Saturday 25 January 2014

Intelligent parking in London and San Francisco, a future for market priced parking?

London smart parking

The City of Westminster, one of London's inner city boroughs (encompassing the West End and many of the locations in central London tourists are familiar with), is launching intelligent parking and Atlantic Cities has a good article about the upcoming system.

3000 sensors are being placed in parking bays (there are 10,000 in Westminster, which is rather low given the density of streets, reflecting the long standing policy to eliminate on street parking from many major roads and dedicate road space to bus and cycle lanes and expand footpaths. 

The report says the 3000 sensors are being installed at a cost of £650,000 (US$1.07 million).

It enables motorists to use mobile apps to check parking availability, including crucially disabled parking bays (often ignored in discussions about reducing motoring).  

USA- California - San Francisco intelligent parking

I reported over two years ago on San Francisco's intelligent parking trial.  According to SF Park the trial has come to a close, with the parking sensor devices having been switched off at the end of 2013.   SF Park says:

This means that the real-time information on parking space occupancy will not be available for mobile apps and similar uses. The SFpark data feed and app will continue to show meter parking rates, as well as real-time space availability and rates at parking garages. The SFMTA will continue to conduct demand-responsive rate changes to find the lowest rates possible to help ensure there is a minimum number of open parking spaces on each block to reduce circling and double-parking.

In other words, the system will no longer be useful for identifying occupancy on the kerbside, but it will be for parking garages.  Meanwhile, pricing at parking garages will appear to be variable, and there appears to be a continuation of some form of variable pricing for kerbside parks.

The results of the trial will be interesting, as dynamically priced kerbside parking has great potential to save time, fuel, reduce congestion and stress for those seeking to park, as well as pricing parking efficiently so that some may decide to drive at different times, use other modes of transport or (inevitably) go elsewhere (which is good for areas that have surplus capacity).

My opinion

Thursday 23 January 2014

London congestion charging contract changes hands again

Computerworld UK reports that Capita plc has won the contract to manage London's congestion charging system which it lost in 2009 to IBM.  Capita was originally responsible for the introduction of the charge in 2003 and was subject to accusations that it charged "over the odds" for the management of the congestion charge, because of the risks involved and the political imperative for then London Mayor Ken Livingstone to introduce the charge in 2003.  

Capita will take over the full contract in November 2015 for five years with a possible further extension of another five years.  The report notes that the original contract was worth around £60 (US$99) million per annum in revenues to the company, with the current contract closer to half that value.

Capita says the contract is worth about £145 million (US$241 million) in revenue in total, assuming that is for five years it suggests around £29 million (US$48 million) per annum.

The contract also includes the London Low Emission Zone and TfL's traffic enforcement notice processing system.

Of course there should be considerable economies over time with the contract, as the customer base is largely stable, and there are unlikely to be any significant changes over the next five years given the political appetite to expand the charge is next to zero, as is the political appetite to make it more disaggregated.

Any more interesting future for the London congestion charge will need to either await a profound change in the political environment or someone willing to offset new charges with reductions in other taxes (a suggestion some years ago was that a London wide charge could replace Council Tax (a flat tax on individuals based upon the historic value of the property they live in).

However, the wide-eyed views expressed by the Mayor and some others, that London could cover some major highways to put parks and buildings on top of them, would take a lot of money too.  Charging some London motorists to pay for better roads, both in capacity, performance and local impact, might get some traction, but for now London doesn't even have a highway network strategy - and anyone who uses the network regularly should expect that this ought to be a priority.

Capita's press release here.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Germany's car vignette: the problem is making it tax neutral for Germans

Nearly a year ago I wrote that Germany is considering introducing a vignette system for private cars using its motorways, primarily as a way of raising money from foreign motorists.

Now EurActiv reports that the newly agreed "grand" coalition government in Germany, between the centre-right CDU/CSU of Angela Merkel and the centre-left SPD, includes agreement to proceed with such a system.

