Mike Waters' Blog: 1 July 2009 - Antipodean congestion lessons
01 July 2009
Mike Waters is head of market analysis at Arval
In the UK we are no strangers to a queue; whether it's at the Post Office, the train station, in the supermarket or at a concert. The story is no different for drivers, especially during the week which is bad for your mood, it's bad for the environment and it wastes fuel.
While building new roads is an obvious solution, it comes with a high price tag and a negative impact on the environment, but a potential response to the issue of congestion is road pricing. It's something that drivers hate but there is evidence that it can have a positive impact. Australia has implemented road charging in Sydney which has not only reduced congestion, but also cut road transport emissions in the city by 17%.
Business lobbying group the CBI is a supporter of the Australian system and says that road pricing is a tool that should be considered to ease congestion. What's more, they are not alone as the European Commission has highlighted the current lack of economic incentives for citizens and businesses to choose quieter, safer or greener transport. In particular they flag the need for road charges that rise during peak hours and reduce for off-peak travellers.
So with momentum behind road pricing growing and precedent existing around the world you might expect the UK to have a similar stance. However, new secretary of state for transport, Lord Adonis has ruled out a national road pricing scheme, and instead committed the Government to relieving congestion by opening up the hard shoulders on motorways to traffic.
While opening up the hard shoulder does produce a big increase in capacity at a fraction of the cost of motorway widening, its not going to get vehicles off the road, in fact if anything, the increased capacity will encourage drivers to get in the car.
Looking purely from an environmental point of view, a drastic change in behaviour is required if we are to respond to climate change. This means people driving less, sharing vehicles and planning their travel more efficiently in order to reduce emissions. I would like to think that from an environmental, social and cost saving perspective this will happen over time.
However, if it doesn't, hitting drivers in the pocket may be the only way to create this change.