Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Kampala: Progress towards distance charging?

Ugandan newspaper The Observer reports on what looks like a remarkable step forward in traffic management for Kampala.  However, what looks like it would leapfrog London, Singapore and Stockholm has little detail, and I think appears more complex than has been reported.

Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is to investigate the introduction of road user charging on all vehicles entering the city.  The primary motive is to reduce congestion, but clearly a strong motive is to raise revenue to rehabilitate and upgrade its road network.  

Kampala roads and railways
On the face of it, it would sound like some sort of cordon or area charge would be the logical, easy answer, but what KCCA is talking about is much more radical.

KCCA is interested in weight/distance charging, although it was reported that confirmation on the details was to come in January, they have yet to emerge.  The simplest way of doing this would be to have a flat charge based on  the legal maximum gross laden weight of a vehicle measured by odometer, although the high risk comes from odometer fraud.  The use of on board units that measure distance more reliably using GNSS technologies would clearly be better, but that means having to ensure vehicles are equipped, which would be a considerable task for an urban only charge.

The report implies that it would target specific roads, but this adds a level of complexity that would seem to be undesirable.  

Moreover, the big issue comes from occasional visitors to the city, who need to have a way of paying for access that does not involve the inconvenience of acquiring and installing a piece of equipment.  Some sort of time based pass would make sense for occasional users.  Certainly a distance charge should be considered for most if not all roads in an urban environment to avoid "rat running". 

However, it is clear that Uganda more widely is interested in reforming how roads are charged.  In 2008 it replaced registration fees with fuel tax, and it runs a hypothecated roads fund paid for by that tax.  There is legal authority for weight/distance fees to be introduced.

It commissioned PWC in 2014 to develop its road user charging framework to become what it calls a "second generation" road fund.  New Vision reports that Michael Odongo, Uganda Road Fund executive director describes a second generation road fund as "a fee-for-service principle that road users pay for access and use of roads whose maintenance is funded directly from road users through road usage charging instruments".  

These instruments cover fuel taxation, tolls, transit fees, overweight vehicle fines and road licences.

Uganda is already embracing tolls for major new projects, implying interest in electronic free flow technology (which requires the ability to fine vehicle owners by tracing them by address).  

This presentation (PPT) from Mr Odongo is a summary of the challenges and plans for Uganda. 

Introduction of weight/distance charges for Kampala alone would appear to be a big challenge, it may be easier to introduce such charges for heavy vehicles across the country first, with higher charges at peak times in Kampala.  However, issues of compliance with such requirements would need to be addressed first.  In the meantime, if Kampala is looking to address congestion, then it may be better placed introducing a number plate based time permit system as a first stage.  In any case, it would need such technology for any visitor based products, and it would be an effective trial of introducing urban charging to the city.

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