For those unfamiliar with the vignette systems of Europe, the concept is relatively simple.  It involves prepaying for access to a highway network (typically all or most of the motorways of the country), and the pre-purchase can cover set periods that can range from 1 day to 1 year, with most systems offering three products (something between 4 and 10 days, another for 1 or 2 months and another for a year).   Traditionally, vignette systems have required vehicles to display a sticker on the windscreen proving payment has been made, but more recently systems in Hungary and Romania are electronic.  All that is needed is for the relevant authority to have a record of payment associated with a number plate, so that those without vignettes can be targeted and stopped by Police.

The decision to introduce vignettes for cars is driven by politics, as German motorists know only too well that if they drive into three of the countries that border Germany they face vignettes (Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic, with a fourth coming with Belgium), whilst in France they will pay tolls on the extensive tolled motorway network.  Beyond that, other countries in eastern Europe have vignettes, whilst those in southern Europe have extensive toll roads.   Whilst motorists from many countries drive through Germany, with the perception that they don't pay.

German autobahn network

Doesn't Germany already charge foreign vehicles?

Now it is well known that for trucks 12 tonnes and over, there is the LKW-Maut distance based truck tolling system, which recovers infrastructure costs from those vehicles.  For cars there is nothing (beyond a handful of toll roads), except of course, fuel taxation.  Whilst it is possible to drive across Germany without buying fuel, it is far less likely than driving across Slovenia.  However, it is commonplace in Europe to treat the taxation of motor fuels as not being in any way a tax on road transport, even though it is, in effect, so. The preference is to treat this as just another tax (even though it is levied exclusively on one source of energy, used primarily for one purpose).  

In Germany, petrol is taxed (as of July 2013) at up to €0.6698 per litre (less for lower sulphur content) and diesel at  €0.4857 per litre, none of which is hypothecated for transport spending.   Of course, the amount of fuel tax paid when using German roads will be dependent not only on the amount of driving on German roads, but how much a motorists fill their fuel tanks before and after a trip, making fuel tax a poor proxy for payment for road use (although it certainly is a tax collected because of road use).

Avoiding discrimination

The EU Treaty makes it clear that EU Member States should not discriminate against citizens from other EU Member States.  That means that any vignette in Germany must apply to cars registered in Germany as well as other countries.  Of course, on the face of it, that means an increase in taxation for Germans, which is not exactly what politicians are seeking.   So proposals so far have included the concept of a "discount" for German motorists.

Now the issue becomes rather subtle here, as EurActiv reports Siim Kallas, "the EU commissioner for transportation, has rejected new plans for tax rebates in Germany" in that German motorists cannot be exempt from the vignette nor can they get a rebate for it.

Yet other forms of taxation would appear to be able to be reduced.  Motor Vehicle Tax (a tax on ownership) could be reduced proportionately, so that most Germans do not pay more in tax.  Yet with one politician saying that he wants to raise something like  €800 million rather than  €100 million a year from the vignette, it seems unlikely that this could be possible, alongside reducing other taxes.   The Green Party seems to support introducing a vignette, but without any cut in other taxes (matching its antipathy towards private motoring).

What should Germany do?

If a vignette was introduced, similar to Austria, the key issue remains as to how to deal with other taxes.
Austrian car vignette

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Do Washington State's proposed I-405 HOT lanes make sense?

The Herald Net reports that the State of Washington is planning to have HOT lanes either way on the entire length of I-405 between Lynnwood and the I-5, effectively meaning that Seattle's major western bypass will have an express lane capability.  All the details are in this report on the WSDOT website.

The northern portion is already under construction from Lynnwood to Bellevue, with US$334 million being spent converting existing "car pool" lanes (HOV lanes) into HOT lanes, with that project expected to be completed in 2015.  However, funding is yet to be approved from Bellevue to SR-167 (which already has dynamically priced HOT lanes), as this would require new lanes and would cost US$1.1 billion.

