Today’s Sunday Age has a front page story exploring a ‘radical idea’ for public transport: make it free. They argue that for $340m in lost revenue per year 25 to 30% more people would use public transport saving road congestion and obviating the need for more stronger measures to eliminate traffic from the CBD.
In our book, Finishing the Job (2004), Stephen King and I argued for a similar plan; although we went further. We believed that you could fund all of this by putting ‘Citilink’ style tolls on all roads, using congestion pricing and then taking that revenue to fund free public transport. Actually, we figured that if e-Tags could be used to charge cards why couldn’t they be used to credit public transport users. So get on a tram, swip your card and you get a credit. The result would be a technological means of pricing the externalities, better incentives and an improved environment.
So we don’t think The Age idea is all that radical but blindingly sensible. The real mystery is why so-called environmentally conscious governments do not consider them.