Monday, 4 February 2013

News briefs - Indonesia, North Carolina, Washington DC

Indonesia - Jakarta to get six new urban toll roads

Jakarta has serious congestion, which is estimated to cost RP46 trillion (US$4.7 billion) a year in delays, wasted fuel and vehicle wear and tear, with fuel being the biggest cost (no doubt because the value of time in the city is relatively low on a per person basis).  The city is developing bus rapid transit, has plans for a metro and is widening existing corridors, but its most ambitious plan is to build six new urban toll roads.  The intention is for them to be tolled, not just to pay for the high capital costs, but to manage demand, so that the inexorable demand for road space is tempered by having to pay for it.

However, it is controversial as the Jakarta Transportation Council, an advisory body, says it will have "no positive effect" on traffic, according to the Jakarta Post.   The projects will cost RP42 trillion (US$4.1 billion).  Objectors say it will encourage sprawl and pollution, harming the environment and public health, although it is entirely plausible that the roads could be priced and managed to minimise this.  Some argue that as the new roads are being built above existing railways or roads, that the railways should be expanded instead.   The project was advanced by the previous Governor, with one argument made that the city has a small proportion of land dedicated to roads at 6.2%, when the target is 12%.

I'm hardly in a position to judge on this, particularly as it is easy for middle income people in wealthy countries to pontificate about what is good for developing countries, and also because I am technologically neutral.  Roads are simply transport corridors, and as long as they are priced correctly, and the corridor managed well, there is no reason for them not to be positive for public transport, and to allow road space on the routes bypassed to be given over to pedestrians, cyclists, carts, and to properly regulate parking.

The six roads are shown on this Jakarta Post map:

The first phase of construction will include the 17.8-kilometer route from Semanan, West Jakarta, to Sunter, North Jakarta, and the 11-kilometer route from Sunter to Bekasi.

The second phase includes roads from Duri Pulo, Central Jakarta, to Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, and from Kampung Melayu to Kemayoran, East Jakarta.

The third construction phase will link Ulujami, South Jakarta, to Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta and the fourth will connect Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, to the Casablanca area in South Jakarta.

The state company PT Jakarta Tollroad Development is owned by multiple local companies, "city-owned enterprises collectively hold the majority of shares in JTD, namely, PT Jaya Real Property (22,5 percent), PT Pembangunan Jaya Ancol (20 percent), PT Jaya Konstruksi (16 percent), PT Pembangunan Jaya (9 percent), PT Jakarta Propertindo (7 percent) and PT Jaya Land (3.5 percent)."

Jakarta is also planning an electronic road pricing system to manage congestion, with legal approval for introduction reached in October 2012.   I will write more on that later.  However, I would hope that before that happens, that all toll roads in the city get converted to electronic free flow systems, which will be necessary for any form of congestion pricing in any case.

In any case, the Jakarta Post reports that it is now up to current Governor, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, to decide on starting any of the new toll road projects.   

North Carolina toll road faces double billing controversy

At least 800 drivers on the Triangle Expressway have been double-billed this month, paying electronic tolls twice for every trip, the N.C. Turnpike Authority says.

The problem is fairly obvious, motorists travelling with two tags both of which are getting recognised and generating a bill.  The NCTA has its own "Quickpass" as its product, but some motorists also have the EZ Pass tag, used across 14 states.

You see the Expressway is fully electronic free flow, but as of the start of 2013, it has been interoperable with EZ Pass, so there are customers with both units, and so are being billed twice.

The NCTA blames motorists for this, because the terms and conditions for its contract with customers using Quickpass is for only one tag/sticker to be in a vehicle at any one time.   However, as true as this may be, the system should have avoided this problem in its architecture.

For the system architecture should not allow two chargeable events to be attributed to the same number plate.  This isn't hard to manage, as the system ought to reconcile these sorts of events (and indeed this will become more common over time), so that while motorists should only use one device at a time, the system should not charge an identifed vehicle more than once in a specific interval.

Washington DC sceptical about congestion pricing but it's hardly surprising

There have been various reports of what is essentially a public opinion survey about transport policy, that came to the conclusion that people in Washington DC are most accepting of tolled lanes, and least accepting of distance based road pricing.  Really? It took money to figure that out?  The Brookings Institute research is interesting in as far as it shows considerable support (60%) for toll lanes - but beyond that it isn't anything that any expert in this area could not have expected.

There have been surveys about road pricing for many years in many countries, and the conclusion is pretty much always the same. The majority oppose paying more to use existing roads, and the more complicated the proposal they more resistant they are.   They like it better if more money (whose?) is spent on more public transport and other alternative modes.  

The acceptance of toll lanes is obvious, as they are optional.  The lesser support for some sort of cordon based pricing is because it would not be, and distance based pricing is always clumsily sold as some sort of tracking system, and there are no explanations made of how much people pay now with fuel taxes.

The errors in this work look like (from the reports) to be:

1.     It provided details with little rationale as to what the merits of them are;
2.     It gave people little confidence in what any of the options would deliver (why would anyone support paying more without understanding or believing that conditions could improve);
3.     It provided options without reference to replacing the gas tax;
4.     Those undertaking the survey appeared to be unable to answer core criticisms of the public, such as thinking that a cordon creates congestion just outside it.

It was undertaken using public forums.  Maybe the 20th century would like to get it survey technique back.  The busiest people or those with the least flexibility are unable to participate in such a manner.

Now I am pleased these issues are being discussed in the United States, it has taken long enough, as only eight years nobody talked about pricing existing roads.  However, it would be good for the debate for surveys like this to not occur.  

Are surveys undertaken about taxation policy, health policy, how to manage the electricity or telecommunications networks?  No.  Why would anyone presume that the general public - who can attend such meetings - are sufficiently well informed to react intelligently to what is presented to them?  More importantly, why aren't the lessons learnt from those who have tried to do this actually being applied in describing options and managing such processes?

Washington Examiner damns plan to "nationalise" Dulles Greenway

In a local editorial, the Washington Examiner describes plans to socialise/nationalise the Dulles Greenway as one that will "saddle Virginia taxpayers with this white elephant".  The plan comes from Virginia House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe May, (R-Leesburg).  So yes it is a Republican wanting the government to take over a private business, ostensibly to subsidise the users of that business. The report states the road loses US$25 million a year, which would effectively be transferred to taxpayers.  

The private owner, Macquarie Atlas Roads, would of course seek to maximise the price that it would extract from a willing buyer, and the continuing unprofitable nature of the road would be hidden in the state's public debt and general taxation.

It all seems absurd.  The whole point of private road concessions is to transfer risk, which is what has been done in this case.  The road has been built, the tolls are relatively high, but increases are capped by the concession, and the continued losses are born by the investors.   Far better for the motorists on the road to be effectively subsidised by the private owners (which is a transfer into the state from foreign investors) than from taxpayers.

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