I-405 Washington HOT lanes
In the map image above, green depicts the lanes already under construction between Lynnwood and Bellevue, blue being the proposed new lanes, and yellow the SR-167 lanes.

There are several interesting dimensions to the report.  It recommends that the conventional two-person HOV requirement only entitle motorists to free access during off peak times, with a minimum three-person HOV during peaks.  That's an interesting, albeit complex for enforcement, way of rationing road space for the HOV component of users.

Pricing will be dependent on how many sectors are used, with an initial price of US$0.50 for each sector (Lynnwood to Bellevue being one, Bellevue to Renton being the next, followed by Renton-Pacific.  The expectation is that dynamic pricing would be introduced as well.

The automatic question is surely, why can't the lanes pay for themselves?  The report claims that only US$215 million of the US$1.1 billion capital cost can come from tolls, with the rest sought from the "gas tax".   

Thursday 16 January 2014

New York isn't pursuing congestion pricing/toll reform soon

So Michael Bloomberg is no longer Mayor of New York.  He was an advocate of congestion pricing, but got shot down by the New York State Legislature and plans were never revived again.  Given the city has a new Mayor, and the Governor said in 2012 he would consider the tolling reform plan put forward by Sam Schwartz, I thought it would be interesting to review where things have got to for New York.

The answer is, not very far.  

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Stockholm congestion charge after six years

I know this has been posted elsewhere (notably by Eric Jaffe at Atlantic Cities).

I like his reference to the Soviet planner who rang an official in London in 1989 asking what official was responsible for managing London's bread supply.  The answer being no one.

Perhaps some will take that analogy and wonder why the same can't be said for transport networks.  

On Stockholm his key points are (much of this is already known):

Monday 13 January 2014

Danish Productivity Commission promotes road pricing, but politicians reject it

Denmark is getting to be a little more like the Netherlands when it comes to road pricing.  The issue is regularly on the agenda, and swings from being promoted to being rejected on a regular basis.

Since I started this blog, there was debate about congestion charging for Copenhagen in 2011, with the new government at the time supporting such a charge (with debate focused on a cordon charge for the city).

However, in 2012 government had gone cold on the idea, because only one of the parties in the ruling coalition (the Socialist People's Party) supported it, with the Social Democrats far less keen.   The debate having moved on from being opposition to congestion pricing, to opposition to the proposed cordon type implementation of it.  There was also less support because the expected net revenues couldn't fund expectations of radically lower public transport fares.

Meanwhile, Denmark's focus on road pricing moved over to charging heavy goods vehicles by distance. This had also been supported by the new government in 2011 and was looking to charge all trucks 12 tonnes and above to use all main roads.  The driver being to increase revenues and reduce the environmental impact of trucks, but it was also to replace Denmark's participation in the multi-country time based charge called the "Eurovignette".

Yet April last year I reported on how the lorry road pricing programme had also been shelved. The reason being that expected costs were going to be too high relative to revenues.

So now with the Copenhagen Post reporting that Denmark should have some form of road pricing, I am sceptical that anything will come of it in the short term.

The report focuses on charging for congestion, suggesting something different to what was envisaged for the Copenhagen congestion charge or the lorry road pricing scheme.  

The report stated that the Commission proposed: "charging drivers 2.5 kroner (about US$0.46) for every kilometre they drive in the city centre during rush hour in exchange for reducing or abolishing other car levies"

In other words, instead of it being an additional tax, it would be a more efficient way of charging for road use, compared to the punitive taxes imposed on owning and buying cars in Denmark.  

Friday 10 January 2014

Irish Transport Minister rejects more road pricing, but Ireland can do better

In an unsurprising announcement, the Irish Times reports that Minister for Transport Leo Varadka has "ruled out" new tolls or congestion charging during the term of the current government.

The point appeared to be that public transport wasn't good enough to allow for the imposition of additional charges on motorists, so on the face of it, it looks like a rejection of any congestion charge for Dublin (which is the only sort of scheme that the comments would seem to be directed towards).

