Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy New Year

Hope you all have had an enjoyable Christmas/holiday season and New Year's break.  Full service will be resumed shortly.

In London, congestion charge signs have been getting removed around the Western extension and prices updated for the central zone to £10.  However, elsewhere news about tolling has not come to a halt.  In 2011 I expect tolls will continue to grow in popularity to fund new highways, but the bigger questions about moving from fuel taxes to road pricing, and how to manage congestion will remain.  

The technological questions will move towards whether automobile manufacturers should be including IT and communications in new vehicles, which they wont do unless there are market reasons to do so (or it is legally mandated).  In addition, with 3G mobile phone technology including GPS systems and on board maps, the bigger issue will be whether road pricing can actually be implemented using existing consumer equipment.  There may be issues of security, and certification of sufficient accuracy, but these are matters that lend themselves to commercially driven solutions.  I doubt very much if government departments are able to manage the risks and opportunities that arise from this.

One thing to be sure, the technology may continue to develop, but the biggest issue by far is public opinion.  Motorists tend to feel ripped off, ignored or vilified by some politicians, environmental groups and bureaucrats.  Road transport is a critical part of the infrastructure of all countries and cities.  It is about time that the management of road infrastructure faced the incentives and responsibilities that are commonplace with other infrastructure, and moved to the 21st century, instead of being stuck in the 19th century.

The solutions to sustainable funding of road infrastructure, effective congestion management and addressing the external impacts of road transport do not lie in continuing to simply do what has been done before.   It certainly isn't to continually increase fuel taxes by increments and use the money to pay for general government activities.

All the best for 2011 wherever you may be, whoever you may be, as advisor, planner, engineer, lawyer, accountant, politician, bureaucrat, motorist, activist or simply interested observer.

Scott Wilson
Road Pricing Blog

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