Monday 31 March 2014

Talk again of congestion charging in Beijing

Anyone who visits Beijing can't help but notice the intensity of the levels of traffic in the city, which parallel the toxic atmosphere that blankets it as well.  Whilst it is unfair to blame Beijing's air primarily on road transport (Beijing did have many heavy industrial plants located there as part of a Maoist policy of glorifying such industry), it is clear that the excess demand for the available road space is not only strangling the city economically, but also contributing to its suffocation by pollution.

I've written before about the challenges in implementing congestion pricing in Beijing:

My view is that it can be done, but is probably best implemented on a zonal basis at this stage, with the key issue being able to enforce against number plates in a consistent, fair and well managed way. 

China Radio International reports that "The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau has announced that it will draw up policies related to a congestion charge in a newly issued document."

Friday 28 March 2014

Significant steps forward in New York, Finland, Germany and Australia

I've been busy, and meanwhile lots has been going on in the world of road pricing.  All of which I will giving more attention in the coming week or so.

They are:
- New push for tolling reform in New York that if implemented, would effectively be a congestion pricing scheme for the city that benefits residents of outer suburbs;
- A Ministry of Transport and Communications Working Group in Finland has recommended that the country move away from ownership based taxes to a "kilometre based" tax system;
- Germany is expanding the scope of its distance based truck toll and will introduce a private car vignette from 2016;
- Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, a lobby group advocating reform of infrastructure policy, has published a discussion paper, notably with several major Australian motoring associations, advocating fundamental reform of road transport taxation and charging, with a strong push to shift away from ownership and fuel taxes, to direct road pricing.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

UK HGV levy to start on 1 April

Private company Northgate Public services has been contracted to develop and manage the payment system for the UK's "HGV levy" as it is officially called. 

It is, in fact, a truck vignette, similar to the Eurovignette (used in the Benelux countries, Sweden and Denmark), and the separate truck vignettes operating in a handful of other countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Lithuania).  Truck operators will need to prepay for access to all of the roads in the UK with the vignette, based on time.

To be fair Northgate is not responsible for the entire system, but rather the payment system for foreign users.  UK registered lorry owners will continue to pay the equivalent levy - but this time in parallel with the annual Vehicle Excise Duty payment - with the DVLA.  I know the European Commission has been less than impressed by this, but as long as vehicles are treated in a non-discriminatory matter then it shouldn't be an issue (although it does appear than, on compliance costs, UK trucks have an advantage).

A leaflet (PDF) about the system is published here, and there is a schedule of charges which vary by time (one day, one week, one month or one year), but more importantly by weight.  The aim being to have some reflection of the marginal costs heavier vehicles impose on the highway network.   It reminds me somewhat of the weight related schedule of charges for New Zealand's Road User Charge system, which given it charges by distance and weight is obviously a more efficient reflection of recovery of such costs. 

Monday 17 March 2014

Belgian truck toll moving forward, but car vignette shelved in favour of investigating distance charging

I wrote over two years ago about Belgium's efforts (or rather the federal constituent parts of Belgium) to introduce a nationwide truck tolling system, in parallel with a light vehicle vignette.  The truck toll part of it is moving forward, but the charge for light vehicles is on a different timescale.  The vignette has been cancelled, as the three Belgian regional governments look at alternative solutions.

Distance based truck tolling

The three Belgian regions are currently mid-tender for procuring a heavy vehicle distance based tolling system.   It is currently branded as Viapass. The entire system will be developed, built, financed, maintained and managed  by a single private consortium (yet to be selected).

The consortia that were shortlisted in late 2013 were:

Friday 14 March 2014

Road pricing discussed in Vancouver - for revenue or for demand management?

Vancouver's problem is financial.  It wants more money, but it is also considering how best to sustainably improve the future of its transport networks.

Simon Fraser University's Moving in Metro page has a good collection of articles and presentations about the debate in Vancouver.

However, it appears the debate is moving towards proposals for a referendum on how to pay for public transport.  An option that appears to have a range of options, excluding one - that users might be asked to pay.

The Globe and Mail reports that there is now debate about whether to include road pricing and bridge tolls (a blunt option) to raise revenue for public transport.   The Provincial Government is apparently opposed to inclusion of "regional tolls" and "road pricing".

The report gives a good summary of the key issue:

The exchange is just the latest in what has been a five-year tussle between Lower Mainland mayors and the province in trying to figure out a way to pay for major transit improvements.

The two big projects on the horizon are a $3-billion subway line in Vancouver, from Commercial Drive to the University of B.C., and a $2-billion light-rail system in Surrey that would connect its city centre with three other important nodes.

Right now, TransLink, the regional agency that oversees transit, along with some roads and bridges in the region, pays for everything mainly through fares, property taxes and gas taxes.

That doesn’t provide the money to take on any more big construction projects, since the agency is already making payments for its hefty share of the recently built Canada Line and the Evergreen Line, currently under construction....

But the province has blown hot and cold on various suggestions, including tolls, road pricing, a vehicle levy, a regional sales tax and carbon-tax revenue.

The big mistake that could be made is that a solution is developed based on raising revenue rather than the impact on transport use and economic benefits.

It is clear that there could be reforms of taxation and funding of transport in Vancouver and the Province as a whole, and that there will be new pressures as Washington State progresses towards supplementing or replacing fuel taxation with road user charging based on distance.

However, the debate hasn't really gone far enough into focusing on how to treat road pricing.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Singapore confirming its shift to GNSS based urban road pricing

Singapore newspaper TODAY reports that the Singaporean government is going to replace the existing congestion pricing system (called ERP - Electronic Road Pricing) by 2020, implicitly with a GNSS based system that will allow more dynamic and variable pricing by individual road and time of day.