The report quoted him saying:

"We need major improvements for public transport before we bring in any new taxes on motorists. Places like London, Oslo and Singapore have congestion charges but they put in place top class public transport first. That is the right way to do it in my view but the current state of the public finances means we have limited resources to invest in public transport".

It is curious that several other dimensions to pricing don't appear to have been entertained at all.  

One being to replace some existing motoring taxes with some form of road pricing, as I advocated in a presentation to the ITS European conference in Dublin last year.

The obvious example would be to replace the high tax on ownership of heavy vehicles with a distance/weight based charge for using all untolled roads in Ireland.  This could evolve into a system whereby motorists choose to pay by distance for using their cars, with a significant discount on fuel taxation and ownership taxes.

Ireland, being a relatively self contained country (its border with northern Ireland creates some issues, but also some opportunities) can evolve towards a more efficient way of charging for its roads, and take the success of individual toll roads and use it towards a road pricing system that isn't about paying more, but about recovering the same revenue more efficiently and fairly.

Yet why should this be done in Ireland?

News briefs - Australia, China, USA (California, Texas, Washington)

Australia - CEO of South Australian borough calls for congestion pricing

Unley is one of the boroughs of Adelaide and according to the Herald Sun, the Unley Council  Chief Executive, Peter Tsokas has proposed to the South Australian State Government, that congestion charging be introduced to raise revenue for public transport.  He specifically called for charges on some roads at peak times to manage congestion.  The reaction has been negative from the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia, although not completely dismissive:

Automotive policy manager Mark Borlace said congestion charges were more suitable in heavily gridlocked traffic zones.  He said the priorities for Adelaide should be improving traffic flow on the city rim, upgrading the north-south transit corridor and improving public transport connections. "When you know that people have ways of going around the congested areas where you don't want cars, then you can have those kind of behavioural things (such as congestion charging)," 

A South Australian state government spokewoman said the government was opposed to tolls and congestion charging.  It's notable that all of the comments under the article were anti congestion charging, except for one that advocated tolling for a new road as long as the toll paid for the road and ended after the debts for constructing the road were paid.

Of course, any debate about congestion charging in Adelaide ought also to include whether it would be an option to replace some existing taxes.

China - Future for congestion charging

Charles Komanoff writes in Streetsblog about his view on where congestion pricing might head in China.   He notes rightly that air pollution is as much an issue as congestion, but revenue generation is not important.

However, the key problems China faces in implementation are around the vested interests and potential losers from any sort of implementation. China needs a comprehensive strategic approach to how road vehicles are taxed and charged, which simply doesn't exists at present.  A key part of this is having the legal framework to enforce any fines or violation notices in a country where traffic safety violation enforcement is haphazard at best.

China has a long way to go, and it could do worse than encourage Hong Kong to implement one of the options extensively studied well over a decade ago, and to encourage at least one mainland city to introduce a cordon charge.

California - Orange County rejects tolling new lanes on I-405

Further to the post I wrote in December on this,  Orange County voted to add an additional lane to the I-405, but rejecting tolling according to the LA Times. It appears that there was little argument made about making highway expansion more sustainable and efficient, but rather that because improvements are partly funded out of a sales tax (don't ask, it's a weird socialist concept that some in the US adopt of dedicated taxes on retail activity to pay for roads).  Voice of OC describes the rather shallow debate.  Whereas NBC reports that the new lanes will cost around US$700 million, which of course will come predominantly not from those using them or directly benefiting from them.  

Texas - HOT lane fines unenforceable

Associated Press, carried by The Trucker, reports that  Houston Metro has no means to legally force non-compliant motorists to pay fines.  Apparently US$740,000 in fines have been issued, but although violators are notified three times of the fines and asked to pay, there is no legal means to enforce it.

