Time to reconsider road pricing: NTC

By: Jason Whittaker

Governments must stop sidestepping road pricing and start focussing on whether it is a viable solution to rising traffic congestion,

Governments must stop sidestepping road pricing and start focussing on whether it is a viable solution to rising traffic congestion, according to the National Transport Commission (NTC).

Speaking at Ports Australia’s annual conference this week, NTC Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos lamented the fact "no politician wants to go near" charging commuters and industry for using the road at certain times.

Dimopoulos questioned why there has been such slow progress on the issue when peak pricing is accepted in many areas of the economy, such as phones, airline tickets and cinemas.

"This is the right time for us to have an informed mature debate on road pricing options," Dimopoulos says.

"Why is transport excluded from the debate?"

During his speech, Dimopoulos pointed to the London model as one road pricing option. The city introduced a congestion tax, which he says cut the number of cars on the road and forced people onto public transport.

Dimopoulos says the revenue from the tax was then invested back into public transport.

But a report released today on congestion pricing options questions the success of the London model because it only extends to 3 percent of the city.

Moving urban Australia: can congestion charging unclog our roads? examines the benefits of congestion charging and lists a number of models policy makers can implement.

As well as London’s zone pricing method, the report looks at charging for road links and estuarial crossings.

It argues this method is better than cordon charging, which taxes motorists when they pass a certain line.

According to the report, there are a number of benefits to road pricing.

"Because it can discourage low-value usage, congestion charging can improve traffic flow and throughput, ensuring more efficient utilisation of road space," it says.

"In turn, this can reduce pressure for capacity expansion."

However, the report says there are a number of issues governments must address to ensure congestion charging can be a political, technical and fiscal success.
It says community support is essential and congestion charge levels must be transparent to reassure people they are not simply another motoring tax.

The report recommends a charging system be implemented at a local level because congestion is location specific. Under this method, the report says there will be no need for multiple layers of government to be involved, which in turn keeps co-ordination and administration costs low.

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