Congestion charging in Sydney

The introduction of congestion charging in central London is been widely considered to be a success in terms of reducing congestion and receiving public support. Following this, it is only natural for the leaders of other cities to promote the introduction of congestion charging in their cities without full exploration of whether the success will transfer readily. This is especially the case for those leaders that prefer to use popularism over evidence in decision making (hi Clover!).

The geography of Sydney’s CBD makes it unlikely that a congestion charge for entering the CBD will have much success. The CBD is long and narrow and it is the narrow approaches that focus the congestion. This makes the introduction of variable tolls on motorway exits a more appealing option.

Also, in spite of a rubbish public transport system (inner west-to-east, anyone?), Sydney actually has a large number of commuter trips occurring by public transport or walking. Bike riding is increasing and the introduction of separated bike paths by the City of Sydney is sure to increase this. Hopefully the funding for cycle ways recently announced by the NSW Government will allow surrounding Councils to build this network further into the suburbs.

Without congestion charging variable motorway tolls will only catch portion of road transport. The introduction of on-street parking charges as proposed here, possibly with a restructure of the taxes on off-street parking spaces to encourage higher peak  pricing, would further decrease casual and discretionary driving to the CBD during peak times. Parking fees would in this case become a de facto congestion charge.

Linking increased parking charges to tackling congestion would also address some of the political barriers. I don’t know if this has been tested elsewhere but would love to hear if it has.

Of course, whenever you introduce policies that increase the cost of living you need to consider the impacts of this on the community. Much of the current travel to the CBD by car is non-discretionary, and therefore will not be replaceable in the face of higher costs. These people will end up with higher costs, though with some benefit of less traffic. The increased costs will impact on those relying on car transport, including those with a disability and those with low-incomes living without access to adequate public transport. Also, not-for-profit organisations providing community services in the area that also rely on fixed (generally government) funding.

So, increasing the cost of driving would need to be implemented alongside programs to assist those who will be disadvantaged by the change. This might mean subsidised parking and tolls as appropriate, and could be funded through the increased parking and toll charges.

And most of all, the majority of the new funding of any congestion charging scheme should be used to provide alternatives to driving byincrease the reach and frequency of the public transport system!

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