Thursday, 14 June 2012

Problems with congestion pricing for Delhi

In his blog on the Wall Street Journal site, Raka Choudhary talks about whether congestion pricing may come to Delhi. He notes that a Delhi High Court order in early 2010 resulted in a Special Task Force being set up to study traffic congestion. It recommended congestion charging for heavy vehicles entering Delhi, and for all vehicles entering “certain congested parts of the city’s center and old quarter”.

All well and good you may see, especially since in December 2011 the local authority – the Municipal Corporation of Delhi – announced that it would charge private cars 150 rupees (US$2.70) and motorcycles 50 rupees (US$0.90) to enter the city (residents would be exempt). Translating that intention into reality is another story.

The Guardian reported on some of the problems in potential implementation.

“one serious problem is a lack of proper licensing or law enforcement in Delhi. Driving permits can be bought illegally and laws that should ensure safe driving and a smoother traffic flow are routinely ignored. Fines for traffic violations can usually be avoided by paying a small bribe to police officers.”

In short, the key problem for Delhi is the practicality of enforcement in a city where there remains enormous bureaucratic and legal difficulties in tracking down owners of errant vehicles. If this can be tackled, then the other issues would be far simpler to address.

The concept is sound, the devil as always, is in the detail. Detail around how people may pay, how to enforce against those who do not, and options for what sort of congestion pricing scheme may be implemented. Options for this were floated (as briefly discussed in my previous article on this), but would require far more detailed traffic modelling, but in particular surveys of likely behaviour.

As a result, it may make more sense to reform parking in the interim, as a way of helping stem demand for road space, albeit recognising that parking charges and regulation of behaviour will not be enough to manage congestion, but that the systems for this could provide some functions of a road pricing system.

This suggests a strategy for congestion that focuses on parking supply and pricing, traffic law enforcement and ultimately pricing of road use (as well as a need for corridor strategies to determine short, medium and long term approaches to capacity on major roads). This could provide the administrative infrastructure necessary to make pricing as effective as it should be, by laying the groundwork for evolutionary change in motoring behaviour.

Removing drivers without genuine licences and removing unsafe vehicles from the roads would buy time through reducing congestion. Changing traffic enforcement in a way that bypasses the possibility of corruption (e.g. through use of CCTV and ANPR cameras) could facilitate behavioural change so that motorists do not park or drive in ways that inefficiently hinder traffic flow. Parking reform would go a long way towards doing this as well.

Congestion charging will have its place, and could be a catalyst for doing much more in the way of improving enforcement and parking policies, but it needs to be part of a complete strategy that currently is not as well formed as it should be. That includes traffic enforcement and facilitating public transport, cycling and walking.

It will include completing roads, for Delhi does not have a high quality orbital highway completed as of yet.

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