across Europe and North America were looking closely at systems that charged for driving into the busiest areas or according to the distance driven. Those that tracked cars using satellite, microwave or number plate-recognising cameras..
I've discussed this with Jim Whitty, and he understands the difficulties of getting confidence of motorists around issues of price and privacy. The only way other jurisdictions are avoiding this is by ever increasing fuel tax, which cannot be a long term solution if vehicle fleets exit petroleum-based fuels over time.
I am impressed that the FT talked to noted economist Gabriel Roth, who rightly points out that politicians need to make the case more convincingly. Singapore, despite having a rather authoritarian democracy, actually has one of the most transparent and honest systems:
“The Singaporean government seems to be interested in making everybody richer and more efficient,” he says. “It’s just different attitudes with different governments.”
What I find notable about Singapore is that the revenue is not important, the prices are altered in order to ensure traffic flows freely. Charging points are established and priced to manage traffic flows, with different charging periods in different directions. It remains the most sophisticated congestion charging scheme, even though it is the oldest.
The article points out that toll based financing of major roads is growing, as the numerous articles on this blog testify to. From Australia to India to Indonesia to Russia to Turkey, tolling is becoming increasingly common as a means to enable major new routes to be built.
Heavy vehicle charging is also spreading across Europe:
The road haulage lobbies of countries with high fuel taxes – such as the UK – support direct charging because foreign trucks can avoid the levies by filling up where fuel is cheaper. France and even the UK’s coalition government – which has entirely rejected a general national charging scheme – are considering systems for trucks.
France is already committed to a charging scheme. The UK is investigating it. Heavy vehicle charging exists nationally in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and New Zealand, and is also being developed for Poland and Sweden. Oregon has its scheme as well.
The FT article seems pessimistic, but in the end argues itself away from such pessimism. Tolling is widespread across the world, and still has more promise as electronic free flow technology avoids the costs of land for toll booths, and congestion caused by manual tolls. Congestion charging is more readily implemented in cities during economic boom times when congestion is severe (and other alternatives simply don't seem feasible). Heavy vehicle charging seems easiest to implement when it is about charging transit traffic, but a full transition to road pricing still seems elusive. Yet all will ultimately converge, the question is not if, but when and where!