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Chapter 6

Policy implications

The policy focus on congestion charging is born out of a confluence of trends.

Policy makers are encouraged to look at congestion charging because of rising road

congestion, the decreasing political and environmental palatability of undertaking

road construction, the quest for new revenue sources to fund infrastructure

expansion and the advances in road charging technology.

Congestion charging has been a theoretical concept for over fifty years, and has been

applied in various forms and scales in a few cities from the 1970s. However, it was the

adoption of congestion charging in Central London that has led to widespread policy

interest across the world.

Arguably this interest arises because the scheme is high-profile and has been subject

to political test at the ballot box. In this context it is notable that the major alternative

candidates for the London’s 2008 Mayor of London election campaign have said they

will retain the scheme, but would remove the ‘Western Extension’ of the charging

area.

This is a key factor to remember about the existing zone (cordon and area charging)

schemes: none of the schemes covers extensive areas of the cities where they have

been introduced—even the relatively large London scheme covers only 2.5 per

cent of Greater London, by area. The modest size, in itself, could explain much of

the political acceptability. Those who ‘lose’ from these schemes are relatively few

compared with those who win or are indifferent to a scheme.

The small physical size of the cordon and area zone schemes also reminds the policy

maker that, thus far, there are no schemes that provide a panacea for all of a city’s

congestion—at best, the cordon schemes to date offer solutions that apply only to

central areas. The Manchester cordon-zone scheme would encompass a large area

but the charging ‘bite’ would be limited to commuting traffic crossing the cordons; it

cannot address the congestion arising within the geographically-large zones.

Part of this focus on the central area arises from the pure mechanics of current

cordon-charging technology: if you make the charging ‘island’ too big then everyone

is inside the zone and the charge will not encourage sufficient behavioural change.

This limitation may be countered by adopting an area scheme but, as London’s area

scheme illustrates, the capital costs and operating costs rose dramatically and the

zone size still remains only a small proportion of the city.

In principle, area charging can provide the necessary bite. However, as the physical

area increases, the average charge for travelling within the zone will become less

representative of the diverse traffic conditions within that zone.

The consequences of pricing distortions and concessions can also be magnified

as area charging is widened. For instance, the Western Extension to London’s area

scheme significantly increased the number of drivers that were entitled to a 90 per

cent resident reduction.

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