Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Paying people not to drive... again

Regular readers will be familiar with my coverage of the Spitscoren and Spitsvrij experiments in the Netherlands, which basically reward regular motorists for avoiding driving in the peaks.  They essentially get paid for regularly NOT driving at peak times.

Transportation Nation reports on an experiment in the US, at Stanford University, called Stanford CAPRI - basically it involves earning credits by using the roads entering the university at off peak times rather than the peaks. A mini version of the Dutch concepts, but already with over 1,800 users. Transportation Nation quotes a number of people who are less flattering of the extension of the idea beyond the Campus, which indicates a lack of awareness of the Dutch concepts.   The system at Stanford was designed by Dr. Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, so is technically driven, although it has some clear economic impacts.   It now applies to parking and road use at the Campus.   He notes that the best aspect is that only the behaviour of a small number needs to change to create a positive overall impact.

The New York Times reports further on this, with a series of quotes from some advocates of road pricing in New York and elsewhere with some mixed views.  

National Geographic does a wider assessment, noting a similar experiment now in operation in Singapore. Bear in mind Singapore is the grandfather of all congestion pricing systems, being the first city ever to introduce it. Singapore’s trial involves over 17,500 users and ends in July 2012.  It will be particularly interesting to see how Singapore's positive incentives work in with its existing road pricing system which is itself designed to be a deterrent to using the roads that are busiest at specific times.

In conclusion, it is good to see such ideas being tested and considered.  For cities or even businesses where congestion is a chronic problem, then being able to incentivise through credits of some sort the type of behaviour change that would be apparent with congestion pricing, is interesting.  It comes up against critics who say people who don't drive much don't get rewarded for that, but for now it is about innovation.  The key is who pays, and how to make something like this affordable.   In cities which are flush with money, it can be done, but without potentially recycling funds collected from motorists in the first place, it may be challenging for cities in North America and Europe at the moment.

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