Monday 3 October 2011

The opposite of congestion pricing - and it works (UPDATED)

How would you feel about being paid to NOT drive at peak times on a road that you drive on every day?

It is easy to understand why congestion charging can work. Charging for something that was previously free is likely to cause consumers to think again about whether they want to “consume” the product, and as a result demand will decline. As congestion is a result of demand for roadspace exceeding supply, a reduction in demand can reduce congestion. It isn’t the only solution, or always the right solution, but it has proven itself, through implementation in Singapore, London, Stockholm and elsewhere, to help.

Cities all around the world experience traffic congestion, but implementation of congestion charging remains difficult for many. The politics of doing so are by far the greatest barrier. Motorists so frequently don’t want to pay more, even if it is to mean a faster trip.

Yet what happens if you apply the same principle – in reverse. What about paying people not to drive on congested roads at congested times?

That is exactly what has been getting trialled, with considerable success, in the Netherlands for three years now. No, I am not mistaking it with the various Dutch attempts for national road pricing. It is a project driven by the Port of Rotterdam, City Region of Rotterdam and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. It is called Spitscoren or “profit from the peak”.

Corridors subject to "Spitscoren"
The location is the A15 highway in Rotterdam and parallel routes (as seen on the right).  The A15 corridor consists of the A15 between Vaanplein and Rozenburg center (in both directions), the N492, the N218 (Hartelbrug - crossing N57) and the roads parallel to the A15 from Charlois to the Caland Bridge (Vondelingenweg, Old Maasweg, Botlekweg and Droespolderweg). The above N-roads may be used in the morning eastbound in the evening westbound.

The concept is to pay every motorist that is part of the scheme, €5 every morning peak that the motorist does not use the road, and €1.50 for every evening peak. How does it work? 

Well firstly, you can't just have anyone sign up. Otherwise, I would do so as I never use the road.  So, regular users of the highway were identified, by collecting number plate information to get those vehicles that travelled at peak times regularly. The owners of those vehicles were then approached (by accessing their data through the vehicle registry) and offered to participate in the programme.

In exchange for participating, the motorist receives the loan of a  GPS enabled smartphone. Its primary purpose was to provide information on travel alternatives, and to enable the motorist to keep track of their trips (and credits for not travelling).   The phone should be on during trips, as it is part of the system to ensure that people are or are not travelling at peak times on the specified corridors.

In essence, if a registered motorist did not travel at the peaks on the road, the motorist would receive a credit. If the motorist did travel, then automatic number plate cameras would identify the vehicle, and the presence of the smartphone.  The credit would appear on a web and phone accessible account.  The alternatives on this route are to drive at different times, use other modes (including motorcycles or motor scooters), or not travel at all.

The key reward is based on a monthly balance, the amount of which depends on frequency of use.  The credit becomes accessible after a month up to a maximum of 100 euros able to be withdrawn.

Part of the reward system is to get up to a 10 euro credit every month towards keeping the phone. After a year this credit provides a discount to buying the phone. 

Peak periods are defined at 0600-0900 and 1500-1800.

The goal of the system was to reduce traffic levels by 5% in each direction, the result has been an 8% reduction.  On average it has removed 750 vehicles from the road every peak period.

The companies involved are BNV Mobility – a subsidiary of Portuguese toll road operator Brisa (which formed the SpitsScoren associations and leads the operations, development and implementation of this project), together with ABN AMRO, Goudappel Coffeng and Technolution.

The motivation behind the project has been from the Port of Rotterdam, keen to reduce congestion that has hindered its competitiveness with other ports.  It has been willing to pay to reduce congestion to improve business.  It shouldn't be too difficult to envisage how such a concept might be extended to similar facilities, such as other ports, airports, or for special events.  For example, could the London Olympics find such a scheme to be advantageous?   Could this provide an alternative in certain cases where the costs of congestion are high, and the politics against charging are also high? 

The project is due to end in June 2012, but I expect it may well be extended given its significant success. It has been such a success that it has encouraged another project to follow it called Spitsvrij – which I will write about later this week.

It has a website, (all in Dutch). 

I intend to gather more information about this project and write more about it.  If you have any questions you would like answered, leave them in the comments below.

UPDATE:  If you like Spitscoren, you'll love Spitsvrij.  In other words, another similar scheme has been launched in the Netherlands, this time covering an area rather than one corridor.  It is described here.


  1. Thanks for all the information. Are you aware of any other similar rewarding scheme elsewhere?

  2. No, it appears the two Dutch schemes are unique.

  3. Thanks for describing this setup. It seems very difficult to continue & extend such a program, since one cannot identify those who no longer need it & those who now do but have been avoiding the peak along the congested facility. Am I missing something?
    It does remind me of deCorla-Souza's Fast & Intertwined (FAIR) lanes (where one gains a bit of free access to the tolled lanes by using the adjacent non-tolled lanes enough times [e.g., 4 to 1 ratio]).
    I'm a fan of my credit-based congestion pricing (CBCP) strategy (described & applied in various papers at, but it does not come without a couple issues: a cash-based system will prove problematic for fraud (so some other incentives [like free bus passes or car-sharing discounts] would be best, for those who can cash out [by staying under their monthly "budget"]) & defining budget recipients is problematic (e.g., all registered-vehicle owners in a region or all workers or all those with driving licenses get a budget? and where's the boundary?). The Dutch approach & FAIR handle those issues, but not the others I mentioned. I'm interested in your thoughts!