Thursday, 28 July 2011

RACQ supports discussion on congestion charging in Brisbane

A Queensland University Ph.D student’s study on the effects of introducing a congestion charge on Brisbane has provoked a cautiously positive response from a group that might otherwise be thought of as being opposed – the motorist advocacy group,  Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ), according to a report in the Brisbane Times.

Student Jake Whitehead modelled a Stockholm like cordon option for Brisbane that would have a cordon initially circling the CBD and Spring Hill, followed by a widening of the cordon to circle South Bank, Woolloongabba and West End by 2026. The charge proposed was A$3 (US$3.30) for entering between 0630 and 1830 Monday to Friday. It isn’t clear whether he meant an area charge or cordon, because a cordon would exempt anyone within it from a charge. Widening a cordon will increase congestion, but two cordons would address that.

Anyway, Whitehead claims A$250 million (US$275 million) could be raised per annum by 2026 (he is presuming it not be an offset to other taxes) and traffic would drop by up to 20%. He suggests the money be spent on a rail scheme, which is another issue (as motorists tend to want to see at least some of the money collected spent on roads).

The political response from Main Roads Minister Craig Wallace has been to say no to any congestion charge.  He obviously sees any positive discussion being political poison.

However, Paul Turner, General Manager of External Affairs at the RACQ is welcoming the debate, saying that tolls on existing roads within any cordon would have to be abolished to “make it work”. He welcomes a start of the debate saying:

"I don't think politically, or as a constituent base Brisbane people are ready for a congestion tax yet," …But it is something we really need to consider, because the fundamental ways of funding road and rail infrastructure are diminishing”

This is a very constructive attitude indeed. Whilst I disagree with Mr Whitehead’s concept for a congestion charge (it look a little like a duplication of Stockholm rather than a bespoke design developed specifically to address congestion in Brisbane), I applaud his efforts in raising the debate, and applaud the RACQ for wanting the debate.

My view is that talk of a Brisbane congestion charge needs to be in the context of considering road charging as a whole, and obviously concessions related to toll roads in Brisbane would be drastically affected. Meanwhile, the mere presence of toll roads in Brisbane is positive, in that it has enabled financing of new infrastructure and exposed people to paying directly for road use. In the longer term Paul Turner raises the real issue, which is the diminishing ability of fuel tax to be a sustainable way of charging for road use.

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