Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Jakarta finally proceeding with urban congestion charging

As has been discussed previously on here, Indonesia's capital has been looking at replicating the success of its neighbour, Singapore, in introducing urban road pricing, even using the same terminology - Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).  It has been getting serious consideration for over four years now, but has been subject to some delays in part because the aspiration and ambitions for road pricing were clearly too big, especially given the timescales proposed for introduction.

Jakarta itself has an enormous congestion problem, with a population approaching 10 million, it has suffered from poor public transport and rapid economic and population growth.  Jakarta is probably the largest city by population with no urban metro rail system (although it does have a commuter rail system, it largely uses secondhand rolling stock from Japan, and carries around 700,000 passengers per day).  

The Jakarta Post now reports that tenders will be called to supply an electronic road pricing system (just like Singapore called the ERP), with the hope being that it can be in operation before the end of 2015 at pilot sites.

The city has already involved Kapsch and Q-Free in technical trials since 2014.  The proposed pilot charge will be applied to two corridors.  I've indicated these out below, both appear to just cross the inner ring tollway.  

Jakarta ERP pilot corridors
However, these are only short corridors in the context of greater Jakarta as can be seen below, so it really is a pilot:

Greater Jakarta with proposed pilot congestion priced roads in blue
The law passed two years ago to support the introduction envisaged a first stage that was somewhat larger:

Proposed first full stage of Jakarta congestion pricing
This would focus on one of the busiest corridors into central Jakarta and some parallel routes. The system is intended to replace the "three-in-one" effective HOV requirement for such roads, which means that at peak times it is compulsory for cars on those roads to have a minimum of three occupants.  That will increase the flexibility in using the roads, but should also better target compliance based on payment.  It also will avoid the current abuse of the HOV system whereby entrepreneurial "jockeys" charge motorists Rp 25,000 (US$1.95) to Rp 30,000 (US$2.34) to make up the number in their cars (even when roads aren't market oriented, market solutions to individual problems appear).

Successful technology trials to expand

Technology trials using  conventional DSRC technology have been successful, with 95-98% accuracy reported, although given DSRC ought to achieve 99% it is unclear why it should be so low.  The claim is that with very heavy congestion, number plates are not always detected, although it should not be a problem for virtually all DSRC vehicle tags to be detected.  One of the key issues for Indonesian number plates is the lack of a standard typeface or "font" used for the numbers and letters.  This is a classic example of one of the enabling issues that I've referred to before that needs resolution before such systems can be introduced.

Up to 50 vehicles were installed with equipment from Kapsch, Q-Free and Watch Data for a technology trial last year.  The trial will relaunch on the pilot routes in March 2015 with equipment from only Kapsch and Q-Free according to the Jakarta Post report.  Kapsch and Q-Free are widely known in the tolling industry, both being well known and established suppliers of electronic free-flow tolling systems using DSRC technology.  

This report from ITS International also indicates that the trial included a system from Q Free that is more sophisticated than the standard DSRC tag and beacon operation familiar in many other countries, but involved deduction of credits from a prepaid smartcard.   This parallels the Singapore ERP system, which enables motorists to pay anonymously, as long as the smartcard in the onboard unit has sufficient credit to cover the toll. 

Strategy to use surplus revenue to expand public transport

A separate management unit within the Jakarta Transportation Agency has been created to manage the revenues.  I would hope that it spends considerable time development the enforcement and compliance system, which can be the weakness for any such system.

Net road pricing revenue will be used to increase public transport services, which in Jakarta suffer from the lack of any underground metro (although one is now under construction), and so is focused on bus services and a series of commuter rail lines.

It's notable that the Jakarta Post report includes comments from various freight haulage and courier business representatives which oppose ERP, because they can only see the cost involved.  However, this is where some effort needs to be put into ensuring the pricing and implementation actually deliver improvements to travel times, and so significant savings for road users.  

There is clearly potential for Jakarta to have a network of priced roads, combining both the existing toll road network (which includes manual toll booths) and charging existing roads, but to make it successful it will need to be careful in setting prices and how it uses the net revenues.  I'd suggest that some of the latter should be put into targeted congestion relief projects whether it involves roads, public transport or even improving the environment for pedestrians and cycling traffic.  

What's next?

Further trials, but a tender will be developed for implementation of an actual pilot that will involve users having to pay to use at least part of the roads I have highlighted above.  In due course it may expand step-by-step, like the Singapore system, but first it has to be piloted with real users, to see what the reaction is and to prove it can be successful.  I can only hope that Jakarta gets the pricing right, the products right, the network planning right and the compliance/enforcement right to prove the concept in practice.  Introduction by January 2015 may yet be too ambitious.

Earlier proposals for a network of charged roads in Jakarta
Footnote: Curiously, one measure that will have a long term impact on congestion is that Indonesia abolished virtually all subsidies on fuel on 1 January 2015, taking advantage of rapidly declining oil prices (Indonesia, once a major oil exporter is now an importer).  The drop in prices has meant that even after the abolition of subsidies, retail prices remain lower in January than they were in December.  As prices rise over time, then growth in traffic can at least reflect market prices for fuel.