Monday, 20 December 2010

No congestion charge for Melbourne says new Deputy Premier

The recent State election in Victoria, Australia saw the Labour Party ousted for the centre-right Liberal/National coalition.  Melbourne has a well developed public transport system (focused on the central business district of course), and for some years there have been discussions about whether a congestion charge (focused on the rather easily defined central city) could help ease traffic congestion and fit in with the city's transport strategy.

The new state government seems to have made its views known through new Deputy Premier Peter Ryan who is reported by AAP as opposing a congestion charge for Melbourne.  

Unfortunately, he is making the common mistake around congestion charging in thinking that such charges automatically mean people need a public transport alternative.   The experience elsewhere is that a significant proportion of motorists do not change modes, but change travel times, consolidate trips or do not undertake trips at all.   Public transport providers should anticipate increased demand, but the real point is that public transport at peak times is also underpriced, so congestion charging is an opportunity for further reforms. 

Another option is not to introduce a new charge, but to rebalance existing charges so that it may cost less at other times.   This would make it advantageous to those driving off peak and would increase overall economic efficiency, and may be designed to be net revenue neutral.

Still, there remains some obvious attraction in introducing a congestion charge for downtown Melbourne predominantly because the city's rail, tram and bus network provides good standards of service into the city from the rest of the metropolis.   However, when most discuss such charges they think of cordon/area charges ala London, Stockholm, rather than considering more disaggregated charges that may vary by time and location.   Congestion charging for Melbourne cannot be blunt, cannot be all day and should not have the same charge on all roads approaching the central city.   Equally important is to consider whether congestion charging is better considered as a form of distance charging rather than single events (e.g. crossing a set point).

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