Congestion charging (we don’t have it, and we may not need it)

Collins Street, Friday night

(Move your mouse over the vehicles)

In reporting a proposed congestion charge in Manchester, UK, some of the international media seem to have got a bit confused.

The Daily Mirror says: There are now also congestion charges in Stockholm, Melbourne and Toronto.

CNN reports: Melbourne, Australia, has imposed a charge for downtown driving since 2000.

No. Melbourne does not have a congestion charge. It has toll roads. They are completely different things. The toll only applies to Citylink (and shortly Eastlink), not to a myriad of other routes. It can be avoided.

Melbourne also has a CBD parking levy, which has marginally increased the price of central city parking. Unfortunately a lot of the money from this is being blundered away on a tourist bus service (they call it a “shuttle”, but actually it’s a loop).

At the Press Club luncheon yesterday, during the time for questions, I got up and reminded Brian Negus from RACV about the RACV’s 2004 prediction that petrol prices had peaked at $1.08 cents per litre, and asked what their current medium-to-long-term prediction is.

Brian didn’t give a direct answer, but instead said nobody really knew what would happen, and talked about wanting to get rid of excise, and replace it with a congestion tax.

It was a nonsense answer, of course, and I’m not really surprised he avoided a direct response, though I find it hard to believe the RACV hasn’t done some forecasting of global oil prices. (Hint: Supply is flat or has peaked; demand is up. Economics 101.)

Cutting excise would cost billions every year, and would benefit the rich (who buy the most petrol), and exacerbate emissions by removing the incentive to get off oil. It would also be swimming against the tide of expected oil price increases — with any benefit to motorists probably gone within a couple of years.

And a congestion tax? Perhaps it’s okay in theory, it’s certainly worked in London. But actually, in a world of increasing petrol prices, a tax on petrol does much the same thing. It stings you more for driving more. Unless you have a hybrid vehicle, it stings you more for driving in congested traffic. It stings you more for driving inefficient polluting vehicles. Why bother spending billions on vehicle tracking devices when plain ol’ petrol tax does a better job?

If anything, the tax should go up, with rego coming down, so you pay for driving your car, not having it in the garage 6 days a week. The problem is it would unfairly sting those in regional areas, who even if PT was genuinely competitive in urban areas would still have little choice but to drive.

If I’d had the chance, my second question to Brian Negus would have been about whether or not the RACV is properly representing its members in promoting endless roads expansion. They often quote polling saying their members think congestion will get worse, but never seem to produce anything saying their members want freeways under Melbourne Cemetery and Royal Park, or through the Yarra Flats and the landscapes of the Heidelberg School.

Not that I’m one of their members anymore.

PS. Vote today on whether you think the government should reduce the excise tax on fuel: Herald Sun poll.

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11 Replies to “Congestion charging (we don’t have it, and we may not need it)”

  1. Ranting now and off on a tangent, but I find this whole push from the public to reduce petrol taxes just infuriating…Really are people so short sighted?

    And then on top of that, hearing the cost involved with the new Myki system, PT overcrowding to continue and so on and so on.

    Why is it so simple to me to think most of those taxes are necessary and should be going to improving PT and yet the government don’t appear to be doing this and the guy on the street (for the most part) doesn’t agree with this?

  2. I know folks who believe they should turn off lights, use less water and commute on PT to work, but support the building of the new tunnel as necessary to the economy and to make it easier to get to the airport from the east.

    I wonder if we ‘compartmentalize’ our approach to ‘doing their bit’ for the environment? I think so.

    Like, OK we’ll turn the lights off because we don’t need them on anyway, next time we buy a fridge it will be a 4.5 star, take shorter showers. No brainers and no (real) cost. But talk about increasing electricity or petrol prices is met with indignation. Mention new/increased taxes and the government could fall!

    Maybe it’s a few things together – the hit on the wallet; habits we don’t want to change; comfort and convenience we don’t want to give up; and the lack of faith that gov will spend our taxes on solutions to the problems.

    I think it’s also that folks are not connecting all of the dots – the real links between our personal actions (and our society’s direction) and the impacts on the environment.

    I wonder why we are so sensitive to increasing petrol prices but not to food proces in the supermarket and how they bounce around and have increased dramatically these last 7 years? Do we have our priorities the wrong way around?

    And add a carbon tax to petrol, while we are at it!

  3. Ya know what would help change peoples minds and attitudes to the petrol panic?
    If the Govt decreased PT ticket prices and introduced more free travel hours on PT…except they’d be under even more pressure to extend the rail network, oops!

    Heard Kosky on ABC this morning with Jon Faine RE;Myki media stunt that failed yesterday – gawd that woman talks more rubbish than is found in a landfill!

  4. And a further correction to the Daily Mirror (unless things have changed radically in the 5 weeks since I left) Toronto doesn’t have a congestion charge either. And only one toll road.

  5. Reducing the tax only amounts to a few dollars per tankful saved. I really don’t think this has much of an impact on one’s household fuel budget. This is a stunt used by politicians to look as if they are doing something to lower fuel prices and help the public.

    I do not have a car yet and do not miss buying fuel. Most of the places I have lived in the USA one would be helpless and stranded without a car. When I eventually buy a car here in Melbourne I will drive it because I WANT to and not because I NEED to.

  6. Good on you for challenging that Negus person. He is a real thorn-in-the-side for rational urban planning and clever foresight. He belongs, like all other road lobbyists, in Los Angeles’ ceaseless traffic congestion.

  7. If anything PT prices will go up – that seems to the be the British strategy to reduce rail overcrowding!

  8. In relation to more equitable petrol taxing, why not have the excise dependent on how far the retailer is from the CBD of the nearest capital city?

    The excise could be at the maximum at in the CBD, falling 0.1 cents per litre every 2km from the CBD. Hence urban fringe areas 50km out would pay 2.5c/l less, while country areas 200km out would pay 10c/l less tax.

    However the fall-off would still be gentle enough so that driving out to pay a cheaper excise would never be worthwhile.

  9. Jonno said: “If anything PT prices will go up – that seems to the be the British strategy to reduce rail overcrowding!”

    You should see South West Trains – they decide that two carriages for a train heading INTO London during morning rush hour is ample space. (I don’t know myself – since I live in the North-west of England – but that’s what I’ve heard from a relative who lives in SW London.)

  10. I recently ridiculed the RACV over their views on PT. They are morons in my view who do not represent the views of the community or their members. Go on you Daniel for sticking it up Brian Negus, he has a very bad hairstyle that looks like a piece of roadkill that he ran over that he wears on his head.

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