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Chapter 3 | Congestion charging as an alternative strategy

The purpose of this discussion is not to support either the calculations of Transport

for London or those of its major critics. Rather, it is to make clear that it is possible to

assess the economic merits of a congestion charging scheme and this is an essential

tool for policy and planning. Key elements in the assessment are the capital and

operating costs. A policy consequence of these conflicting verdicts on the London

scheme is that it is imperative to apply sensitivity analysis when assessing a scheme.

3.10 Transferability of overseas experiences

The keystone for successful congestion charging schemes is that they bring about

some change in road user behaviour—essentially a reduction in peak-hour use.

Often, only a modest reduction in use during congested periods is required to

significantly improve road traffic flow. But, still, that behavioural change is required,

and that change depends on some drivers reducing their travel or changing their

departure times, routes or modes.

For any congestion charging system to work (in that the cost of the system can

be justified by the gains from the

behavioural change), these alternatives

must have some attraction. Authorities

generally have little influence over

flexibility of road users’ departure

time and are similarly constrained in

providing alternative routes. Thus, they

logically focus on encouraging the use

of alternate modes—in particular, public

transport.

To be successful, a scheme needs to

reduce vehicle numbers on the road.

Often, only a modest reduction in

numbers delivers a significant increase

in traffic flow.

However, even with the cost of private motoring increasing when a congestion charge

is introduced, there are many challenges to achieving a mode shift. As observed by

March:

… if the transit system does not provide adequate service between auto users’ trip

origins and destinations, particularly in the growing suburban communities outside

the urban core areas, the shift to transit [will] probably not occur (March 2006, p. 8).

The difficulty that authorities face in providing public transport that matches the

comfort, flexibility and travel time of private vehicles is often a function of the

urban form.

Table 3.2 presents population and population densities of a range of cities—one

perspective of the urban form. This form strongly influences the ability of cities

to justify and provide comprehensive modes of transport that complement and

substitute for private vehicles.

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