This follows trials that have occurred in the past few years, which included a number of prospective suppliers.

The report states:

The new system will allow the Government to calibrate the charging of motorists in proportion to the congested road segments that they use — “a fairer approach”, as Mrs Teo put it. It can also provide value-added services, such as navigation, payment for roadside parking in lieu of parking coupons and real-time traffic information.

It also explains a number of other measures to support car-sharing schemes, incentives to promote purchases of newer vehicles including discounts to the Certificates of Entitlement (permits to own motor vehicles) for those buying vehicles with the cleanest burning engines.

Whilst Singapore is different from many cities (not least being a city state, with a reputation for having quite strict laws), this move is significant.  

Singapore may be the first city in the world to introduce congestion pricing using GNSS technologies.   It will be able to set and vary charges on roads at little cost, and be able to be as flexible as it wishes in how it sets charges (and Singapore is already the world leader on this).  As such it is the holy grail of marginal road pricing, because it gets away from the need to install specialist equipment on every road, and means time and place based pricing can be implemented.

With six years to implement, Singapore has plenty of time to get it right.  What will be interesting is what other cities will follow, or if any dare to do so in advance of Singapore.

Meanwhile,  Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo insists that no new roads will be charged during the transition, and no new gantries will be introduced.  That's a relief, given the size of ERP gantries is enormous - partly due to the technology available at the time (1997) and because the system involves not just detection of a vehicle tag, but a read/write application to deduct funds from prepaid smartcards.  

Whilst some Singaporeans are concerned about privacy, I suspect others will be pleased to see the back of these gantries once the new system is in place.

Singapore ERP gantry

According to TODAY, tenders will be called in the coming months to develop and build the system.

A complete interactive map of all Singapore ERP gantries is available here, where you can click on each gantry, see its hours of operation and the different prices which in some cases vary on increments of five minutes.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

City of Cupertino’s opposition to HOT lane misguided

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the City of Cupertino is opposing a proposed conversion of a HOV lane on California State Route 85 on grounds that unfortunately very misguided and seem to more of a kneejerk response to political polemic than being evidence based. The proposal is to convert existing HOV lanes on the highway to HOT lanes, extending them slightly to the south on route 101. Full details are given here. 

It includes adding a lane between SR80 and I-280 by using the median strip land, another auxiliary lane and some bridge widening. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrans are pushing the project, which has yet to be approved for funding, to get better utilisation out of existing lanes, whilst preserving the lanes availability for HOVs included buses.  Cupertino appears almost ideologically opposed to the project.

The FAQs about the project and how the lanes will work from here, but I find Cupertino's concerns (detailed here) as worthy of a response.  I also think they miss my key criticism of HOT lane schemes - that they don't always appear to be based on financial or economic viability.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

News briefs - Australia, Belarus, Israel

Australia - Queensland Government to privatise motorway company

Queensland Motorways is a company owned by the Queensland Investment Corporation, the Queensland State Government's holding company for commercial state owned enterprises.  It owns three key toll roads in Queensland, but also acquired from Brisbane City Council the Go Between Bridge, which I profiled over two years ago as being an unprofitable disaster.

Queensland Motorways have paid the Council A$112 (US$98) million for the 50 year tolling rights to the bridge.

Previously it acquired the disastrous Clem 7 toll tunnel motorway, which is subject to a lawsuit over demand and revenue forecasts.  It paid A$618 million (US$538 million) for the road, not bad given it cost A$3 billion to build.

So now the Queensland Government thinks it is a good time to divest itself of this investment.  The Australian reports it is worth about A$4 billion (US$3.5 billion)

The report says:

Groups likely to be interested in Queensland Motorways include superannuation heavyweight Industry Funds Management, Abertis/Hastings and groups out of Canada including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board or the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

Of the listed groups, Transurban could purchase the asset with partners, a source said.

Belarus - tolling of existing highways to be expanded

ITS International reports that the Belarus electronic toll system has been expanded to a network of 118km of highways as of January 2014.  This expands the extent of the network to 933km, with the whole system installed and operated by well-known Austrian toll systems provider, Kapsch.   The expanded network will include eleven new gantries for charging and enforcement. The report claims that customers are registered from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Lithuania.

The system uses DSRC, not GNSS technology, paralleling that which has long been in place in Austria, and similar systems on networks in the Czech Republic and Poland.

I wrote about the Belarus system a couple of years ago.   It is branded BelTol  and charges cars €0.04 (US$0.06)  and up to €0.12 (US$0.17)  per km for trucks. Both rates seem rather cheap.  Germany charges between €0.14 and €0.29 per km for trucks, Slovakia €0.08-€0.24 and Austria €0.16-€0.44 per km.   No toll system in Western Europe charges cars by distance across a network electronically.

Israel - New HOT lane being studied

According to Israeli business news website, GLOBES, Ayalon Highways Ltd (a central government owned company responsible for managing Israel's Highway 20) is investigating the value of introducing a HOT Lane on the highway between Roads 1 and 5.  

However, the report is contradictory, which some claiming that a lane will be taken from the existing road, and the Ministry of Transport claiming that discussions are about a new (additional lane).  

The road will connect with the privately owned H-1 HOT lane that was opened in 2011 between Ben Gurion Airport and Highway 20, which I noted at the time,  and is driven entirely by heavy congestion on the existing lanes.  

The proposed lane would offer toll free access for buses, but the "high occupancy" requirement would be 4 car passengers, suggesting that there is a real interest in ensuring the lane maintains a good level of service, although it is far too early to consider what the potential toll levels would be.

Proposed new HOT lane in blue, existing H1 lane in yellow