Tuesday, 26 February 2013

News briefs - Argentina, Australia, Chile, London

Buenos Aires and Santiago both consider forms of congestion pricing

Drew Reed in Transportation Nation writes about how Buenos Aires and Santiago are both at least discussing the concept of charging more to use roads at peak times.  He cites various articles in Spanish, but the key points are:

Buenos Aires:  The city is increasing tolls on three existing toll roads.  However, it is particularly increasing tolls at peak times, being 0700-1000 and 1700-2000. Tolls during those periods will be 25-60% higher than at other times.  Motorcycles also pay, and will face charges being up to double during the peak compared to the off peak.  More details here in Spanish.  This isn't particularly revolutionary, but is an obvious step to take with toll roads.

Santiago:  Santiago already has an extensive toll road network, so this proposal goes further and proposes a congestion charge around the central city effectively to charge non-residents for commuting from out of town.  It is an academic proposal, although the article curiously notes that Steer Davies Gleave did a study for congestion charging for Santiago but appeared to come up with small cordon for the historic centre (I'd have thought Santiago had the potential for something much more ambitious given the highly efficient toll road system already in place).   The Spanish article is here.  Although the idea is interesting, I again think the real potential must be to build upon the existing toll road network.

Could BrisConnections have done more to attract toll road users?

In October, the Herald Sun reported on an online poll undertaken by the Courier Mail on what it would take for Brisbane motorists to use the now bankrupt AirportLink toll road.   Although far from scientific, it suggested that maybe up to 15% would consider using it, if there was a package to pay for both it and the connecting Clem7 toll road, with around 20% interested if there was a capped charge (not uncapped as the article suggests), so that users would only pay up to a set limit (presumely because certainty about how much one would pay reassures users).  53% said nothing would induce them to use it.

Of course we now know that no such package to use both roads was offered, and although there is a capped charge option, it was probably too high to induce interest.  No doubt the receivers will be keen on figuring out how to attract more customers, but also want to maximise yield.  Package deals may help both roads, given how closely related they are, but that would require receivers to talk to each other.

London- Liberal Democrats call for annual inflation adjusted congestion charge

According to Mayorwatch, the Leader of the London Liberal Democrats group in the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, is calling for an annual increase in the congestion charge to reflect inflation because it "is far too low when you consider the adverse impacts that driving has on other Londoners".

All very well, except that the charge itself has doubled since its introduction in 2003, which is far in excess of inflation (which would take it to about £7 today).  It was £5 when it was introduced and is £10 now (£9 for registered users). 

A far better argument would be to suggest that the charge is too low, rather than an easily dismissed claim about inflation proofing it.   It may be better to consider a return to the original later operating hours (6.30pm end period rather than 6.00pm).

Atlantic Cities writes about the enduring public perception problem of congestion pricing

The article by Eric Jaffe is worth reading, and largely reflects on the survey by the Capital Region Transportation Planning Board in Washington DC and its environs.  He makes the valuable point that people do not believe congestion pricing would be effective.  That seems astonishing to anyone with a basic understanding of economics, but is true.  The researchers suggest a trial would make a difference too, by demonstrating success.  However, I think there are other issues.  One is that people need to know and trust where money raised is going.  Another is whether people think they are taxed too much already (which is either true, or if not true, needs to be explained why in this context).  Finally, congestion pricing needs to be designed to have finesse, to target individual roads in specific directions of travel and times, so that it avoid charging others unnecessarily.   Putting circles around city centres is so last decade, and really only suits cases where such centres are severely congested and major attractors for traffic that can mode shift.   Far too often it is seen by engineers as the convenient solution, and far too few actually realise that the city that first did congestion pricing was Singapore - which still has by far the most elegant approach, because it charges individual congested corridors, pricing each of them distinctly.   However, to do that well you need economists, and to be careful about your use of traffic models that have never been designed to reflect the collective impact of pricing dozens of individual road links. 


  1. Hi interesting. Will you be at the Road User Charging conference in Brussels 5-6 March?

  2. Ah, no sorry, unable to fit it in (or justify the trip).