Wednesday 31 July 2019

Will Jakarta get congestion pricing?

The Jakarta Globe claimed that Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) will be operational on some roads in Jakarta by March 2019, but clearly this hasn't happened. What has gone wrong?

I've written a lot about Jakarta's attempts to introduce congestion pricing in recent years.  In order from 2010 to 2016:

Coconut Jakarta said Inrix's most recent report indicated Jakarta has the world's 12th worst traffic.

Jakarta Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno now says it will be implemented after the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT - metro) line along Jalan Jenderal Sudirman to Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat is opened.  Coconut Jakarta also reports that Greater Jakarta Area Transportation Management Agency (BPTJ) head Bambang Prihartono has suggested charging for non-Jakarta registered vehicles to enter the city.  That may have some obvious appeal, although it would encourage commercial vehicles to register in Jakarta to avoid this (and provide a possible path for avoidance of private individuals registering vehicles through Jakarta based companies).  However, he is right to talk of ERP as the long term solution, that would enable mode shift to public transport if it is expanded sufficiently.

Where now?

Singapore's Straits Times says that 50% of vehicles in Jakarta come from outside the city, and that the first phase of the ERP scheme will be to charge for use on one road between two roundabouts - Jalan Jenderal Sudirman.  Phase Two would be an extension north along Jalan MH Thamrin.  Jalan Jenderal Sudirman already has bus rapid transit lane along much its length, and the MRT line is also under construction following that route.

Phase One (blue) Phase Two (orange) of Jakarta ERP (2018)
The choice of this route appears to be because it will parallel public transport options, as well as being a particularly congested corridor.  Care may need to be taken to ensure charging points minimise opportunities for diversion, otherwise nearby routes.    


The last report on the plan was to await installation of congestion pricing until Jakarta's metro system opens. The first phase opened on 24 March 2019 (the Red Line), but there are wider problems with implementing congestion pricing in Jakarta.

Jakarta's MRT (metro)

The main issue is that the tendering process for the system has been undermined by two of the three shortlisted bidders withdrawing (namely QFree and Kapsch, both well known for their experience in installing tolling systems) leaving only the Indonesian firm PT Bali Towerindo Sentra remaining.  One can only speculate about their reasons for withdrawing, but in doing so there is clearly insufficient confidence from the authorities to proceed.

The Governor of Jakarta has since indicated that it is "more important" to upgrade public transport than to introduce ERP, yet it is fairly obvious that the latter could help the former.  Even just introducing the single ERP corridor charge would make it much easier to introduce more rapid and frequent bus services on that corridor, and raise revenue to to improve transport infrastructure more widely.  The public transport goal is to get 90% of residents able to access either the metro (MRT) or bus rapid transit, with the current position being around 20%, but they could be introduced hand in hand.

There is another issue which is not getting much publicity, but is more fundamental to the success or failure of congestion pricing - the quality and reliability of automatic number plate detection to enforce ERP.

False number plates, and poor data linking vehicles to owners' addresses is a problem in Indonesia, which would make enforcement of ERP in Jakarta difficult.  This is a responsibility of the Police, who understandably are less enthused about addressing a problem which is more about traffic management than crime.

If the fundamental problem of fake number plates and an unreliable database are not addressed, then congestion pricing can't be implemented.  Simple as that.  As I've said before, if Jakarta can't implement free flow tolls on its existing tolled road network, it is not going to reliably introduce congestion pricing. 

No doubt reforming and upgrading both the number plate system, the enforcement of number plates and the database and processes for changing data on vehicle number plates is not easy in Jakarta, but it is going to be key to moving forward.  Whilst Jakarta embarks on upgrading its public transport network, it should move ahead on reforming this, use it to replace manual tolls on existing toll roads (which in itself will ease congestion on and approaching those roads), giving it a modern vehicle management infrastructure to introduce ERP.

Monday 29 July 2019

Australia's National Heavy Vehicle Charging Pilot : Small-scale on-road trial of heavy vehicle charging is launched

Last Thursday (25 July 2019), Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, The Hon. Michael McCormack along with The Hon Scott Buchholz MP, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport formally launched Australia's first nationwide on-road trial of heavy vehicle road user charging.

The press release is here, with more details on the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development ("the Department") website here.

