New South Wales: "Let's look into it"
On the one hand, in Sydney, New South Wales, on the east coast, Roads Minister Duncan Gay has said, according to the Australian, that one of the options being looked at by the government is the introduction of distance based tolling.
State agency Infrastructure NSW is investigating a range of options to secure revenue sources for future land transport projects. Congestion charging has specifically been ruled out by the Minister.
However, it remains distinctly unclear about what is meant by all of this. Distance based tolls could simply be a conversion of existing tolling (which is extensive across most of Sydney’s major highways) into a pricing framework that reflect distance between charging points and with more charging points. This is hardly revolutionary. The alternative is to consider distance based charging across the state, this could apply to just heavy vehicles or all vehicles, but this would need to involve some form of certified on board distance measurement.
At its most basic level it could parallel the electronic Road User Charges system in New Zealand, with variations based on weight.
However, the greatest opportunities for productivity gains would come by having variations based on location (to reflect some differentiations in infrastructure costs) and of course, congestion. If all vehicles in New South Wales had a distance based charging unit on board, which could vary by time and location, why not charge motorists in Sydney at peak times more on the busiest routes?
Given that economic analysis on the merits of road pricing compared to motor vehicle ownership taxes in New South Wales is light years ahead of that in other countries, I have some modest hope that there might be some progress here.
Western Australia: "How dare anyone even suggest it"
However, don't suggest anything of the sort to the Lord Mayor of Perth, Lisa Scaffidi. She was downright rude about economists from outside the city "from the east" suggesting the idea of congestion pricing for Perth. A report on Yahoo from the West Australian said:
Yesterday, Ms Scaffidi criticised CEDA economists responsible for the paper, arguing they had an "out-of-town" perspective and "little understanding" of Perth's traffic issues. "I am actually quite shocked. This kind of commentary shows no thinking and I feel they have tanked with this one," she said.. "Perth no longer needs wise men from the east suggesting they know what is best for our city.
Yes, because Perth, WA, has a very different economy, different society from other parts of the world. The laws of economics do not apply. Applying the price principle to road use "shows no thinking".
Nothing quite playing the parochial almost xenophobic "you don't understand us, we're different" card rather than having a single constructive argument to rebut road pricing. Particularly ironic when the chief economist of the firm that conducted the study spent five years of his life living in the city. Of course Perth itself is far closer to the birthplace of modern urban road pricing - Singapore - than Sydney is.