Friday 3 May 2013

News Briefs - China, India, UK, USA

China - Poll rejects congestion pricing

China Daily reports that an online poll (yes I know) by China Youth Daily saw around 75% of respondents oppose congestion charging for Beijing, preferring to support "improving the city's planning process, the road repairing projects, and the traffic management mechanism" to reduce congestion.  Good luck with that then.

Hong Kong - Hopewell retains BBB- Fitch rating

Reuters reported in October 2012 that Hong Kong based toll road investor, Hopewell, retained its credit rating with Fitch.  Hopewell Holdings owns 68% of Hopewell Highway Infrastructure Limited, and Fitch reported:

Hopewell Highway Infrastructure Limited (HHI), continued its stable performance in the financial year ended June 2012 with a 5% increase in revenue. An overall increase in traffic volume is driven by continued economic growth in the Guangdong province, and improving connections to local road networks and strategic locations. In particular, the West Route enjoys synergies from completion of Phase II, and average daily traffic grew by 39% in FY12.

A new tariff framework effective from June 2012, as well as the "Holiday Toll Free Policy" effective from October 2012 will adversely affect cash flow generation capacity of the toll road portfolio. Fitch expects the toll road portfolio's EBITDA to decrease by around 15% as a result in FY13. 

Hopewell is in joint ventures with Chinese companies over five toll roads in the Pearl River Delta area of Guangdong province in China.

India - Toll tags may be mandatory

A report from the Deccan Herald quotes N R Gokarn, CEO, National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRIP), a government led project, as saying that "RFID tags" that identify vehicles are likely to become compulsory across India.  This would help with identifying vehicles more generally, as well as facilitating a shift towards electronic free flow tolling.  The National Informatic Centre (NIC) contains data on over 90 million vehicles including owners and insurance details, and it is intended that any such system enable ready access to that database for tolling.

India - IRB acquires MVR

IRB's corporate profile states:

The company, along with its subsidiaries has constructed or , operated and maintained around 8,000 lane kms of road length so far and one of the major road developers in the country. The aggregate size of all our BOT projects (both completed and under execution) is around Rs. 170,552 Million (US$3.1 billion).

MVR Infrastructure and Tollways is a construction and toll road management company based in Tamil Nadu.

UK - Manchester still not interested in congestion charging

A rather odd little news report from the Manchester Evening News notes that a survey recently conducted by the AA indicates 80% of those polled oppose congestion charging for Manchester.  A referendum in 2008 saw a 79% "no" vote for a proposed congestion charging scheme that was to raise money to pay for major public transport improvements.

This is hardly surprising.  People wont vote for what they see as a new tax, especially since central government decided to give Manchester the money for some of the public transport improvements anyway, presumably as an election sweetener, and Manchester local authorities borrowed money to pay for the rest.  Meanwhile, Manchester was hit by the recession, and traffic volumes have not increased since 2008.  Any deal for congestion charging needs to offer something in terms of improvements to roads or reductions in other taxes to have any chance of being supported.

UK - Birmingham's transport authority wants private toll road nationalised

I've written about the M6 toll road before.  It was fully privately financed and built, and runs at a loss, without a penny contributed by taxpayers.   It is heavily under-utilised, in part because tolls are highly priced (but revenue maximising) and in part because the travel time savings are not high, except at peak times when the untolled parallel motorway is congested.

This upsets the planners at Centro - the West Midlands Transport Authority - which is responsible for transport planning in the wider metropolitan region surrounding Birmingham.  Centro has no authority over the motorways, but according to the Birmingham Post, Chief Executive, Geoff Inskip wants central government to buy the M6 toll road, reduce or eliminate the tolls, and so relieve the existing untolled road.  It even suggested tolling the existing untolled road at peak times, to help pay for the purchase.

Now I'm no fan of nationalisation, but tolling the existing route at peak times would provide some "competitive neutrality" between the routes.  One idea is that vehicles are charged to use both routes through fuel tax, but none of that fuel tax goes to the owners of the M6 toll road.  If a deal was done to reduce tolls by a proportion reflecting that contribution, it might make a small difference.

USA - New York - Citizens' Budget Commission recommends higher tolls

Capital New York reported in October that the lobby group "Citizens Budget Commission" proposed that 25% of funding of the New York public transit system should come from tolls:

The commission argues that not only should drivers' tolls cover the upkeep of bridges and tunnels, which they do now, but they should also underwrite a quarter of mass transit services, thanks to all of the "harmful consequences" that drivers cause but do not pay for, like "noise, congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emission."

To that end, the commission would raise tolls on M.T.A.-controlled bridges and tunnels to as much as $9 in cash. Right now, drivers pay $6.50. Once the 2013 and 2015 hikes go into effect, drivers will pay $7.50.

Further, the commission proposes raising vehicle registration fees, which are now amongst the lowest in the country, and the gasoline tax.

The CBC also says congestion pricing should also be considered, again.

It also proposes fare increases for public transit.   This doesn't mean tolls on untolled crossings, but raises the obvious question as to why not, as the inequities of only charging some crossings simply becomes exacerbated.

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