In short, it involves:
  • Up to eleven heavy vehicle operators (truck and bus) using on-board telematics systems that they were already using in their vehicles (commercial telematic systems used for fleet management purposes);
  • Up to 111 vehicles will be included (so an average of a maximum of ten vehicles per fleet);
  • A trial of six months duration;
  • Operators to use existing systems to report vehicle configuration;
  • Each operator will receive mock invoices generated by measurement of road use using the telematics systems on each participating vehicle, which will enable comparison of hypothetical charges with current charges
The trial will assess the experience of heavy vehicle users in receiving mock invoices to compare what they might pay under distance/mass/configuration based charging compared to the current mix of annual registration fees and fuel tax.  The idea being that charging by distance could replace such charges.  The diagram below from the Department indicates its plan to follow the small-scale trial with a large-scale trial next year on a much bigger scale and complexity. 

Australia's heavy vehicle charging trial programme
The small scale trial will use only one technology - existing telematics systems (which by necessity are all GNSS based On-Board Units (OBUs). The large scale trial could also include manual options to report distance, and an option to report actual mass.  However, further details of the large scale trial will be developed in the coming months, and is likely to be informed by the progress and evaluation of the small scale trial, and engagement with stakeholders (including heavy vehicle user representative organisations).

The operators participating in the small-scale trial are:
This is quite a range including local and national operators, with operators based in several states.  Telematics providers supporting the trial (providing the systems used by those operators) are:
The trials are part of a wider programme of reform of the provision of roads for heavy vehicles in Australia called Heavy Vehicle Road Reform.  The first phase of this is set out here, and involves improving transparency about spending, asset management and the levels of service provided to heavy vehicle road users. 

Other reforms as part of this include consideration of independent price regulation of the setting of heavy vehicle charges (including existing registration fees and the fuel-based charge), and measures to more closely link revenue collected from heavy vehicles to road managers for investment in their networks.

It is clear that it is early days and no decision has been made by the Australian Government to change how heavy vehicles are charged in Australia, and any decision to do so is likely to be some years away. 

It will be interesting to watch the small scale trial with interest, particularly what the responses of participants are and the lessons that the Department will learn from the trial to develop the larger scale trial and inform wider reforms. 

Disclosure:  D'Artagnan has been providing technical advice to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development on heavy vehicle charging trials.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Congestion pricing - the United States awakens

Singapore pioneered a basic form of urban congestion pricing in 1975, and introduced what is still the most sophisticated, economically rational and effective congestion pricing in the world in 1998, called ERP (Electronic Road Pricing).  In 2020 it is transitioning its operating technology to GNSS On Board Units (albeit to initially apply the same mix of corridor and cordon charging as applies today, but with the focus on delivering more information about pricing, traffic, parking and alternative modes through the system).

However, if you've been following the recent very public debates and commentaries about congestion pricing in the USA you'd be excused for thinking it is new and innovative.  Innovative it is, it is just that the US has come a bit late to the concept, but what is driving it is not so much congestion, but the desire to use congestion pricing to raise revenue - typically not for roads.

For many years congestion pricing in the USA has largely been referred to in the context of express/HOT/toll lanes. Although such lanes offer options to pay to bypass congestion on some highways, they are not "comprehensive" in addressing congestion and more importantly are not technically able to be implementing except on roads with limited access. In most cases they have been implemented by converting high occupancy vehicle lanes to HOT/toll lanes. It is rarely economic to build new lanes and charge just for them (because there is insufficient willingness to pay for the capital costs of new capacity, particularly when such capacity may only be utilised for short periods during weekdays), so HOT/toll lanes are rarely seen outside the USA.

The positive example of toll lanes is that they demonstrate that the instrument of price is effective in managing demand so that a road can operate in free flow conditions, but of course such lanes are not practical on most roads and they always have an unpriced alternative.  At best they offer an option in some cases, and demonstrate the concept.

So full congestion pricing has not been seen in the US to date. By that I don't mean having peak pricing on an existing toll road to spread demand on that road (this is seen on many crossings, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, E-407 Toronto and the Sydney Harbour Crossings), but rather pricing of a network or placing a cordon (either on its own or as an area charge) on a zone, with priced access at set times/days.

