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Public transport the key to traffic relief 13/12/2014

Congestion charging has received a lot of coverage over the past couple of weeks and it is worthwhile having a closer look at the issues.

Congestion charging has received a lot of coverage over the past couple of weeks and it is worthwhile having a closer look at the issues.

Congestion charging is used in urban areas around the world to flatten peak traffic loads.  This means charging people a fee to use the road infrastructure at set times to encourage people to think about alternatives.  In London a daily charge of £10 to access central London has resulted in a 21% reduction in vehicle kilometres.  There are two sides to the story with critics saying that the congestion charging has not improved traffic speeds, rather substituted lower income drivers for those that can afford it or have no choice, as the population has increased by over a million people in the same period.  

Singapore was the first to implement a congestion charge in 1975, upgrading the system in 1998 to become the first electronic road toll collection system for the purposes of congestion pricing.  Rome followed in 2001, then London (2005), Stockholm (2006) and Milan (2008).  

Singapore is moving to introduce real time variable pricing which responds to traffic conditions.  By providing early advice of congestion the system delivers a “carrot and stick” approach, allowing drivers to make a choice about whether to use a busy, expensive route or find an alternative, if there is one. 

Congestion charging in Singapore is credited with reducing traffic volumes on designated routes by 25,000 vehicles an hour with average road speeds lifting by 20 percent.  It did however, have flow on impacts to surrounding areas, shifting some of the traffic rather than permanently reducing it. 

Penalties do not replace the need for frequent, quality public transport and a highly efficient road transport system.  The challenge for state governments is the sheer scale of investment required to manage our growing transport needs. 

In a maturing city like Perth high levels of investment are essential as increasing residential density can add to congestion if the public transport system does not keep pace with demand.  It is also critical to continue to invest in road infrastructure as only some trips can be transferred to public transport. 

The reality is that Western Australians fund transport infrastructure; this is true even for public private partnerships as that investment requires a financial return collected through taxes, tolls or tickets.  If additional funds are required, maybe the starting point is a bi-partisan transport plan which shows just what those extra dollars would deliver.

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