This is absolutely laughable as a public policy failure.  Questions ought to be asked.  Who approved for such lanes to be introduced without a legal means to enforce violations?  Was it an oversight by policy makers, or did politicians ignore warnings and decide to press on regardless?  Is this a case of a system being introduced designed by engineers, without advice from lawyers or policy consultants?

Given this is now news, I wouldn't be surprised if, within a few months, the lanes prove to be an abject failure when it becomes well known that the fines are simply requests to pay with no means to do anything about it.

Enforcement is a core component of any electronic free flow tolling system, and needs to include the legal means to treat non-payment of tolls, and fines, as debts that can be recovered like any others.  At the very least, it seems absurd that such fines can't be treated as a penalty for trespass - for unauthorised usage of HOT lanes might be seen as such, if the law would properly define it.

Meanwhile, a report from local TV station KFox14 in El Paso notes that the new toll lanes on the Border Highway are not physically separated from the untolled lanes, but separated by double white lines.  This raises concerns that some road users will weave to avoid detection in the lanes and weave back across the lines, but the answer to this is to enforce the existing prohibition on crossing double white lines on the road. Enforcement of that law is expected to effectively enforce the separate toll lanes.   Hopefully, this should work if done resolutely and sufficiently.

USA - Trucking lobby sceptical about distance based taxation

I read with some amusement an article in The Trucker.Com commenting about Oregon's plans to introduce a vehicle mileage tax.  The key points being:

The American Trucknig Association being concerned about "collection costs, privacy and information security issues, significant potential for evasion and various very difficult institutional issues, including the potential for a lack of interstate interoperability".  Given almost all of these issues are resolvable, I think there may be a bigger concern that the charges set will inevitably mean the heaviest trucks travelling the longest distances will pay more.  The problem is that there is little evidence in the US as to whether there is an appropriate recovery of infrastructure costs now.

What is needed is not resistance, but a reasoned economic debate about the true infrastructure costs of highways and how to efficiently allocate those costs among types of vehicles.  Sadly in the US there is precious little decent analysis about this, and insufficient political will to let charges for road use be based on objective values.  

Washington - State discusses options for future revenues

The Kent Reporter notes that the Washington State Transportation Commission is completing an evaluation of the business case for ways to replace the gas tax with a road usage charge system.

It is intended to report in January 2014 about options to move forward with charging vehicles according to how much they use the roads, rather than fuel, with this work being informed substantially by the trials underway in Oregon.  The findings of work done so far can be found in this presentation, which outlines the key issues very well.  According to this paper, the final report will be issued on 11 January.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Houston prefers HOVs to toll payers

Impact News reports on how Houston Metro (Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County) is raising toll rates on several HOT lanes to reduce peak congestion on the lanes, but paradoxically also increasing the hours during which HOVs can use the lanes.

Typically HOT lanes have evolved in the US as HOV lanes were often undertutilised, and transport authorities wished to get better use by charging other motorists to use the valuable capacity.  Houston has taken quite a different approach, because it appears that its HOV capacity is not  underutilised at peak times.   
As such, its HOT lanes are HOV only at the peak, the economic assumption being that high-occupancy vehicles are a more valuable use of the road space than anyone willing to pay a toll. 

So in response to growing peak congestion, it is increasing the period of exclusive HOV usage and increasing tolls at the either side of that period.

Now the policy position at Houston is that the lanes exist for HOVs first and foremost, which is all very well, except that it isn’t sustainable.  Ultimately, if demand continues to grow to use these lanes, like others, then they will be congested, and either more capacity will be needed, or the lanes will have to be priced – for all users.

I’ve never been convinced that HOV lanes are a good response to the demand/capacity problem of highways, if only because they are predicated on vehicles with multiple occupants having a higher value of time than those with one and on incentivising more efficient use of road space, by making car-sharing more attractive.  However, one survey from the State of Washington indicates that by far the most prevalent car sharing is that of household members, indicating that in many cases use of such lanes is fortuitous rather than planned.   A California PATH Research Report undertaken by the University of California, Berkeley,  indicated that HOV lane systems don’t actually add capacity compared to conventional lanes claiming that “A system with one HOV lane and three general purpose lanes carries the same number of persons per hour as a system with four general purpose lanes”.   That may counter-intuitive, but it reflects actual behaviour rather than the wishful thinking of some policy makers.  

