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Chapter 1

Introduction

For all its vast expanse of country, Australia is highly urbanised with more than

two thirds of the population living in and around a capital city and two fifths living

in either Sydney or Melbourne. 1 Economic prosperity has also brought with it

continuing increases in traffic—significantly outpacing increases in road capacity,

and so increasing congestion.

The heart of our concern with congestion is that it degrades our mobility. We travel

to enrich our lives, tapping into the benefits that come with social, entertainment,

labour force and commerce linkages. Thus, as noted by the European Conference of

Ministers for Transport (ECMT), ‘what value (and benefits) mobility delivers lies in the

activities that mobility enables’ (ECMT 2007, p. 30).

Because congestion reduces our mobility, the quality of our lifestyles is devalued. It

makes journey times longer and less reliable and leads to stressful stop-start vehicle

operation; this imposes costs on driver and vehicle (wear and tear, increased fuel use

and pollution) and on the environment. As Downs observed:

One thing all global cities will have in common over the next several decades is rising

traffic congestion. Moreover, that condition will have immense impacts on the quality

of life, not only in those cities, but across the whole globe (Downs 2002).

Alarm over current and projected levels of congestion is widespread and policymakers

are searching for solutions. For instance, in September 2005, the then Victorian

Treasurer, John Brumby, announced the introduction of a ‘congestion levy’, an annual

charge for off-street long-stay parking spaces within Melbourne’s central business

district (CBD). He stated that:

Traffic congestion is a 21st Century challenge … Governments around the world are

grappling with how to maintain a city’s accessibility, while reducing traffic congestion

and related environmental impacts (Brumby 2005).

In February 2006, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) identified

congestion as a major issue and agreed to pursue policies to:

… reduce current and projected urban transport congestion, within current

jurisdictional responsibilities, informed by a review into the main causes, trends,

impacts and options for managing congestion focusing on national freight corridors

(COAG 2006).

The impetus for policy initiatives to tackle congestion arises from personal experiences

with congestion and from the quantification of ‘congestion costs’.

The commonly accepted costs that are quantified include time delays to road users,

incremental fuel costs arising from congestion, and loss of reliable travel and freight

movement. The aggregation of these costs is always a very large monetary value,

creating pressure for policy solutions. For instance, the cost of traffic congestion in

1. In 2001, 87 per cent of the population was classified as living in urban areas (ABS 2001).

1

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