Saturday 5 October 2013

Jakarta proceeding with congestion charging system UPDATE: May go for a simpler approach

According to the Jakarta Post, the city will proceed with the first stage of a congestion charging system (called electronic road pricing because of its parallels to the Singapore system) in early 2014.  Jakarta Governor Joko Widido ideally would like to see it operational in the first quarter of 2014.  However, the Jakarta Transportation Agency believes a bylaw needs to be amended before there is full legal authority to start collecting tolls.

The system is expected to be very similar to that in Singapore, primarily because the proximity has enabled officials to observe the results of the Singaporean system, which is clearly the most comprehensive and successful such operation to date.  All motorised vehicles (except motorcycles, and there is some debate about whether they also should be included) using the charged roads, would need to have a DSRC transponder installed with a read-write smartcard inserted, that would deduct stored value from the card every time the vehicle passed under a charging gantry.

Prices are expected to vary by individual roads, and have different charging periods.   Previous plans to introduce a controlled zone based on only allowing vehicles with odd or even numbered licence plates are to be scrapped.  

In advance of the new system, an unspecified number of new buses are to be introduced, with the intention that the charge will first apply to the Rasuna Said area because of the busway corridors that exist through it. The initial charge will be Rp. 21,000 (US$1.87), but one report indicates that prices could be lowered if traffic levels drop by more than is necessary to achieve free flow traffic.  A previous post I wrote described where it looked like charging would be introduced.

Interestingly, it appears that there is strong political interest in having a state wide electronic vehicle identification system in place by 2015, to enable rapid, accurate and effective enforcement of traffic laws. Jakarta's electronic road pricing system will be compatible with that. 

I am highly sceptical that such a system can be operational by early 2014, with the testing, distribution of transponders and enforcement processes fully effective in such a time, but I thoroughly applaud the decision to move forward.   Jakarta has chosen a bold approach, but I predict some big issues around enforcement and managing the changes in traffic patterns that come from an incremental introduction of such charges.   It may have been better to await the implementation of the electronic vehicle ID programme, as the ability to more readily enforce traffic laws (and deter and remove non-compliant vehicles), may deliver some useful gains in reducing congestion.

Nevertheless, if Jakarta can make this work, it will be the largest city in the world with such a road pricing system, given its metropolitan population of over 25 million people.

UPDATE:  It would appear that the complexities of introducing a Singapore style system in less than 6 months are causing some concern, as a report from the Jakarta Post seems to be indicating a partial backdown, as there is now some interest in introducing a "manual" system rather similar to the original Singapore Area Licensing System that was introduced in 1975.

What is proposed is holographic stickers for monthly or annual access to the city centre, essentially an urban "vignette".  This would be far simpler to implement, although the enforcement would be labour intensive, requiring a large number of enforcement officers targeting parked vehicles, or visually identifying vehicles crossing cordon points and pursuing them for fines (or sending them violation notices).  It is thought the idea may be implemented once 800 new buses are added to the urban fleet, allowing for the expansion of services.  The article suggests "scanners" could be used at parking lots, but this is far from tried and unless the stickers had some sort of RFID device (and it was illegal to install them incorrectly, and it was possible to read a number plate of a vehicle that didn't have one), this seems quite an unwieldy approach.

It is suggested that buses to the charged area could be free, but meanwhile the "vehicle transfer fee" (a tax on transferring ownership of a car) is to be increased to 20% of the vehicle's value.  I'm unsure what that will do other than make a small difference to the cost of ownership, and encourage people to continue to operate older cars.  

What all of this implies is some mismatch between decision-making and good quality advice for the authorities.  Yes, Jakarta could implement an urban vignette, but the fundamental problem of any system - enforcement will be little easier with that compared to an electronic option.   It would appear that there ought to be a rethink, and perhaps some more consideration that Jakarta cannot simply transplant Singapore's success.