Surely a better approach would be to charge all users. The price per user would be spread across multiple individuals for HOVs, which would give a more equitable indication of the value of the scarce resource (road space) for those using it.  It would also provide a revenue stream that may eventually be leveraged to provide more capacity if pricing gets particularly high.  Meanwhile, raising the HOV threshold to three or more occupants and then four, may be an interim measure, but leaves the question of excluding a wider group of users from the lanes at the time they most want to use them.

Those motorists unhappy about paying have always got a choice, they can use the untolled lanes that everyone else uses, including freight (which almost never is offered similar opportunities to save time and avoid congestion, even though the costs of delay for trucks can be significantly higher than that for car users).
Houston’s approach appears to be “buying time”, but I think the next obvious step is to start charging for HOV use at peak times.   The case for pure HOV lanes is not clear, and the Houston policy will need to be revisited sooner or later.  Bear in mind that Houston Metro is a transit authority, which means it is driven by promoting use of public transport in the city.  Whether that necessarily fits in best with maximising the efficient use of the existing highway network is not clear.  

London seeking to increase congestion charge prices

According to the Transport for London consultation website, it is proposed to increase the price of the London Congestion Charge, along with a wide range of other measures to incrementally reform the scheme.

The proposal would see a 15% increase in the standard charge from £10 (US$16.38) to £11.50 (US$18.84), with a similar nominal increase for registered automatic payment users (£9 (US$14.74) going to £10.50 (US$17.20)), as with fleet users (typically used for goods vehicles).  

Other charges to raise include the "pay next day charge" (the price for those who fail to pay on the day they travel, but pay on the next day) going from £12 (US$19.66) to £14 (US$22.93).

Those subject to the registered residents' discount see an increase in the daily charge from £0.90  (US$1.47- to £1.05 (US$1.72) per day.  Residents are those living within or immediately adjacent to the charging zone. 

The proposed increase would come into effect in June 2014 and is now subject to public consultation.

The intention is that is match inflation.  The basic charge was increased to £10 for the start of 2011, so is a 15% increase fair for mid 2014?  Given that inflation since 2011 has been closer to 3%  per annum, this would appear to be above inflation.

So what will London motorists who pay the charge (who are a small proportion of all London motorists) get for this?

It simply isn't clear.  It is fair to presume that the extra money raised will likely be spent on a number of initiatives around cycling safety on existing roads, and some intersection improvement works, although there has been no announcement of the expected revenue increase.  After all, part of the expectation is that the increased charge will result in a slight reduction in expected traffic levels.

It would be helpful if there was a bit more transparency around this.  Certainly the current Mayor Boris Johnson has presented himself, in contrast to previous Mayor Ken Livingstone, as not being "at war" with motorists and supporting measures to improve traffic flow.  However, very little is publicly announced about measures to achieve this.  Certainly there is no lack of potential projects to improve traffic flow on London roads.

I strongly suspect this increase will go through will little concern, largely because few Londoners pay it from day to day.  Only slightly more than half of London households have access to a car as it is, and cars come well behind trains, the underground and buses as a means of commuting into the charged zone.  However, it would be a good move if there was some indication that without such an increase, some improvements to highways might not proceed.   It is reasonable for those expected to pay to ask that question.  After all, fare increases tend to be touted in terms of paying for improvements (even though in many cases the fares don't may not recover the operating costs of the public transport services themselves), so should increases in the congestion charge.

Other measures

Other proposals are also set out in the consultation, most of which should not be controversial.

Happy New Year 2014

I wish all my readers a Happy New Year and hope 2014 brings them prosperity, good health and happiness for themselves and their loved ones.