This isn't common as all. Although there are many low emission zones in European cities (which prohibit or heavily charge vehicles that don't meet low or ultra-low emission standards) and restricted access zones to cities (this is seen in many Italian cities, keen to preserve historic centres of cities ill suited to large volumes of vehicle traffic), the only cities that charge a network or a zone for access on a significant scale are:

- Singapore

- London

- Stockholm

- Gothenburg

- Milan

- Dubai

- Tehran.

There are a handful of smaller examples, Oslo transitioned from a cordon set up for revenue raising to one that has a congestion management purpose now, but by and large congestion pricing is hard to implement.  It's been investigated in multiple cities in the UK (Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh) and elsewhere in Europe (Dublin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki), but has always come up against one major issue - public opposition.

What has woken up the US?

How about the US then? Suddenly cities, states and the media have discovered congestion pricing because of one simple reason - New York is going to do it. This follows previous attempts to introduce it, most notably by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had his proposal for a cordon on lower Manhattan vetoed by the State Legislature.

The New York Senate and Assembly have approved it, along with the State Governor. The details are to be worked out by a new Traffic Mobility Review Board, but it is essentially a cordon that starts at 60th St, excluding FDR Drive and the West Side Highway. All of the net revenue is to spent on the public transport network, specifically the subway, bus network, the Long Island RailRoad and Metro-North. Private cars are only to be charged once a day, whereas ridehailing/sharing and taxi services are already subject to a surcharge of between US$0.75-US$2.75 per trip, depending on the service since 2 February 2019.  Although Charles Komanoff indicates that the effects will be much less than promised (still a 2.5% increase in average traffic speeds is worthwhile).

Some of the details to be worked out include:

· Charge rates (will they vary by vehicle type)

· Area charge (will vehicles be charged for circulating within the cordon as well as or separately from crossing the cordon)

· Direction of charge (will there be a charge for entering AND exiting the cordon)

· Time of operation

· Variation of charge by time of day

· Discounts and exemptions (it might be fair to assume that emergency vehicles and NYC transit vehicles might be exempt, but will the ride hail/share surcharge liable vehicles be exempt too)

· How those entering lower Manhattan on tolled crossings will be treated

New York is basically implementing a simple charge, primarily to raise revenue for other modes, so it will be interesting to see what impact it has and whether it is designed to spread demand by time of day, as much as it is to raise revenue. It will clearly be a trailblazer, although it is unlikely that other US city has either the density of public transport or geography to lend itself to a relatively simple cordon as the solution.

What about the rest of the US?

San Francisco has studied charging before, and looks like pursuing it again. The San Francisco County Transportation Board Authority voted earlier this year to spend US$0.5m on a study of downtown congestion pricing, suggesting that it has already decided that a downtown cordon is worth pursuing. It will be interesting to see what impacts that might have, and particularly how boundary issues are addressed. The San Francisco Mobility Trends report indicated that "vehicular traffic entering San Francisco grew 27% since 2010, although public transport use also rose 5% and cycling by 6%, on a 9% population increase (indicating that the growth in population is pushing a big increase in driving), with a decrease in private car travel speeds by 23%. It's hardly surprising that pricing access to downtown is a priority, although hopefully it will mean pricing that varies by time of day.

Los Angeles has already had a study released by Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) which proposed a pilot cordon at Westside LA, for a number of reasons (see page 94 of the below report).

Proposed Westside LA cordon from SCAG study

 The Mobility Go Zone and Pricing Feasibility Study indicated that it could result in a 19% drop in private cars entering charged zones, and a 9% mode shift to public transit, with 7% each to walking and cycling. Whilst this might be a good place to start, LA is going to need a much more comprehensive solution to address congestion across the region. LA Metro is about to launch a study that looks more widely at options, with the intention that pricing would support a package of improvements to public transport and active modes.

Boston, Portland, Seattle and Washington DC are all considering congestion pricing, which has to be welcome. The US has gone through a couple of eras in urban transport policy, from the 1940s to the 1970s the focus was almost entirely on building roads to meet demand. That has tailed off, with a focus from the 1970s of building (mostly rail-based) public transport infrastructure to try to attract motorists from their cars, in other words supplying alternatives. More recently, cycling has had a boost in some cities, but the primary argument in all cities is one of what to supply, rather than how to manage existing demand and supply.