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Chapter 3 | Congestion charging as an alternative strategy

Figure 3.6 Congestion dominates road user externalities

20

16

UK pence per vehicle mile

12

8

4

0

Congestion Accidents Air pollution Noise Climate

change

Upper estimate

Lower estimate

Source: Adapted from CfIT (UK) (2002a, p. 17).

For most countries, congestion costs represent the single most significant external cost

of road use, as illustrated by the (European) estimates of external costs in Figure 3.6.

Thus, it is not surprising that many road authorities see the primary purpose of

congestion charging as reducing congestion. While not always explicitly stated, it is

often implied in statements such as ‘to encourage casual motorists to clear the toll

road during commuter rush hours’; ‘to impose road pricing regulations to control

traffic’ (Southampton City Council undated) or ‘a management technique that can be

employed to moderate demand’ (Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority 2005, p. 2).

Some references are even more oblique, such as the discussion of pricing policy in

the Netherlands, where it was noted that ‘not all ambitions for the roadways can be

achieved with investment alone’ and that different ‘methods are being developed to

pay for mobility … A pricing policy is inevitable’ (UNECE 2004, p. 1).

When he was United Kingdom (UK) Transport Minister, Stephen Ladyman stated that

the national congestion charging scheme plan, that was mooted for introduction in 10

to 15 years (but subsequently abandoned), was ‘entirely about relieving congestion.

It’s not about the environment or raising additional revenue.’ However, Ladyman

added that ‘it may be that a system that meets our needs with regard to congestion

can then be tweaked to address environmental issues as well’. This is exactly what has

occurred with the 2008 evolution of the London Congestion Charge into a congestion/

environmental charge.

Estimates of reductions in pollution costs due to congestion charging could make

this ‘tweaking’ worthwhile. The analysis in the Air Quality Strategy for England,

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (DEFRA (UK) 2006, p. 115) indicates that

congestion charging could generate health benefits of up to 398 000 life years saved

and significant benefits to society of around £200 million per annum of air quality

benefits alone (while recognising that the total benefits of a national scheme may be

much higher than this). The study also indicates that a national system of congestion

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