I wish to apologise for the more haphazard level of writing in 2013.  That has been driven largely because of the tragic terminal illness of my father, who is suffering from laryngeal cancer.  I have spent some considerable time with him in the past nine months.  Secondly, work has been very busy in that time and so my free time to dedicate to this blog has been more limited than I would have liked (although I am far from unhappy about being busy with valuable work).

The past year in road pricing has seen continued growth in the application of tolling worldwide, and despite some controversy, network road pricing systems are about to be implemented in France for trucks, and in Belgium for trucks (and a vignette system for cars).  In the United States, difficulties in raising fuel taxes continue as states move forward either with expanding the application of tolls for new highways (e.g. in Texas and Florida) or in new forms of charging (e.g. Oregon's implementation of distance based highway taxation).  This appears to have percolated north, with stronger interest in forms of road pricing in Canada.

Gothenburg has now completed its first year of congestion pricing, although there is little sign of significant moves forward towards such pricing elsewhere.  More notably, Denmark seems to have backed off introducing congestion charging in Copenhagen.  

Fundamentally, the key problem faced by governments at all levels and highway authorities is that it is becoming less satisfactory to raise money from road users by taxing motor fuels, when vehicles fleets are becoming so much more efficient.  Parallel to that is growing resistance from voters to increases in such taxes, especially when they are sceptical as to whether politicians will use such revenues wisely.  Although motorists may resent them, at least tolled roads raise money for using roads directly and the revenue raised is spent on those roads.  Similarly, whilst economic slowdown in many countries has seen reduced concern for congestion, it still remains that major cities cannot significantly address traffic congestion by simply building more highway capacity or public transport capacity, but must address the underpricing of urban road capacity at peak times.  It is notable that cities such as Jakarta, Beijing and Shanghai appear to be at the forefront of considering congestion pricing, rather than those in Europe and North America.

Yet, despite all of this, there are significant challenges in convincing governments and voters of the merits of charging directly for road use.  For all of the economic arguments, there is a strong undercurrent of scepticism and resistance, as so many think that road pricing is just another way of governments to extract more money from them for little value.

When governments don't reduce other taxes or don't provide means to dedicate such revenue to (more of less) objectively defined high value projects, then I am hardly surprised.  Road pricing doesn't succeed when the whole governance, funding and management structures of roads are driven by short term political imperatives rather than delivering service to customers.  It is curious indeed that this problem is seen widely in the United States, and less widely in parts of Europe, where commercial and private sector management of major highways is more widespread and acceptable.  

Finally, it is worth talking briefly about technology.  Costs keep coming down, and most notably it is becoming clearer that there is a future in using smartphones, connected intelligently to vehicles, as a means of introducing road pricing.  It is becoming more difficult for opponents to road pricing to claim cost is a reason to reject it.  Their biggest argument remains a lack of trust towards those who would implement it.

It remains, in my view, that this is the key challenge.  In a political environment of mistrust of government, there is a need to recast arguments about road pricing in terms of changing the relationship between road users and the provision of roads.  In most jurisdictions, there remains little real useful feedback between road users and providers, and expectations remain low.  In a world where more automated road use is looking ever more likely in the medium term, this will have to change, simply because traditional political/engineering based ways of managing such infrastructure wont be dynamic enough.

Think how telecommunications and the internet would be if it were subject to political and bureaucratic horizons as to what you need.

That is today what happens with roads.

So whether you work as an infrastructure manager, engineer, policy maker, researcher, politician or a road user, think how much more innovative this sector could be, and what would happen if the cynicism and doubts so often seen are replaced with creativity and intelligent debate about practical change.  

Road pricing almost always will appear negative to those used for taking what exists for granted, it is the role of those of us who can see a vision of better highways, cities and transport networks to address the real concerns of so many.  It isn't about telling people how to get around, or punishing them, or trying to take more money from some to give to others with grand visions, but actually about being more rational about what is done now.