(One of those posts which I feel like could do with some more polish, but haven’t had time. I know the comments will help boost its worth.)
At what point will we have road pricing?
Here are some thoughts.
The current situation doesn’t make sense
The current mix of toll roads and free roads in Melbourne doesn’t really make sense.
For instance depending on trip source and destination, outside peak times it can be almost as fast to drive via King Street (free) as the Bolte Bridge ($2.97).
Ditto Kings Way/Queens Road/Dandenong Road (free) compared to the Burnley Tunnel and Citylink to the Monash Freeway (an eye-watering $7.72).
Ideally you want longer-distance/through trips on the motorways, but if the time advantage often isn’t there, there’s no incentive to use the tollways.
What we have now is not a holistic approach; it’s not trying to achieve any particular traffic flow outcome. Instead, the toll fees are based on trying to recoup investment costs on a specific part of the network, from 20 years ago.
The equivalent might be to build a new suburban train line and charge huge fares for that, while neighbouring lines were the regular $4.10 fare. It makes no sense in the context of the overall network.
Fuel taxes might eventually disappear
Fuel taxes now are based on the assumption that cars are powered by fossil fuels. While they don’t pay for the costs of roads, it’s better to have that revenue than not.
If electric cars take over, that revenue stream will disappear.
“Make public transport better first”
Often people will say you can’t impose road pricing or a congestion tax without first improving public transport. Fair point.
But what does Success look like? What criteria do you use?
Some train lines have doubled in frequency in the past 20 years. Some (at some times) have quadrupled in frequency. … Some are much the same.
The CBD has mass transit in all directions, with many (out to Footscray, Clifton Hill, Burnley and as far as Ringwood at times, Dandenong and Frankston) providing trains every 10 minutes, 7 days a week. But people still need to be able to get onto trains; car parks will never be big enough, and outer-suburban connecting buses are mostly inadequate.
It certainly needs to get better, but at some point you’re going to have to say it’s not an excuse anymore.
Perhaps the opening of the metro rail tunnel in 2026 should be accompanied by a big boost in timetables for trains and connecting buses, becoming a catalyst for CBD road pricing?
The London example
The London congestion charge is a reminder that road pricing can be flexible, and is not absolute.
It’s a whopping £11.50 per day (slightly less if you set up “auto pay”), but importantly, it only applies on weekdays, and only from 7am to 6pm.
There are numerous exclusions for local residents, taxis, motorbikes and others.
Much of the money gets spent on public transport and other transport modes. The history of it shows it’s been a big success.
Could it work here?
Melbourne already has a “Congestion Levy”, applied to long stay/commuter car parking in Melbourne CBD and some inner suburbs. This is a disincentive to car commuters, but doesn’t affect through-traffic.
Partly due to a lack of traffic rule enforcement, CBD traffic is becoming an impediment to pedestrians/public transport users and to cyclists, but overall congestion also badly affects public transport and freight vehicles.
Assuming there wouldn’t be the political will or the technology yet to have a complete road pricing scheme, could you set up eTag readers at strategic points to charge vehicles coming into the CBD? Do enough vehicles already have eTags? Or is simple number plate recognition better?
Where would you put the boundary? You might want to include Docklands. It might make sense to make a zone consistent with Free Tram Zone, but it might also make sense to try and include other very congested inner-city areas. (Consistent with the FTZ might just encourage more people to drive through busy roads to reach the free trams.)
Different prices at different times would be appropriate. Maximum charge at peak commuting times. Minimum or no charge in the middle of the night.
Of course even the most obvious congestion pricing scheme is a political hot potato. So don’t hold your breath.