Congestion charging: do any politicians have the …?

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Yet another report has argued that congestion charging would reduce peak period congestion in a major Australian city. And yet again, politicians have dismissed the benefits out of hand. This time it is the Victorian state government who has unthinkingly decided that:

The government is not considering introducing a congestion tax

Congestion charging is basically an economic ‘no brainer’. If the revenue is put towards public transport then it is a policy that benefits commuters, is progressive in terms of impact and improves economic efficiency. It is a policy adopted in a variety of overseas countries. It is tried and tested – Singapore for example has used congestion charging since 1975. And yet politicians in Australia, to their shame, either lack the brains (or other male anatomical features) to introduce this simple, beneficial policy.

I have twice been part of recommendations to introduce congestion charging – first as a member of Victoria’s Infrastructure Planning Council in the early 2000s, then as part of my work with Joshua in “Finishing the job“. I suspect many of my colleagues have similar experience. I hope that the VCEC once again can push this ‘economic win’ in front of the Victorian government – and I hope our politicians show the courage to finally implement this reform.

11 Responses to "Congestion charging: do any politicians have the …?"
  1. Can’t imagine this working in Brisbane where most of the congestions occurs outside of the CBD.  The parking rates in the CBD prevent people from driving to and from work.  And few people drive through the city to get from A to B.  Almost all of the congestion is on highways of surrounding areas – like heading out to Ipswich.
    Can’t speak for other capital cities though.

  2. Not sure I agree Brad. At peak period, there is a lot of traffic on Coronation Dve, Ann Street and the parking lot that calls itself an expressway that runs along the river front next to the city.
    Brisbane may be logistically harder than Melbourne for congestion charging. The city area in Melbourne is relatively well ‘bounded’ so that the the boundaries of a congestion area can be easily defined and policed using electronic tolling (e.g. Hoddle St as an eastern bound, Alexandra Pde as a northern bound, etc).
    GPS and other technology also means that we can be a lot more creative in congestion charging than even a decade ago. For example, charges can depend on actual traffic flows (as already occurs in some cities in the US).  
    That said, the London charge uses antiquated technology (cameras and manual checking) but has been a success in terms of improving traffic flow. So pretty much anything is better than what we currently have – nothing!

  3. It still leaves the question of alternative routes or access to public transport.  Due to the winding river, sometimes there are few alternative routes in Brisbane.  Public transport is pretty good though.
    Generally like congestion charging, but needs to be fair for people with no way around.

  4. the ‘other way round’ can also be to choose a different time. For jobs where this is not immediately possible, it creates a financial incentive to try to find new ways. And if no other ways can be found, then those who really need their workers to travel at that time end up paying the true cost.

  5. Yes, a congestion tax is indeed a no-brainer.  One point often missed with them is that not only are they efficient, they are very progressive (which is the actual grounds upon which Red Ted Livingstone developed one for London).  Have a look how many of the cars in the CBD are 7-series BMWs – which is an easy point to make when selling the tax.

    The other point to sell the package would be to create visible, immediate and influential winners by earmarking it specifically to, say, provide rebates of car registration to rural users or by lowering ticket fares (NOT improving services – that’s not immediately visible) on public transport or something like that.

    Yes, I know there are much better uses for the money but it’s the sort of thing you have to do to get a new tax in – an overwhelming economic case is never politically sufficient to make it doable (vide carbon taxes, MRRT, GST, etc).

  6. Stephen, what about limiting congestion by limiting or taxing parking?  Parking charges often vary by time of day and location.  Can’t you achieve the same outcome, but without adding extra infrastructure, laws, and rules to hassle people?  Couldn’t you even be more precise than a cordon based charge, because you have a lot of parking spaces and car parks for which you can set the price, and these are located where people want to drive.
    Poorly planned parking limits and charges can cause people to drive around looking for spaces, but if well designed and communicated, might that not work better?

  7. Parking charges can help (potentially a lot) with congestion associated with traffic terminating at a destination but not with through traffic – so may help with the CBD but not Springvale Road (for a Melbourne example) which fully implemented congestion pricing will. Shoup has written in detail on economic issues associated with parking.

  8. Congestion is driven by the fact that the cities working population needs to be in one location at almost the same time.
    Congestion taxes are a stupid idea. Creating a tariff won’t change peoples commuting behaviour, it just takes money out of their pockets and forces them to pay more to do their job.
    Does it not make more sense to try and convince employers to give employees varying start times?
    Or get the government to provide incentives to move businesses and work locations away from one choke point (i.e. the cbd) and closer to where they live?
    Congestion charges just put dollars into the governments coffers.

  9. Living almost in Melbourne’s CBD, it is too time consuming to drive around to go South from Carlton. With a congestion tax it would be more time consuming. Would the immediate suburb dwellers be excluded or would we be subsidising the commuters.

  10. nathank, a time-and-place based congestion charge is an incentive to move business in both time and place.  And Barry, your trip would be far less time consuming because the roads would be less congested – London’s charge, for example, has dramatically slashed travel times around adjoining suburbs.

    Unfortunately DavidN is right – there are too many people who simply don’t think things through for the tax to fly politically.

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