Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Abu Dhabi congestion pricing coming in October

Following over a decade after Dubai introduced tolls on existing roads called Salek, Abu Dhabi is about to introduce a more refined scheme which is arguably a form of congestion pricing.  It is officially called the Toll Gate System, and there is a good reason why, it effectively charges for all traffic entering and exiting Abu Dhabi 24/7.  The National has images of the first toll gantries installed.  I've put together a quick map, clearly showing that the four charging points create a cordon around most of urban Abu Dhabi. Charging points will be at the four bridges entering Abu Dhabi, with the stated aim of reducing congestion by encouraging car pooling and use of public transport.

Four charging points for congestion pricing in Abu Dhabi

The scheme will start on 15th October.  The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport Twitter account has a video (in English) summarising it.

Charge rates 

There is no variation by vehicle type

AED2 (~US$0.54) Between 0900-1700 and 1900-0700 Saturday to Thursday, all day Fridays and public holidays

AED4 (~US$1.09) 0700-0900 and 1700-1900 Saturday to Thursday

There will be a daily cap of AED16 (~US$4.36) with up to ten days to pay for vehicles unregistered with the scheme.  

Fines

After ten days, fines escalate by day with a AED100 (~US$27.22) fine for the first day, AED200 (~US$54.45) for the second day and then AED400 on the third day (~$108.90) with fines able to reach AED10000(~US$2722).  There will be a similar fine for a tampered number plate or vandalism of roadside equipment.

Payment

Payment is through an online account or a payment kiosk (which are to be located scattered across the emirate).  The online account has what is called an Integrated Electronic Payment Wallet which is required to have sufficient prepaid balance to cover any charges.  Failure to keep the balance positive (travelling and incurring a charge that places it into deficit) will result in a AED50 (~US$13.61) fine.

The charging technology is Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

On 30 August all Abu Dhabi registered vehicles will automatically have accounts registered at no charge, which will then need to be set up.   The relevant press release states:

All Abu Dhabi registered vehicles on the official system registration launch, 30 August 2019, will have automatically registered accounts at no charge. Account holders will automatically receive an SMS message stating their user-name and password for that account, and can then add any additional vehicles to the registered account as required. For vehicles registered outside Abu Dhabi, the owner must be registered in the system before crossing the toll gates. In case a vehicle which is not registered in the toll gate system crosses under the toll gates, the user will be given a grace period of ten business days, starting from the crossing time, to register in the system, otherwise a fine applies.

Exemptions

Emergency vehicles (ambulance, civil defence, police), military, Ministry of Interior vehicles, public buses and school buses, and Abu Dhabi licensed taxis are all exempt, along with motorcycles. 

Electric vehicles get a two year exemption, to try to encourage greater use of such vehicles (it's worth noting that Abu Dhabi has phased out subsidies for petrol in recent years).

Verdict?

Abu Dhabi has learned from Dubai, because it isn't introducing a leaky corridor charge with options to get around it. ANPR technology has moved on a lot, so that the toll tags used in Dubai wont be needed for Abu Dhabi, saving money on road side technology and the costs of managing toll tag inventory.  It is obviously designed geographically to put a cordon around Abu Dhabi, notably with the airport excluded, so all trips by visitors in and out of Abu Dhabi by car (although not taxi) will be charged, whether they arrived by air, from other parts of the UAE or other countries.

The exemption list is understandable, although including Abu Dhabi licensed taxis will mean greater use of taxis as substitutes for private cars. I'd suggest three points for refinement:
  1. Don't charge all of the offpeak.  Yes, Abu Dhabi's climate means there is a lot of activity very late at night, but having a charge free period would encourage more time of day shift for travel.  It is understandable to charge an hour or two either side of the peaks and during the day, but Abu Dhabi's roads are not congested 24/7.  It would be efficient to encourage traffic that has no modal substitution (e.g deliveries) to move to other times.
  2. After the scheme is bedded in, consider more refined charging periods at the charging points.  Although only Sheikh Khalifa Bridge is sufficiently distant from the other three to justify different charging periods and rates (the other three bridges are adjacent), there may be sense in having shoulder periods to the peaks (AED3 one hour either side) and other moves to spread demand.
  3. With more refined charging, consider charging trucks more than cars.  Trucks occupy two to three times the road space of cars, so contribute similarly to congestion.  Although there is less flexibility to change behaviour (as it is only about time of day or consolidating trips), it is still an efficient approach to pricing the use of scarce road space.






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