Monday 4 November 2019

Israel tests reverse congestion pricing, but rejects actual congestion pricing

In 2013, Israel tested a form of reverse congestion pricing, which had parallels to the Spitsvrij and Spitscoren schemes trialled in the Netherlands.  According to CTech:

Back then, 400 out of 1,200 participants decreased their rush-hour travels by 16.4% on average, netting a few thousand shekels in the process. 

In essence it involve regular users of a road being paid money to reduce their road use, which in turn reduces congestion by incentivising them to drive less at peak times, choosing to change travel time, mode or frequency of travel.  The same report indicates that the new reverse congestion pricing pilot scheme will see participants granted a travel budget of ILS4500 (US$1276) which will be drawn down by peak time driving, but topped up by carpooling.  The idea being that at the end of the pilot, participants will be able to receive the remainder of their budget if they have saved it (with a cap of ILS2000).

It is being led by Ayalon Highways Company, a state road company, with assistance from two suppliers (Pointer Telocation and Pango Pay & Go).  The system will necessarily involve GNSS devices to identify where, when and how far participants drive.

Three stage pilot

The first step will see 500 participants recruited from the previous 2013 trial, mainly for a testing phase of three months.  This will be followed by a much wider recruitment effort, with another 4,500 participants to be recruited from the general public.

If successful, the report indicated that it may see up to 100,000 recruited, in 5,000 participant groups every few months.  If this is the case, it will be quite some budget for that many participants.  Think of 100,000 x ILS4500 = ILS450m (US$128m) to pay people to not drive.  

Actual congestion pricing

Paying people to not drive proves the effectiveness of financial incentives to change behaviour, but it is expensive and can raise questions about how fair it is for taxpayers' money to be spent on the most frequent drivers NOT driving (when those who don't drive at peak times at all wont get rewarded for not congesting traffic).

Real congestion pricing is more sustainable and likely to be just as effective, but Times of Israel reported that a cordon charge had implicitly been considered for Tel Aviv but with no details, noting that the toll lane instituted on Highway 1 had made little difference.

Israeli business publication Globes reported the view of the Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich:

There is no reason to impose a congestion fee at this time, because a congestion fee penalizes the public in order to persuade people to travel on public transportation - but people have no alternative. You don't levy fines when people have no alternative. The time is not ripe to impose a congestion feel on the public, despite the temptation to do it in order to reduce the budget deficit.

Unfortunately, the oft-repeated view that congestion pricing needs public transport as an alternative for all users continues to be spread.  There are other alternatives, as a well designed congestion pricing scheme would encourage changing the time of trips, and also note that at peak times some trips should be discouraged (e.g. social, recreational), with the alternative being to not travel or travel at another time.  Furthermore, congestion pricing could help offset other taxes or charges on motorists as well.

Hopefully the expansion of reverse congestion pricing might generate further innovative thinking to help encourage some application of actual congestion pricing in Israel.